By Babar Ayaz
All the coalition parties in a recent meeting have reiterated that they prefer dialogue with the militants over operations. On the other hand the local Taliban have for all practical purposes declared independence from Pakistan. They have started spreading their area of operation. First they were a problem in North and South Waziristan, then they took over Swat and now they are all over in Hangu, Bajaur and in the outskirts of Peshawar. They want Pakistani forces out from their area. They want their rule in FATA and adjoining area and introduce medieval social values. They want their foreign policy which means a declared war against the Afghanistan government and its NATO allies.
The coalition partners’ consensus is that no one should be allowed to use the Pakistan territory in their fight against other countries. ANP leader Afrasiab Khattak was courageous to say categorically: “For us the serious issue is peace. For us the serious issue is militants’ sanctuaries in tribal areas. As long as they remain peace will not return to the area.” The military leadership has reportedly also described the situation tense ‘because of the heavy presence of militants.’
So now the big question is who should be on the other side of the negotiation table with the government. One view is that the government should have a dialogue with the tribal elders. What these analysts forget is that in the last 28 year we have seen that the power structure of the tribal areas has changed drastically. The power of tribal elders has diminished and the leviathan of Jihadi created by Pakistan and CIA has become much more powerful than the local tribal Maliks/elders. They have more money and armaments. And they have the support of the local Mullah, who was previously subservient to the tribal Maliks.
These people who are now calling themselves Taliban and were previously known in the 80s as Mujahideens are benefited by keeping war going. The war economy of the area has turned them into professional fighters. Some of them are also highly motivated because they have been misled to believe that they are fighting the infidel in the name of God. Their ideological training is sound and has international roots.
Thus the heat on Pakistan’s Northern front is rising each day. The ineffectual Karzai government has been unable to contain the Taliban and Al Qaeda insurgency in the Pusthon belt in spite of the support of NATO forces. So they prefer to blame the Pakistan government for ‘not doing enough’ to stop the inflow of Taliban. The Americans are also blaming Pakistan and have now amassed their troops on our Northern border. Then there was the suicide bombing in which the Indian Military Attaché in Kabul was killed along with some other officials. Again all fingers were pointed towards Islamabad.
Militants’ apologists who blame the government for the military operation should ask themselves: Why Pakistani forces had to go into FATA in the first place, disturbing the age old system? Isn’t it because the area has been taken over by the Taliban through brute force? You talk to any ordinary tribal-area Pathan working in Karachi and they would tell you how moneyed and well-armed these Taliban are. They admit that anybody who speaks against Taliban is killed the next day. Many tribal leaders who tried to bring some sanity were killed and the process goes on. Others are killed on charges of being American spies. Each day we hear that they prosecuted and killed women, they burnt a school or blew a CD shop. Now if FATA is part of Pakistan then it is the duty of the government to establish its writ and stop these armed men from violating laws of the land.
The Taliban’s apologists in the country believe that if NATO forces would be withdrawn, peace would return to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now this is a wild dream as the situation is much more complex. It cannot be simply declared an “anti-imperialist war.” Let’s analyse this assumption. Fall of Karzai government and withdrawal of NATO forces would push Afghanistan into another civil war repeating what happened when the Soviet forces were pulled out. The best solution could be to replace the NATO forces, with a UN force and then pressurize the Taliban to negotiate with the Karzai government and form a national government like Iraq. But this would only be possible if Taliban accept this deal. Chances are that their misplaced Jihadi zeal and lack of understanding of the global politics would keep them up in the mountains.
The Americans it seems have long term designs for the region. Particularly, keeping in view their hostile relations with Iran. They are not going to go away in the near future. As their presidential elections are coming near Bush government wants to show some success on this front to help the Republicans win the presidency. So till the elections the pressure is going to increase.
On the other hand if Obama wins the elections he is likely to divert his attention from Iraq to Afghanistan as stated by him many times. This again would mean that once he would be saddled in he would start pushing Pakistan to plug the borders and to close the Taliban safe havens.
Both ways we are in for trouble. Now to manage such a tricky situation Pakistan needs consensus on the foreign policy. This consensus has to be between the politicians who can provide the people’s support and the army which has so far led the Afghan and Indian foreign policy. The decision should now be taken by the political government as the failure of the army-led foreign policy is evident.
Pakistan is paying a heavy price for its involvement with the Taliban and Mujahideens of Afghanistan thanks to its short-sighted security policy. A political vacuum in Afghanistan after the NATO forces withdrawal and fall of Karzai government would further destablise Pakistan. So it is in our interest to dissuade the local Jihadi forces and Taliban from indulging in Afghanistan politics. If they resist following Pakistan’s foreign policy, based on non-interference in our neighbour’s affairs, they should be dealt with a strong hand. The choice is little; if non-interference policy is not adopted honestly and transparently then Pakistan is in for trouble from the Americans, from the Indian and even from the Afghan government. We cannot hoodwink them by declaring that we are not interfering and then quietly encourage local or Afghan Taliban.
The Taliban apologists must realise that such retrogressive forces cannot be idealized as great nationalists who are fighting an anti-imperialist war. At the end of the day their philosophy of life is not going to get the poor people of Pakistan and Afghanistan freedom from poverty, freedom from social oppression and freedom from political suppression. On the contrary it would deprive the people of all this. (firstname.lastname@example.org)