Pakistan faces a new crisis
By G Parthasarathy
Thursday, June 11, 2009
The Americans appear overjoyed at what they seem to believe will be an early end to Taliban control over large tracts of north-west Pakistan following the ongoing Pakistani military operations in Swat. These military operations were literally forced on the Army, as fears grew that unless action was taken, the Taliban would spread their wings to the very heart of the national capital.
But, within two weeks of the commencement of the military operations, the country faces a new crisis, which threatens its national solidarity and unity. Speaking in Peshawar about the growing numbers of people (described as ‘Internally Displaced Persons’) who have fled their homes following the military operations, Information Minister of the North-West Frontier Province Iftikhar Hussein revealed on May 29 that 2.8 million people had fled their homes from the scene of recent operations. He added that this was apart from 600,000 other Pakhtuns (Pathans) who had been forced out of their homes in earlier Army operations in the province’s tribal areas.
As more and more displaced people pour into refugee camps, Pakistan’s resources are being strained. It has appealed to the UN and donor countries for urgent financial aid. But more important than the economic implications of the refugee influx is the political fallout of the military operations. It is now clear that fearing the spread of Talibanisation, major provinces like Sind and Punjab are refusing refuge and rehabilitation facilities for Pakhtuns fleeing the impact of the Army’s operations.
In the Sind province, Sindhi nationalist organisations have joined the main Muhajir political party, the MQM, which is now a coalition partner in the Provincial Government, in warning that they will not accept displaced Pakhtuns. The MQM has warned that any influx of refugees into Karachi could lead to ethnic violence. Even before these developments, ethnic clashes between Muhajirs and Pakhtuns had rocked Karachi.
The attitude of the largest province of Pakistan, Punjab has, however shocked many Pashtuns. According to one of Pakistan’s most respected journalists, Rahimullah Yusufzai, even the Punjab Government, which is headed by Mr Shahbaz Sharif, the brother of former Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, has let it be known that it would not provide facilities for camps for internally displaced people in the province and that camps should be set up within the NWFP for this purpose.
An anguished Yusufzai asks: “Is it asking too much from politicians who are in and out of power and are supposed to show the way to the nation to be sensitive to the pleas of IDPs instead of rubbing salt in their wounds? Or, according to their interpretation, should the IDP issue be the concern of the NWFP and the Pakhtuns only? If this is the case, then one should be worried about the damage this attitude is causing to the concept of the nationhood of the Federation of Pakistan.”
The operations in Swat against the Taliban commenced in the middle of May. How is it that in barely two weeks of military operations 2.8 million citizens of Pakistan fled their homes? The fact is that whenever the Pakistani Army commences operations against its own people, it uses excessive force. This was evident in Bangladesh in 1971, when the Pakistani Army’s brutality led to 11 million people fleeing as refugees to India.
In operations in Baluchistan in 1973-1974 and thereafter during the Musharraf dispensation, the Army has used air power and artillery indiscriminately. Air power was used to assassinate the respected octogenarian Baluch leader Nawaz Akbar Bugti. Use of excessive force was also manifested in Pakistani Army operations in rural Sind in 1983 and thereafter between 1992 and 1996 against Muhajirs in Karachi.
What are the implications of more violence of this nature against Pakhtuns of the NWFP? In the NWFP, the Pakistani Army is today operating against the kinsmen of those whose cause it had purportedly championed in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion of that country and thereafter in backing the Taliban in Afghanistan. Worse still, the Army and the ISI have continued to provide haven and support to the Afghan Taliban leadership led by Mullah Omar in the capital of Baluchistan, Quetta, over the past seven years or more, and similar support and haven to the Afghan Taliban military commanders like Jalaluddin Haqqani in the tribal areas of the NWFP, while acting against Pakistani Pakhtuns who support their Afghan kith and kin.
For how long can this contradiction persist? Are the Pakhtuns so naïve that they cannot see through such intrigues? Finally, for how long will Pakhtun soldiers and officers, who constitute over 20 per cent of the Pakistani Army, tolerate such duplicity? Moreover, are the Americans so naïve that they will not take note of such duplicity and turn on the heat for action against the Afghan Taliban and their Al Qaeda allies?
There has been concern about the spread of Taliban influence towards India’s borders. It should, however, be remembered that the Taliban are predominantly a Pakhtun phenomenon. What is, however, now happening is that the influence of groups allied to the Taliban, made up predominantly of Punjabi Pakistanis, is now spreading across the Punjab Province of Pakistan. These organisations have cells in virtually all towns and cities in the province.
Recent attacks in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team, the Police Training facility and the ISI headquarters are evidently the work of those now called in Pakistan as the ‘Punjabi Taliban’ or the ‘Tehreek-e-Taliban Punjab’. Conservative Wahaabi Muslim practices are being increasingly advocated and even sought to be enforced by these groups in Punjab Province. Can these challenges be overcome in Pakistan’s most populous province bordering India, given the jihadi inclinations of the Army establishment and the ISI? The Lahore elite seems oblivious to, and in a dangerous denial mode of, these developments.
Given these challenges and with the country virtually bankrupt and under constant American pressure to act militarily on its borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan’s leadership will not be able to effect any change in its usual hackneyed rhetoric on relations with India. This was obvious from recent comments by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Jammu & Kashmir. The more important question, however, is whether given the Army’s failure to act quickly and decisively against the Taliban, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani will seek to divert attention by escalating terrorist violence across Pakistan’s eastern borders?
Source: The Daily Pioneer, New Delhi