Terrorism: Understanding the Pakistani Context
By Shireen M Mazari
Prime Minister Gilani’s initial 100-day program has, for the first time, sought to undo some of the neglected dictatorial leftovers from the Zia period – specifically the ban on trade and student unions. Having taught at university for over sixteen years, I have always maintained that student unions are the proper way to educate the youth in healthy political traditions. It was the ban on these unions that allowed ethnic and sectarian associations to grow and fester intolerance within campuses. The issue is not having unhealthy depoliticized campuses, but ensuring that rules are enforced, zero tolerance for violence is maintained and there is a level playing field for all.
There is much to comment on in the context of the 100-day program, especially in the context of agriculture, but in the prevailing national environment, the antics of the US in the context of the war on terror require greater scrutiny. It was gratifying to witness some of our political leaders do long-overdue straight talking with the Negroponte-Boucher duo. Now the prime minister has also declared that Parliament will discuss and decide on the country’s cooperation with the US on the war against terror. However, there is an urgency in moving towards a long-overdue reassessment regarding the military-centric policy of the US in fighting terrorism.
This is not to deny the terrorism problem confronting Pakistan, but we need to realize that our problem involves our own people, and therefore we cannot continue to suffer the collateral damage that results from a purely military approach. In fact, the US is a growing liability in our effort to fight terrorism. Some of us have always maintained and stated that US interests in this region are not similar to our long-term interests and so we need to create some space between ourselves and the US. Right now, while the nation and the political leadership are seeking to evolve a national consensus on how to fight the menace of terrorism, what is the US doing? Increasing its intrusiveness within Pakistan’s domestic affairs. How else would one describe the shadowy presence of US personnel all across the country seeking to deal directly with tribal leaders and militants – without even informing the Pakistani government?
The reach of the US has not been curtailed at all, -post elections. In fact, realizing that they may find a hostile Parliament, the Americans have increased their intrusive activities on all fronts. So we have had rising predator and missile attacks from across the international Pakistani-Afghan border even as US-linked/supported personnel continue to occupy positions in the corridors of power. The Balusa group members, funded through an American, Shirin Taher- Kheli, are a key US investment in Pakistan’s power echelons that continue to pay dividends for the US – and this is only one of the many influence-generating channels.
More offensive was, of course, the forced-upon-Pakistan visit of the Negroponte-Boucher duo, who also took it upon themselves to visit many private individuals and groups, especially in the NWFP, often without the knowledge of the government of Pakistan. Stories coming out of the tribal areas relate how two Americans, through the US embassy, sought and met an MPA from Mohmand Agency, as well as a well-known MNA from FATA. Another MNA, from the Orakzai Agency, however, refused to meet any of the Americans. It is believed that US embassy personnel are directly dealing with the Maliks by hiring locals as intermediaries. If this is not intervention in our domestic affairs, what is? Worse still, such dealings directly undermine the state’s authority and relationship with the tribals. Undermining Pakistan’s sovereignty, the US is turning the FATA region into open ground for the highest bidder. Interestingly, where the locals have resisted this US intrusion, the level of attacks has receded – as is presently the case in the Mohmand and Khyber Agencies.
In a more threatening mode, the US has upped its missile attacks on Pakistani soil since the elections. That is why, on Feb 28, the Pakistani government lodged a complaint with Kabul. But the interesting factor for Pakistan is what the real US intent is, since many of the missiles have targeted the very people who have supported the Pakistani government and thrown out the Uzbeks, like Maulana Nazir in South Waziristan? On March 16, three missiles hit the compound owned by Nurullah Wazir at Shahnawaz Kot, in which 20 people died. Wazir was a close aide of Mullah Nazir and only three days ago the latter’s main office was attacked by a US missile. As some of us have long suspected and repeatedly stated, the Americans’ real intent seems to be to keep the NWFP and the tribal belt destabilized as they move the center of gravity of the war on terror from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
Unless Pakistan reviews its whole strategy for fighting terrorism, we will continue to see more violence as a result of our alliance with the US. Incidentally, we also need to realize that right now the US actually does need us more than we need them. Imagine if we closed off all access to the US, including logistic support – where would they go to access Afghanistan? To Iran? This is without taking into consideration the abuse of some of our facilities in Balochistan where the US is targeting Iran rather than fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan.
The first realization for Pakistan should be that not all our acts of terror are related to international terrorism of the Al-Qaeda brand. We do face sub-national and local acts of terror which do not require international intervention and must be dealt with locally. For instance, there is a question mark emerging over whether the targeting of the FIA office in Lahore was by Al-Qaeda or by the high-stake players of human trafficking. In any event, we need to separate our various strands of terrorism, just as we need to accept that our suicide bomber is very different in character from the Palestinian and LTTE varieties, and in my view, from the scant profiling available so far, far more accessible to being converted back from his suicidal path.
Dialogue is also of central importance and as long as the adversary is prepared to talk, so should the State be willing. We need to study Asian models like the Philippine-MNLF and the Indonesian-Aceh models, as well as the Northern Ireland one. In all these cases, militants were brought to dialogue and renunciation of arms. Interestingly, in the Irish Good Friday Agreement, de-weaponization was to follow operationalisation of the agreement and was not a precondition for dialogue. Yet who can deny the violence and death that these militant groups had perpetrated at the time they were brought into the dialogue process. So why should the Pakistani state not talk to its citizens who have adopted violence, if they are prepared to dialogue? After all, the State has to bring these people and areas into the mainstream of national life, so that the diehard terrorists are isolated, as are the foreign fighters. This is the only viable strategy of space denial to the terrorists – which should be the central strategy in any war against terrorism.
Finally, we must brace ourselves for the new terrorist threat that has developed post-9/11. This is the psychological terrorism coming to the Muslim world from Europe under the guise of “freedom of speech.” It is far more lethal and long-term in its impact on Muslims than any other form of terrorism. We have still not prepared ourselves for this assault.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Courtesy The News)