By Praveen Swami
The military offensive in the North West Frontier Province is intended to spank the state’s errant children — not deliver a death blow to its mortal enemies.
Even as the Second World War raged on, the General Officer-Commanding of Imperial Britain’s Indian Army Eastern Command had begun work on the making of a new nation. Hindu-majority India, Sir Francis Tucker had come to believe, was dangerously mired in “superstition and formalism;” ripe to be seized by “a material philosophy such as Communism.” For this calamity to be averted, he argued, it was “very necessary to place Islam between Russ ian Communism and Hindustan.”
By 1944, Tucker was advocating the need for “a new Muslim power supported by the science of Britain.” “If such a power could be produced,” he wrote in his memoirs, India’s Partition and Human Debasement, “and if we could orient the Muslim strip from North Africa through Islamia Deserta [sic.], Persia and Afghanistan to the Himalayas, upon such a Muslim power in northern India, then it had some chance of halting the filtration of Russia towards the Persian Gulf.”
Pakistan lived up to Tucker’s hopes, allying itself with the anti-Communist powers during the Cold War and offering its services to the United States of America’s war-by-proxy against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
Now, the enemy flies the stark, black-and-white banners of the al-Qaeda and the Taliban but Tucker’s vision of Pakistan continues to influence the geo-strategic imagination of the U.S. policy establishment.
Even as a Lahore court released Lashkar-e-Taiba chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed from house arrest last week, President Barack Obama’s special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, was announcing an additional $200 million in civilian aid to Pakistan. Pious protestations notwithstanding, it is unlikely the U.S. largesse is driven by a concern for human life: internationally-reviled economic sanctions against Cuba, which does not provide a platform for terrorism, are yet to be lifted despite their well-documented impact on nutrition and healthcare.
Islamabad, in fact, enjoys impunity for its failure to credibly act against the Lashkar or the Jaish-e-Mohammad because of its role in fighting the al-Qaeda and the Taliban, as a keystone of what President Obama described as the “partnership between America and Islam.” But does the war in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province live up to its billing as a decisive showdown between Pakistan’s jihadists and the state which helped give birth to them?
Military experts say there are at least three good reasons why the ongoing war in the NWFP should be seen as a spanking delivered to the state’s errant children, not a death blow to mortal enemies.
First, there is no sign that the Pakistan Army is, in fact, prepared for the kind of long-term military commitment needed to degrade an insurgency. Data are difficult to come by but expert estimates made by independent military analyst Mandeep Bajwa suggest that the Pakistan Army has committed between 70,000 and 80,000 personnel to its campaign in the NWFP. That number appears impressive — until one considers the fact that India has committed similar numbers to fighting the far less fierce insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir.
Pakistan’s X Corps has been assigned the responsibility for Operation Rah-e-Rast, the high-profile assault on the Swat region. Elements of the 23 Division, normally stationed along the Line of Control facing Naushera, have targeted Mingora, along with the Jalalpur Jattan-based 333 Brigade, the 54 Brigade from XXX Corps, and the 30 and 212 Brigade from IV Corps. Buner, in turn, has been assigned to the Rahwali-headquartered 37 Division, part of Pakistan’s northern army reserve, the I Corps. Operation al-Mizzan, targeting north and south Waziristan, is spearheaded by the 19 and 7 Division of Pakistan’s XI Corps. In addition, the XXXI Corps’ 14 Division has been given a defensive role, guarding the Bannu-Dera Ismail Khan axis against potential Taliban thrusts in Punjab.
History suggests that these troops could be headed home as soon as victory can credibly be declared. Back in 2008, Pakistan had pumped troops into the NWFP for high-profile offensive operations against the Taliban. Three brigades of the Peshawar-based XI Corps, two brigades of the Quetta-based XII Corps, and one brigade of the Bahawalpur-based XXXI Corps, were pushed westward to join the fight. Pakistan even committed troops from its India-focussed strike formations, notably two brigades of the Kharian-based 17 Infantry Division of the I Corps, to the fight. Taliban fighters responded to the pressure by melting back into the countryside. In time, the troops withdrew — and the Taliban reasserted its authority.
