Heavy costs of a dirty war

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By Dushka H. Saiyid

 THAT the world changed with the departure of Bush was borne out by Obama’s words at his inaugural address when he said, “Our founding fathers … drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man … those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake.”

This is what distinguishes the western civilisation from what the Taliban and Osama are selling: it underscores the supremacy of the rule of law, and its cornerstone, that everyone is innocent till proven guilty. It was a rejection of rendition, water-boarding and other euphemisms for the torture of prisoners, incarcerated for years without trial. It is not difficult to fathom why the US, and Britain under Blair, lost their moral leadership of the world.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, a gifted man by all accounts, and son of the well-respected scholar and academic Ralph Miliband, felt that the time had come to accept that the war on terror, as conducted since 9/11, had been self-defeating, and that “we must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law and not subordinating it, for it is the cornerstone of the democratic society”.

He was articulating much the same vision as Obama, and like him mentioned the need to settle the Kashmir issue, “as that would deny extremists in the region one of their main calls to arms”. He was referring to one of the “contexts” of terrorism, as Arundhati Roy refers to it, and which must be addressed if a long-term end to terrorism is to be found.

Obama had stated the need to settle the Kashmir issue and take a regional approach to terrorism, and appoint an emissary for South Asia. However, caving in to Indian lobbying, he restricted Richard Holbrooke’s remit to Pakistan and Afghanistan, although India’s proactive role in Afghanistan is now well established. As for Miliband, despite visceral attacks on Miliband by the Indian government and media, his spokesman was quoted in the Independent as saying, “The foreign secretary was very open and honest about his views, which are those of the British government.”

The Indian government and media’s response to Miliband’s statement was in the same vein as that to the tragic Mumbai attacks — bellicose and jingoistic. The pulverisation of the financial centre of this aspiring world power for 60 hours by just 10 men brought into focus the deep fault lines in Indian society: the running sore of the Kashmir issue and the treatment of its minorities, of which the Sachar Report is a damning testament.Threatening war on Pakistan, knowing that its military was already stretched in the west in Fata and Swat, was a nightmare for Pakistan. But India showed a dangerous lack of restraint and responsibility by a nuclear power in demonstrating brinkmanship, sending its air force planes into Pakistan’s air space, and threatening pre-emptive strikes. It does not take great wisdom to conclude that an attempt to destabilise Pakistan would spread the fire of terrorism from Pakistan’s western borderlands all the way to India’s eastern frontier, where they are already embroiled in a long-standing insurgency.

Pakistan has paid a heavy price for the strategic blunders of the previous American administration in its conduct of the international war on terror. As Obama has argued consistently, going into Iraq took away from what should have been the main focus of the US, the war in Afghanistan. The half-hearted pursuit of its war aims in Afghanistan has caused the insurgency to spread to Pakistan, and strengthened the hold of the Taliban in Afghanistan. While the coalition forces have lost 1,000 soldiers, Pakistan has lost about 2,000 of its security forces in Fata and Swat, and 14,000 civilians. About 400,000 people have been displaced from Fata and another 500,000 from Swat. All made refugees in their own country.

And what does Pakistan get for fighting this dirty war? One billion dollars as replacement for the money spent in the war on terror by our military forces, and $60m in aid. Peanuts when compared to the $2bn per year given to Egypt and $3bn per year to Israel, while the Americans continue to drag their feet on the Biden-Lugar Bill.

With the prospect of being well-equipped and better paid than any Pakistani soldier or policeman, and funded by the opium grown in Afghanistan, now a source of 90 per cent of the world’s output, it is difficult for unemployed young men of our tribal areas and Afghanistan to resist this lucrative employment with the Taliban. The selling of the cause in religious terms has an added appeal for the young men, especially in Afghanistan, where 80 to 90 per cent are illiterate.

Asymmetric wars have shown the limitations of state military force. The use of air power and artillery on non-state actors has resulted in large civilian casualties, and provided a fertile recruiting ground to the extremists. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been protesting the cost of civilian casualties as a consequence of bombings by the coalition forces with little effect, and the same is happening with the attacks by drones in Fata. Having got a drubbing in Vietnam, barely managing to survive in Iraq, one would have expected the Americans to be more receptive to the arguments of their partners in the war on terror. Expectations that Obama would break from the imperial hubris of his predecessor seem to be misplaced.

The government of Pakistan must re-negotiate the terms with the Americans. The state of Pakistan is the biggest casualty of the incompetence and lack of commitment of the coalition forces in Afghanistan, as even at this point in time, the Europeans are reluctant to volunteer more troops or funding for the war.


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