Stop This Madness
By Shireen M. Mazari

The terrorist attacks against Ms Bhutto's cavalcade in Karachi, once again resulted in the deaths of innocent people. There can be no condemnation too strong for this dastardly act of cowardice clearly intended to kill the innocent followers of the Bhutto name.
A raging debate is now taking place on whether or not Ms Bhutto should have heeded the multiple warnings about suicide bombers having been assigned to attack her; whether or not she should have taken the government's advice and at the very least desisted from the mammoth rally to show her popular support rather than playing the spoilt brat and letting the human shield of the poor around her suffer the ultimate sacrifice; whether or not abstaining from huge public rallies will in fact be succumbing to the terrorist's agenda; and so on. But no part of this debate can impact the utter condemnation and rejection of the terrorist act itself.
Yet, this act once again highlighted the growing irrationality and absurdity in which we as a nation are being plummeted ever since we became an ally in the US-led war on terror. This is the second time we have become a front line state for a US-led war -- and the consequences are even more dire this time round. In the first US-led war in Afghanistan, we ended up with millions of refugees the world forgot about; we had our society's fabric rent asunder through the drug and "Kalashnikov" culture and we won no kudos from the Afghans for our sacrifices in ensuring the Soviet withdrawal from their land. As for the political costs within our domestic policy -- we saw the rise of sectarian and ethnic cleavages and the official imposition of a harsh and distorted version of Islam that did not gel with the diverse cultural and Sufi-loving tradition that was an intrinsic part of a tolerant Pakistani civil society before the Zia blight. So if one was to do a cost-benefit analysis of our allying with the US to get the Soviets out of Afghanistan, certainly the costs were far too high and the benefits transitory.
In the present US-led war on terror, the costs for Pakistan are even higher, because we face our own terrorist threats. We need to wage a war against terrorism but taking our own ground realities into account. We cannot go the US route of bombing all and sundry with no regard for human collateral damage; nor can we go the US way in Afghanistan and Iraq where innocent people are being killed with impunity not only by occupying forces but also by the private mercenaries hired by the US. There are many reasons why we cannot go the US route in fighting what is an essential war against terrorism.
The most important reason is that we are fighting the extremists within our own people and therefore cannot afford the collateral damage in terms of innocent lives lost. That is why the earlier government deal with the tribals was commendable. It allowed for dialogue and accommodation and gave the local people a stake in their own preservation. Equally important, it was the first attempt in the war on terror to actually create space denial to the terrorists -- something the US-led war on terror has failed to do. In fact, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have so far created increasing space for terrorists and Al-Qaeda has spread into areas where it had no presence before 9/11.
That the deal eventually collapsed and we have seen increasing death and mayhem since then is equally apparent. Why did this happen? There are multiple reasons including errors -- with the terrorists succeeding in creating fatal misunderstandings between the tribals and the government, especially the Pakistan military. However, perhaps the greatest problem the deal faced was the US doubts over the deal and American demands, ad nauseum, calling on Pakistan to "do more". It seemed the US was never going to be satisfied unless Pakistan simply bombed the tribal areas to rubble. As their own lack of success in Iraq and Afghanistan has grown so the US has sought to draw Pakistan into a similar quagmire in the tribal belt.
So what has been the result of our "doing more" in the sense desired by the US? A gradual loss of credibility within the people of the tribal belt many of whom are increasingly seeing the military action as part of a US agenda. As the civilians suffer increasing collateral damage as a result of aerial attacks by the US and Pakistani military, we are losing the support of the besieged citizens of the area. Yet the war on terror is an unconventional war seeking to isolate the terrorists from their base of support amongst the locals as well as to win over the local population. So we are certainly not achieving these ends by forcing the locals to flee and by causing death and injury to innocent women and children and creating a wave of antipathy against the state as these innocent souls flock to the urban centers of the NWFP for aid and shelter. The worst result, perhaps, has been the spread of the extremist culture from the tribal belt to the mainstream of the country with a special impact on women at all levels. Our collateral damage in terms of our citizens has long-term political costs we will, as a nation, be paying, long after the US and its allies have left this region.
There is an insanity to what is happening in Pakistan today. Our alliance with the US is extracting a terrible price in terms of our national cohesion. Provincialism, that fuelled separatism in East Pakistan in 1971, is raising its head in the tribal belt also. Ironically, Ms Bhutto herself played the provincial card when she lashed out against the Supreme Court before her arrival in Karachi. And, despite the costs, some of our political elite want to draw the US in even more into our state's internal workings, not just in the tribal areas but within the very fabric of the Pakistani polity.
We recently had the absurd sight of a US delegation telling us how to run our politics and asking the ISI not to intervene in our politics. Pakistanis also seeks fair and free elections and it does not become the US to issue sermons on this count especially given how they, along with the UK have sought to broker political deals, effectively writing a pre-election script for the post-election political dispensation in Pakistan.
As the terrorist threat casts an increasingly large specter over Pakistan, it is time for us to stop the madness of following US diktat and evolve a more viable and holistic anti-terror strategy. The US has a suspect agenda in terms of the Pakistan military and we are in danger of falling prey to it. Why target the military in general and the army in particular? We need to recognize the fact that Pakistan's nuclearization does not sit easy with the US and its allies -- and the nuclear capability has been targeted without letup by the Western media and politicians, especially post-9/11. Also, there is a clear understanding that the nuclear capability has been underwritten by the Pakistan military.
To create a compliant Pakistani state in the region, the institution of the military has to be weakened and destroyed from within. What is happening today in the tribal belt cannot but impact the mindset of the soldiers and officers. We must extricate ourselves from the madness of the US-led war on terror and adopt a national approach, embedded in national ground realities and a national political consensus if we are to rid our nation of the terrorist threat.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)

 


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