Pakistan: Facing the Wages of Denial

Pakistan delivered a triple hammer on 7 May, in Washington, Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The date spanned the tripartite US, Pakistan and Afghanistan summit. It was important to put President Obama at ease and ensure flow of aid to the beleaguered economy with President Zardari's assurances that action will be taken against the Taliban. This was followed by a public speech by the Prime Minister in which he finally declared, 'war' on terrorism. The Chief of the Army Staff followed up with a similar direction in the Corps Commanders conference in the operations room at Army HQs in Rawalpindi.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani ordered armed forces to launch an operation against the militants in Swat and Malakand. 'The government will not bow before the militants and terrorists but will force them to lay down their weapons and will not compromise with them,' he said in a 20-minute televised address to the nation. This decision had broad support from the people though it was officially endorsed by the All Parties Conference on 18 May in a 16-point resolution drafted by PPP leader Raza Rabbani which asked the government to protect and defend the constitution and sovereignty of Pakistan and establish the writ of the state. The broad consensus also included for the first time leader of the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz, Mian Nawaz Sharif, who had not supported tough military action against extremists.

The Taliban had perhaps drawn the last straw off the political back. 'There was a certain kind of a tipping point after the so-called Swat Accord. It was when the Swat Taliban were seen to be overreaching themselves,' noted columnist Ayaz Amir told the Voice of America. 'One or two speeches by Sufi Muhammad that democracy is un-Islamic, the courts are outside the pale of Islam ' that, and the advance of the Taliban into Buner,' were the tipping points as per Amir. Lt-Gen (r) Ali Jan Muhammad Orakzai, a former NWFP governor from the Musharraf era said public opinion has shifted against the Taliban. 'There has been a complete change in the attitude of the entire nation towards these people. ... And the Pakistani nation stands united in defeating their designs because nobody in Pakistan would like these people to take over and establish their version of Islam or impose their version of Islam on the people. There's quite a sudden change in the mood of the nation.'

Ironically the All Party resolution did not mention the Taliban by name, another perfidy of denial. This ostrich approach by political parties at the APC does not augur well for a long term view of the problem and the Swat offensive may thus peter into an episodic response. Thus observers familiar with the Pakistani scene including US analysts as Christian Fair, remain skeptical about what Islamabad may be actually doing.

There were also growing differences between the Awami National Party and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) two main political parties in the NWFP and the leaders reportedly refused to sit together, even when invited by President Asif Ali Zardari. While use of force in counter militancy is not the only option, as Pakistani scholar Rasul Bakhsh Rais says, 'Use of force is not the preferred solution or the only option that a state must employ; and in an ethnically pluralistic and politically complex society like Pakistan, it cannot be the weapon of choice'. But such harsh action has to be undertaken when there is an imminent danger to the state per se and existential threats may demand extreme solutions. So perhaps it was better late than never for the Pakistani state.
But what about the results, 1.7 million internally displaced, over a 1000 Taliban killed and 80 security forces perishing in the operations while there were at least five major suicide blasts in the country. These are the wages of denial of existence of militancy over the decades.

The Third attempt at taking back Swat from Taliban control has proved to be quite bloody and therefore any pull back now till civil governance is restored may lead to reestablishment of the Taliban as on previous occasions. If the Army chooses to fight till the finish it would still involve long engagement in counter militancy operations for which it has to be prepared, some thing which is not evident so far.

A lesser known feature of the militancy is the egalitarian model proposed by the Taliban in the Robin Hood image. The Taliban are reported to have taken over large properties belonging to major land owners and therefore those having a strong lobby in Peshawar and Islamabad pressured the government for military action. This also coincided with the pressure from the US and the internal demands building up from the society at large after seeing the horrific images of Taliban brutality.

Thus coinciding of these three pronged attacks from the civil society, the land owners and America led to the Army launching another operation in Swat. It is also reported that the Emerald mines which were taken over and workers were given a major portion of the output, similarly profit making by the timber mafia operating in the forests were also under danger. It appears that this created a direct threat to the ruling order of land owning families, police and army bureaucracy having powerful stakes in the system. This was possibly another reason for the state to strike back.
If this hypothesis is true than the struggle against feudalism and elitism has just commenced in Pakistan, the ruling order would have to take measures for more inclusive growth to ensure that rising aspirations of the peasants and the underclass are met and readjustments in society takes place. To all those who are trying to place a time limit for success of the Pakistan Army in Swat or other tribal areas here is a warning this is just the beginning of a long battle for survival. Will the Army stand up for the nation for another two to three decades or will it perish with Pakistan remains to be seen? For the World the alternate scenario is dangerous with over 60 nuclear warheads likely to fall in the hands of the Taliban or misguided elements within the military. 


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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