Two drones fired on the same day soon after Obama’s swearing in have made the new US administration’s intentions towards Pakistan clear – there will be no respect for international law in this part of the world. This is the historic duality (recall the Monroe Doctrine) that prevails in the very foundations of the much-touted US values! So it is time for our leaders to accept certain ground realities and shape their policies accordingly.
Accept that Obama has nothing positive to offer Pakistan. On the contrary, following the drone attacks, he moved to name Holbrooke as Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to cut off a major chunk of money owed to Pakistan for military services rendered. And what has our reaction been? Without looking at Holbrooke’s record, we have welcomed his appointment, and in response to the cutting of money owed, we have declared that we will appeal to them again–as if this is part of a bargain hunt or a sale! Is this what a nuclear sovereign state does?
For heaven’s sake, our military and civilian ruling elites need to salvage some national dignity. It is time the military stopped acting as a mercenary force for the Americans. The price we are paying is simply too high–not simply in money terms but in social and political terms. This is as good an opportunity as any to reclaim our bases and applaud the US in gaining a new route for NATO supplies (though that is not yet a done deal), which we should stop immediately. This supply route has been a major factor for violence and instability in Peshawar and beyond.
It is not simply the cutting off of payments that is a pointer to the new Obama-Biden policies. Biden, much touted as Pakistan’s friend, has begun sounding a more strident tone vis-a-vis this hapless country with its bunch of servile leaders. This new aggressive tone on Pakistan was all too apparent in his Jan 25 interview on CBS where he reiterated Obama’s election campaign viewpoint that if there is an actionable target in Pakistan the US would send its troops there.
And to clarify any doubts about what the US thinks of Pakistan’s sovereignty, he refused to answer the question whether the US would notify the Pakistan before a potential US troops’ cross-border movement. He also predicted increasing US casualties, which clearly means the US intends to up the military ante and in all probability send troops across the international Pakistani-Afghan border.
As for Holbrooke, it would do well to recall that the much-touted Dayton Accord was only put in place when NATO had replaced the UN in Bosnia, and the Bosnians had been militarily abused so much by the Serbs that they eventually accepted a truncated Bosnian state. I met Holbrooke at a conference in Kazakhstan a few years earlier alongside the arch-neocon Richard Perle. And I was surprised by the similarity of views they both held towards the Muslim world in general, and towards what the US was doing post-9/11 in Afghanistan. Also, if we remember that Holbrooke was Hillary Clinton’s senior policy advisor, we will understand where he is really coming from. After all, Hillary Clinton supported the Iraq war till it became unpopular in the US!
Again, it was Holbrooke, as the US ambassador at the UN, who arranged for Israel to be admitted into a regional grouping of Western European and other nations–to allow Israel access to membership of crucial committees and other privileges. Interestingly, Scott Ritter, a UN Weapons’ Inspector in Iraq (1991-1998), has recalled how, in a television discussion in October 2001, Holbrooke had rejected any form of diplomacy in Afghanistan and had favoured only military action. Hardly the sort of man who will be open to the sensitivities of Pakistan!
The hard reality is that the US is going to become an increasingly hostile state towards Pakistan under Obama. So it is time to alter course. We need to renegotiate the entire cooperation with this new US administration, keeping in mind the now-established Indo-US strategic partnership. We need to find our own means of countering the drone attacks–rather than helplessly waiting for US goodwill.
Our Air Chief had declared we have the technical capability, and we certainly do, including our cruise missiles. So use them to attack the drones in defence of our territory. If the military is too timid for this defence of our national soil, then at least stop the mercenary intelligence sharing, close the clandestine CIA stations and troop actions in FATA and our western border. Reclaim the bases and end access to NATO supplies. All these moves can be done incrementally and we will realise the limitations of US ability to move against us without damaging their own cause. The most painless beginning can be made by recalling our ambassador to the US “for consultations.”
Meanwhile, it would be more relevant if we began focusing on national policies for Swat and FATA. The military needs to be withdrawn from both these areas and paramilitary forces under civilian command need to be put in place within an overarching political framework. We need to differentiate between Swat and FATA also, since the ground realities are different in the two areas. It would appear that in FATA the locals have coalesced with the militants and “foreigners” as a result of the erroneous policies of the Pakistani state, whose military is seen as fighting America’s war, and also as a result of the drone attacks, which have increased the operational space and recruitment of the militants.
In Swat Fazlullah initially got support from the local people. However, with the bloodshed and attacks on schools and the horrific killings and mutilation of bodies, the present relationship between the locals and the militants in Swat is one based primarily on fear and on a distrust of the military. They see the military as having failed to protect them against a Taliban force that primarily comprises outsiders, local criminals, and the unemployed and war-affected–that is, those who have lost family as a result of military action.
Unless we seek truthful answers to some crucial questions, we will not be able to restore peace in Swat. Where is the funding for the militants coming from since it runs into tens of millions? Reports from people on the spot put the daily payment for Taliban fighters anywhere between Rs300 and Rs1,000. Add to this cost of food, arms and ammunition and transport. And if we accept that there are between 5,000-10,000 Taliban, this is a costly enterprise even if we calculate on averages. Secondly, where are the weapons coming from, along which supply routes? Why, when the media can access the militant leaders, the intelligence and military seemingly cannot act against them? Is it inability or unwillingness and, if it is the latter, then the crux question: Why?
The total failure of the state to protect its citizens and assert its writ has led to the present despicable situation where the most vulnerable are being targeted: women and girls in particular, and children in general. While the militants are blowing up schools, the military is using schools as their trenches, and thereby as targets for the militants. If one looks at the casualty figures one will see who is really suffering, who is losing and who is winning. Approximately 12,000 civilians have so far been killed in Swat–again, according to the local viewpoint, mainly by firing from security forces. Around 200 security forces (FC, army and police) have been killed while approximately 75 Taliban have been killed.
The biggest losers are the civilians caught in the middle and the military, which is not only suffering high casualty rates but is being undermined in the long term by a growing chasm between itself and the nation’s civil society. This is what Pakistan’s enemies want; why are we seeking the same?
Tailpiece: The hypocrisy of the BBC is truly legendary. They refuse to broadcast a humanitarian appeal for Gaza but BBC World was broadcasting ads for the Indian army immediately before and after their news services during the Kargil crisis.
The writer is a defence analyst. Email: email@example.com