Recently an increasing number of political analysts in the west have started to seriously debate whether Pakistan can survive as a single nation.
Late last month a new book was published entitled “The Punjabi Taliban: The prospect of future civil war in Pakistan”. It is a slim volume around a 100 odd pages. The book deserves serious attention. It is authored by Mr. Musa Khan Jalalzai, a London based specialist on the Af-Pak region and terrorism. He has over 100 books on the subject to his credit. He is a columnist for The Daily Times in Pakistan and The Outlook Daily in Afghanistan. The book is a mine of information. It is loaded with facts. Opinions of others are quoted. The author is extremely economical with his own opinions. He allows facts to speak for themselves. The picture that emerges is chilling.
Pakistan as a nuclear weapons state is horrendously fractured with no single authority in control. That includes the army which can bully the civilian government but is impotent against much of the terrorist network. There are 34 major sectarian groups flourishing in the country. Twenty-seven of them indulge in political activism. Each group is a law unto itself headed by provincial ideologues. Thirty-three groups operate in Kashmir. There is internecine warfare between many of these groups. They kill and bomb their respective opponents across all cities of Pakistan.
The Sunnis and Shias fight each other; the Deobandi sects fight the Barelvi sects; the Saraikis fight central Punjabis; the Mohajirs fight the Pashtuns, and after the death of Osama bin Laden most of these groups have all started to fight the Pakistan government and army. Each group has sympathizers and colluders within the local government machinery. Saudi Arabia and Iran provide foreign support to Sunnis and Shiites respectively. CIA, Chinese Intelligence, RAW and Afghanistan’s KHAD are all active in the region. Pakistani allegations about the involvement of RAW may be exaggerated. But if RAW is not involved at all as most Indians would like to believe, the agency should be condemned for criminal dereliction of duty.
Security analyst Amna Nasir Jamal wrote: “Pakistan has three major pockets of militant sympathizers. Waziristan provides training facilities and the freedom to operate and collaborate; Karachi is a major funding source; but South Punjab is considered a human resource centre – it’s one of the Taliban’s prime recruiting regions.”
It may be noted that in South Punjab, Bahawalpur to be precise, Maulana Masood Azhar who was released from an Indian prison in exchange for hostages in a hijacked plane, leads a force of 20,000 militants. According to Mr. Jalalzai’s information a recent Intelligence report submitted to the government claimed that 400 sectarian groups are active in Pakistan of which 350 belong to Punjab. In Saraiki Punjab the government has lost control over remote villages which are controlled by the Punjabi Taliban. No police officers are posted there. Many Punjabi Taliban activists hold both Indian and Pakistani passports.
The rot started after former President Zia ul-Haq established madrassas funded by Saudi Arabia that imparted Wahabi Islamic teaching to prepare recruits for the Mujahideen to fight the Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan. In the following decades the madrassas have spread exponentially to indoctrinate young children from poor families to grow up as fundamentalist jihadis. Islamabad encouraged this in the pursuit of its policy to seek strategic depth in Afghanistan and to send terrorists into Indian Kashmir. This strategy worked reasonably well until the Lal Mosque attack alienated some of the terror outfits. It sharply worsened after the assassination of Osama bin Laden. Now things have got out of control. Substantial chunks of the military establishment are colluding with terror outfits in their newfound war against the Pakistan government and army. The terrorists have openly stated that they intend taking over the Pakistan state. As the fighting between the army and the militants intensifies it can reach the level of a full fledged civil war.
The murky depths of the current situation can be assessed from two recent events. First, there is a new revelation that Mullah Omar’s outfit leaked Osama’s location to the Americans. It was discussing modalities of US troops withdrawing from Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban dumping al-Qaeda. How will this be taken by those sections of the Taliban still firmly committed to al-Qaeda? Will it lead to a new conflict within Taliban ranks? Secondly, there has been the tragic murder of Asia Times Online Bureau Chief Syed Saleem Shahzad in Islamabad after he exposed the links between the Pakistan Navy and terrorists who attacked the Mehran air base. Shahzad was an outstanding journalist and we frequently exchanged messages on the Internet. I had quoted him in some of my articles. His murder reveals the ruthless brutality of Pakistan’s inner conflict that lies ahead.
Musa Khan Jalalzai believes that Pakistan could be heading for a civil war. By his reckoning its results will heavily impinge on India which will be drawn into the war. He writes: “With military operations starting in Southern Punjab and Lahore, thousands of people will migrate into India as refugees. This mass migration and the establishment of military training camps in India, will be a turning point in the movement of the Punjabi Taliban. Like Afghans who are now fighting alongside the Punjabi Taliban in NWFP, Indian Punjabis can join their Pakistani Punjabi brothers in the fight against Pakistan’s army.”
Need I remind readers that Mr. Kuldip Nayar in a recent article had expressed fear about refugees streaming into India in case of increased fighting within Pakistan? Need I also remind readers that I had pointed out the enduring ties existing between Sikh farmers and their counterparts in Pakistan?
In an article entitled “Beheading the Sikhs: Pak Taliban’s Historic Blunder” published on 27 February, 2010 I observed: “For decades it was commonly stated that fifty or so families in Punjab ruled Pakistan. What was not stated was that about 40 percent of these ruling families of the rural Punjab province of Pakistan were Jat Sikhs who voluntarily converted to Islam in order to retain their land holdings. These converted Jat Sikhs had no trouble gaining acceptance from their Muslim Jat cousins, farmers all... They could now constitute a potential fifth column in Pakistan. It would be not a fifth column that could serve the Indian government. It would be the fifth column serving the Sikh Diaspora…”
Hopefully, the Pakistan government with encouragement from the US and India will steer the nation towards democratic stability and peace. But it would be idle to pretend that the situation is not very bleak. And if a civil war does develop inside Pakistan, the impact on India could be unimaginably profound.
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