“Pakistan’s strategy in the NWFP is strikingly similar to that of the United States in Afghanistan,” notes Gurmeet Kanwal, Director of the New Delhi-based Centre for Land Warfare Studies. “They use massive force,” he points out, “to evict the adversary but then allow the territory they have just won to be taken all over again by the Taliban.”
Second, Pakistani formations have had little success in capturing or killing key Taliban leaders, raising the disturbing prospect that the military establishment continues to see at least some of them as potential strategic partners.
Late last month, Pakistan raised bounties on key Taliban chiefs active in Swat, including Mullah Fazlullah, his deputy Shah Doran, Mingora-based spokesperson Muslim Khan, and the al-Qaeda’s Tora Bora Brigade commander, Ibn Amin. Pakistan increased the price for information leading to Fazlullah’s arrest or killing from PNR 5 million to PNR 50 million, while rewards for the heads of 20 other Swat-based Taliban have been raised to PNR 15 million. For reasons that are unclear, Pakistan is yet to offer rewards for information on top Taliban commanders like Baitullah Mehsud — the man Islamabad claims is responsible for a string of terrorist attacks across the country, including former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.
Nine senior al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders have been reported to have been killed on its territory since January 2008 — but only three are in fact now confirmed to be dead. Military affairs commentator Bill Roggio noted in a recent article: “all three of the dead al-Qaeda leaders were killed in U.S. cross-border Predator airstrikes, not during Pakistani offensive operations.”
Finally, Pakistan has made no serious attempt to dismantle jihadist infrastructure outside the NWFP. Lashkar and Jaish offices in southern Punjab remain open. So, too, do recruitment operations that lead cadre from the region’s impoverished villages to cross-Line of Control infiltration launch-pads in Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Last month, the Lashkar was found to have resumed fundraising operations through a charitable front, the Falah-i-Insaniyat. All of this raises the fear that Pakistan is punishing unruly allies like the Taliban — while continuing to patronise client jihadists willing to further the state’s agenda in India and Afghanistan.
The Islamist paradox
Why, though, would Pakistan wish to patronise jihadists who, to the rest of the world, seem a self-evident threat to the survival of the state? Part of the answer could lie in the fact that the Islamist jihad in Pakistan emerged not as an adversary of the government but as a product of the official Islam propagated by the state itself.
In a thoughtful 2002 essay, scholar Saeed Shafqat noted that groups like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa had profoundly influenced Pakistan’s “process of identity formation.” “Negating Islamic identity,” he argued, “is equated with opposing Pakistan.” “Over the years,” Shafqat argued, “the religio-political groups have become not only militant in responding towards imagined or real enemies — ‘the West’ or ‘India’— but have also become the champions of ‘Pakistan ideology’.”
Elite-led political organisations have failed to mount a coherent ideological challenge to this project — or to address the conditions in which Islamist groups have flourished. Lashkar recruitment in southern Punjab is known to prey on the increasingly angry children of landless peasants and the urban poor. In Pakistan’s north-west, too, disputes over land, resources and development have fed and informed the rise of the Taliban.
Handing out aid will do little to solve these crises. Writing in The Washington Post, scholar C. Christine Fair noted that the U.S. handouts had “allowed Pakistan to avoid having to choose between guns and butter.” “Such choices,” she argued, “define the democratic process. But successive Pakistani governments have successfully wagered that chronic instability and the imminent dangers of terrorism and nuclear black-marketing would leave the world with no choice but to bail them out, regardless of their failures.” She concluded: “The world needs a smarter way to help Pakistan.”
Like Tucker, President Obama appears to believe that Pakistan holds the key to what is sometimes called the “Muslim World” — an ugly, colonial-era semantic construction that suggests that the region’s inhabitants, unlike people in “the West” or “the East” are bound together and driven primarily by fanatical religious belief. Finding those smarter ways will need the U.S. to see Pakistan for what it is: the site of multiple conflicts produced by unaddressed social conflicts and a dysfunctional, even pathological, stat
Courtesy: The Hindu, New Delhi