Saturday, April 25, 2009

Pakistan's moment of peril

‘.... Pakistan posed a ‘mortal threat’ to the world…Pakistan government is basically abdicating to the Taliban and to the extremists… the Pakistani people need to speak out forcefully against the government’s policy of appeasement in Swat..’ – US Foreign Secretary Hillary Clinton

“This is a really dangerous situation in Pakistan today and we are focused on this very heavily,” – Special envoy Mr Richard C. Holbrooke

‘Taliban now threaten Pakistan’s very existence.’ - Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top US commander in the region

‘.Situation is Pakistan in constant, steady decline.’ - Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff

‘Pakistan is in a moment of peril’ – Senator John Kerry

A Pakistani barber stands by the ‘do not shave’ warning written by Taliban in the front window of his shop in Buner, 65 miles from Islamabad - AFP /Tariq Mahmood
So why exactly is Pakistan, a country with a million men (including the reserves) in armed forces and with military aid of $1 billion letting the Taliban run all over it? Just to put the chaos in Pakistan in perspective, let us look at this. Pakistan bore the brunt of the first suicide attack on March 22, 2002 and by end of 2006, they have seen 22 such attacks. In 2007 alone, they faced 56 which again increased to 59 in 2008. Now, we hear not just about these suicide attacks but also a marching militia that occupies territory as near as 65 miles from Islamabad. And what is Pakistan doing? Nothing.

After running with the hares and hunting with the hounds and duping the world, especially the US, of billions of dollars in military aid, Pakistan sees the monster it created return home to threaten it. Although it is true that the US had in fact created the Wahabi muslim militias in Afghanistan to counter the soviets during the cold war along with Pakistan, it is Pakistan that fed and cultivated the militia for its ‘stategic depth’ in Afghanistan so that it holds the sway over Afghanistan and also use these militias to bleed India in Kashmir. Over time, these militias, who earlier were mainly foreigners, seem to have grouped together with fellow regressive forces, mainly among the Pashtuns, in Pakistan. They were successfully used too against India in Kashmir. However, continual deterioration in its democratic polity weakened the political leadership so much so that these militias, now evolved into Pakistan Taliban, mustered the will to challenge the state of Pakistan.

Afghan warloads in a meeting with Ronald Reagan at the Oval office during the cold war.

Asif Zardari, the accidental president looks hopelessly out of place. The military and the ISI seem to be more inclined to bring both the democratic government and the Taliban agree to some power-sharing. Otherwise how would anyone explain the 500,000 army’s half-hearted efforts to campaign against the 5000 odd Taliban fighters in Swat. The army and the ISI still seems to be in a hope that they can persuade the Taliban and again start using them as they previously did against India and Afghanistan. They put up such a meek show in their military operations that the government was forced to retreat and agree on Taliban’s terms, like implementing sharia, in Swat. As usual, the Pakistan government covered up their failure calling this a ‘peace deal’ and that this would restore peace in Swat and that Taliban would confine themselves to that district. Days within this ‘peace deal’ is signed, the taliban marched out into surrounding districts, some hardly 65 miles away from Islamabad and some almost touching the Karakoram highway that connects Pakistan with China’s Xinjiang province. China already asked Pakistan to rein in these terrorists as they, it believes, are the source of militant activity in its Xinjiang province. So much for their all-weather friendship.

While the establishment seems to be caught in their power games, reluctance and lack of courage, even the media sounds muted in their criticism of Taliban. Almost everyone seems to say ‘what the Taliban is asking for (like sharia) isn’t bad, but it is not possible!’. There is hardly any unqualified criticism of Taliban. No one calls it as a monster that it is. I mean no one just stands up and says ‘we cant whip ourselves in paradise!’. Period. Instead, Pakistan’s assembly approved implementing sharia in the Swat district as per Taliban’s wish almost with no discussion or debate. The pall of fear cast by Taliban showed was blindingly clear. The Taliban soon declared Islam has no place for democracy and that judiciary outside sharia, including pakistan’s supreme court’ is unislamic.

While the Taliban seems to be testing the waters to march into the main cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, it does not seem to make much difference for the common public. Atleast they don’t show it. Is it because they think Taliban can’t be worse than theBhuttos, Sharifs and the commandos? Sustaining feudal culture, lack of economic development, immaturity of democratic institutions and indifferent, corrupt politics seem to have made the common public despondent. Is it only the mullahs who can bring their rabble rouse? Or else how can anyone compare and explain these inexplicable silent streets with those images of protests against Danish cartoons? And why we do not see the lawyers’ movement kind being galvanized now in this defining moment for Pakistan? There is a gut feeling that pakistan’s civil society will rise up before its too late and before Pakistan slides further into anarchy. And that is what we in India need too otherwise it is a matter of time we see the emboldened fidayeen return to Kashmir and maybe to other cities in India. Dreadful prospect indeed. It is time India gear up for the many battles it has to fight when the Taliban comes knocking.


Ravi said...

Good article. I do not understand why is pak army concedi ng swat to the taliban. They seem to be scared of taliban.

Jai said...

I wish Taliban attacks the main cities of Pakistan- lahore , Islamabad , Rawalpindi etc. Hopefully then Pakistan army would be forced to 'ACT' against the militia.


Anil said...

That's a very good article. I agree with you that India should be prepared to address their own in-grown terrors before they act on border security issues. Hope we don't have to face another Mumbai attack in the future.

Amar said...

Hi Ravi,
The Pak army seems to be fixated with the idea of 'strategic depth' against Afghanistan and India and to use taliban towards that purpose. They somehow seems to be in a hope of reaching a 'deal' with taliban limiting there influence to districts like swat. It looks like a bargain.

In all probability, it is the taliban which engineered the Lahore attack on the Lankan team.

I hope the same. We did see the horrifying fidayeen attacks in Kashmir before Pakistan's attention was diverted to its western neighbour as part of the 'war on terror'. We hope we dont go back to that situation.