Sunday, December 28, 2008

It’s Pakistan, Stupid!

The perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks have left ubiquitous Pakistani fingerprints, just like in the other recent incidents of dire terror attacks around the globe. Though groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned in 2002 by the military dictator Pervez Musharraf to gratify America, the ban actually had little or no effect as the same group changed its name and reappeared as Jama’at-ud-Da’wah to operate openly. Under growing international pressure, even from the allies like China and Iran, the Pakistan authority after the initial hesitance started to react in their trademark way. First was the blatant denial about the presence of extremists in Pakistan and the deceitful demand for valid proof to act against the architects of Mumbai atrocity. Then followed the continuous double-speak and bellicose rhetoric. And finally, in the pretext of ‘threatening statements of the Indian leadership’, the bureaucratic-military establishment of Pakistan has started creating a war panic to divert the attention from the real issue, its responsibility to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. The Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has assured the Pakistani people that his force is ready to mount an ‘equal response within minutes’ if faced with any cross border surgical strike and informed President Asif Ali Zardari that his ‘men are ready to (make a) sacrifice for their country’. The Taliban also responded in a rather extraordinary way. The chief of the Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Mehsud has announced to offer the service of hundreds of its suicide bombers and thousand of its armed militants to fight alongside the Pakistan army if Indian imposed a war. When asked why he wants to support the army that has launched a major assault on them, Mehsud replied, “…the army was acting otherwise (in the past). But now it would fight for the protection and survival of the country, which is why we will support them.” Mehsud has a shrewd strategy. Tension build-up between India and Pakistan suits him and his friends the best as it will shift the attention of the four army divisions of Pakistani force deployed in the western border with Afghanistan towards the Eastern border. Unmistakably, there is a significant number of rogue elements in the Pakistani establishment who also desires the same.

In this whole sequence of events, the role of America is particularly typical. It is trying to pacify India and Pakistan both by playing a balancing act from the sidelines. American diplomats, state department and army officials are paying ritual visits to both the countries and pretending to be genuinely concerned to resolve the crisis. But America’s concerns are fictitious. By counseling the burglar to break the house and simultaneously warning the house-keeper to remain alert, America is playing its well-known game of deceit.

Who is responsible for the steady upsurge of terrorism in Pakistan over the years? Is it the Pakistani military, the ISI or the al-Qaida? What are the underlying reasons that the democratically elected government of Pakistan is visibly shaky to act against their home grown terrorists? A look back at recent history will reveal the truth.

In early eighties, the CIA under Ronald Reagan administration formed a three-part intelligence alliance including Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services to fund, prepare and arm the Afghan and Arab mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The cold war era rivalry had always pushed the two superpowers for a head-on confrontation in almost every place of the globe. The CIA provided the logistics and technological support, the Saudi provided the money and the Pakistanis worked as field agents to run the war on the front lines. Billions of dollars of military aid was secretly pumped in to fund this anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. Though America never played a direct role on the front lines and instead used the Pakistani agents for the dirty job, it has significantly influenced to build the extensive terrorist bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan soil to train thousands of radical Islamic guerrilla fighters. The Pakistani Army and its military-intelligence outfit Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, started to nurture and train the most backward elements in Afghanistan, the Taliban, which had subsequently unleashed a series of violent fidayeen attacks against the Soviet backed Nazibulla government. The remote tribal areas of Pakistan abutting Afghanistan, particularly the North and South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were virtually turned into a haven of cross-border incursions where thousand of Afghan and Pakistani unemployed youths with militants of foreign origin were encouraged to join the ‘holy war’.

The FATA region comprises seven semi-autonomous tribal agencies. It is a remote, extremely backward and poor province filled with complexity and ethnicity. It is considered to be one of the most difficult terrains in the globe and runs along the Afghanistan border known as the Durand line. This border was drawn as part of an agreement signed by the then ruler of Afghanistan and the British colonial administrators on 12 November 1893 to demarcate Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Baluchistan provinces of Pakistan. FATA is inhabited by 3.50 million Pashtun tribesmen. 90 percent of them live below the poverty line.

The ethnic Pashtun tribes of the FATA region never accepted the demarcation of the Durand line as it had artificially segregated them from the Afghan mainland. It is a volatile boundary which continues to be the mainstay of permanent trouble in the region. From both sides of the unguarded border extremists and militants, drug smugglers and arm dealers freely cross the boundary. The Pakistan government has always kept a blind eye about this infiltration as historically its authority over this region is limited. Today, it has turned into a jumble for different jihadi groups comprising Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, Chechens, al-Qaeda and the Uzbek militants those who are taking refuge and getting trained for terror activities in the training camps. A terrible reign of lawlessness with easy availability of sophisticated weaponry and explosives has transformed FATA into a state within a state. Compared to 102 high schools, there are many as three hundred madrasas functioning in this region. Funded by Saudi money, these networks of madrasas are the humble institutions to brainwash the Muslim youths with lethal jihadi ideology. The flourishing madrasa network also reveals the growing power of Islamic extremism in Pakistan.

From the days of the Afghanistan war, the Pakistan military and the ISI allowed the Afghan Taliban to spread deep into this region, particularly in North and South Waziristan province. Soon after the withdrawal of Soviet army in 1989, the bureaucratic-military establishment of Pakistan interpreted the ‘achievement’ in Afghanistan as a model that could be extended against India - the traditional enemy. Apart from supporting the Taliban, other anti-India notorious militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad were provided a legitimized domestic base and were protected as assets or a reserve force to accomplish the dear to heart agenda of Pakistani hawks – to propping up cross-border proxy war in Indian Kashmir. Money and arms from clandestine donors flowed in consistently and the region emerged as the main refuge and supply-route for Taliban insurgents on both sides of the border. Gradually, their activities are spilling out beyond the tribal areas of FATA to the NWFP areas and elsewhere.

America has seldom hesitated to boaster its military might to ‘resolve’ problems. Therefore after the 9/11 attacks, the whole world knew that an American military invasion is imminent. Where and how it will commence was the only question. Pentagon finally pinpointed Afghanistan as the prime cradle of global terrorism from its conviction that al-Qaeda members including Osama bin Laden has supposedly taken refuge here. America’s bombing campaign of Afghanistan, officially called ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ started in 2001 with the aim to destroy the terrorism source. The attacks distorted the al-Qaeda and Taliban bases in Afghanistan but could hardly solve the problem of global terrorism. The Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership crossed the border into Pakistan, regrouped in the FATA region and facilitated the rapidly growing global anti-state terror network comprising about 14 definable anti-state elements. To seek out and eliminate the shadowy foe, American and the NATO forces continued their highly unpopular and superficial ‘war on terror’ in FATA through air strikes and covert operations but avoided using ground forces to fight the jihadis as it has little or no potential for ground combat.

America was never able to establish any support base in FATA due to its inability to have any direct contact or communication with the local people and their leaders. Bombing a weak country is easy but seeking out terrorists from remote mountainous terrains is a tough and dangerous job. It is also a war against an idea where the solution cannot be achieved through military means alone. The destruction of Afghanistan and the successive atrocities in Iraq has mostly isolated America from the hearts and minds of Muslims. The countless killing in Afghanistan and Iraq has definitely inspired a generation of Muslims to take up arms. Illegal and unjustified invasion against a secular and unfriendly to fundamentalist country like Iraq has further helped to strengthen the hands of Taliban outfits. The Abu Ghraib revelation of American military brutality has also helped to fortify enough sympathy to Islamic fundamentalism.

Therefore, to ‘win’ this complex war that skeptics say can never be won, America needed Pakistan’s help and cooperation. But Pakistan is finding extreme difficulty to motivate its soldiers to fight their own people. The army and ISI also do not like to estrange their ‘special force’ and is reluctant to assail the Afghan Taliban. Yet it cannot refuse helping America. The newly elected democratic government is therefore in a dilemma it is struggling hard to deal with. It wants to change its already squat image but do not have the strength to direct its army or the ISI to behave accordingly. Also in reality, only parts of the country are under its genuine control. Pakistan’s economy is in shambles and hugely depending on American money and benevolence for a massive debt write-off and other economic supports. America is already paying them around 80 million dollars a month to endorse the cost of Pakistani troop deployment in FATA.

Obviously, this dangerous game has its spill-over effects. The persistent Taliban incursions have led to the collapse of civilian and tribal administration in FATA. The sanctuary of terrorism along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier has gradually grown into a citadel of wider jihadi movement and the chickens have started coming home to roost. America and its allies including Pakistan are now being victimized by the Frankenstein it has once created. Today in Pakistan, these ‘stateless actors’ are festered like a malignant tumor that might have reached an incurable advance stage.

The recent Mumbai terror attacks should be analyzed in this perspective. Even under tremendous pressure from the people and media, so far the reaction of the Indian government is praiseworthy. Instead of jumping into the jingoistic bandwagon, it has shown restrain and is acting with prudence. India has considerable reasons to do so. Though weak, the candlelight of democracy that is lit in Pakistan today bears significance. If this sole light is blown off, the vast haunting darkness will be intimidating not only for the future of the Indian subcontinent but also for the entire globe.

To understanding the complex subject from a Pakistani perspective, the blogger is indebted to Irfan Husain. Interested readers can read him here at Dawn.

Image courtesy:,