Imperatives of the Waziristan operation

Monday, October 26, 2009
Farhat Taj

This is primarily in response to Roedad Khan’s piece of Oct 21 titled “Forgotten lessons of history.” Mr Khan has misrepresented the history and current realities of Waziristan. True, there was a resistance movement in Waziristan against the British army in the past but surely the Pakistan army right now is not a colonial army trying to occupy Waziristan.

The relationship between Pakistan and the Waziristan tribes is different from what it was with the British: the tribes now accept the reality that the region is an integral part of Pakistan. In fact, that it has been their constant complaint for the past several decades that they wanted greater integration into the mainstream so as to benefit from increased socio-economic development. I would go as far to suggest that it is only the mostly-Islamabad-based armchair analysts who are questioning the ongoing military operation in Waziristan because, by and large, the people of the region understand that there is a real danger to them and to the country from the Taliban and Al Qaeda. What they also say is that till now the state had not been serious in standing up to the extremists which have gained a solid foothold in the region and in that regard the operation is seen to bring some element of hope.

As far as the displacement of the people of the two agencies is concerned, that began well before the current military operation. While no definitive statistics are available to indicate any definitive conclusion on the issue, there is enough anecdotal evidence to strongly suggest that many of the financially better-off people of the region had already migrated from their homes some time back. Most of the people who are moving now – or who have moved in the recent past – are those who did not have the means to have migrated earlier. Many of those who left in the past did so because of the barbarism of the Taliban and their allies in Al Qaeda and the inability of the state to protect their lives and properties. Those who are moving now, in the wake of the ongoing military operation, lived a life of pure survival where they did not oppose – for obvious reasons – the extremists who had gained control over the region.

Some armchair intellectuals and analysts propagate the view that the militants and extremists are a kind of a tribal resistance to the Pakistan army, which they see as now fighting America’s war. Nothing can be farther from the truth. For the record, the Taliban and Al Qaeda have never claimed to represent tribal society or stand up for Pakhtun nationalism. Their aim to further a global ideology which in their view should transcend all geographical borders and ethnicities – and that explains why those inclined towards this kind of worldview have come to Waziristan for training from all over the world.

No wonder one finds, apart from the indigenous Pakhtuns of course, Arabs, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Africans, Punjabis and even people from European countries in Waziristan. And this is not because the people of Waziristan love them but because the state of Pakistan had till now surrendered its writ in the area. The militants have waged a war against the two most important pillars of tribal society: the jirga or tribal council and the lashkar, or a tribal volunteer army. Hundreds of tribal elders have been target-killed and tribal society has ceased to function in Waziristan.

Now, moving on to another point raised by Roedad Khan, in his article, which was to compare the Faqir of Ipi with the Taliban leadership based in Waziristan. This is akin to an insult to the Faqir because, unlike the Taliban commanders, he was fighting for the land and for the people of Waziristan – and he was fighting a colonial power. He did not make grand claims in terms of spreading a religious ideology globally and he never killed or targeted any local people. He never banned the tribal jirga – rather, his struggle was endorsed by the jirgas. Also, he never banned music, dance or any other local custom. Furthermore, he and his men never attacked women and children and did not do anything to places of worship.

Resistance to colonial rule is just one aspect of the history of Waziristan. The other aspect is that there was a working relationship with the British masters for much of the time, and that should not be difficult to understand. Society in the region is like any other and so it responds differently to different circumstances. Many sub-tribes of Waziristan entered into smooth working relationship with the British after the they established colonial rule over the area through the office of political agent.

What is somewhat surprising about the occupation of Waziristan by militants and extremists is perhaps the silence of the educated people of the area. The educated from the Wazir, Mehsud, Dawar and Bhittani tribes are all well-integrated into the state structure and hold high-ranking positions both in civil and military bureaucracy of Pakistan, but one hasn’t come across too many of them speaking up for their land. This is remarkably dissimilar to what happened in the case of Swat where the arrival of the Taliban and their eventual control of the valley resulted in a national outpouring of protest and resentment from many Swatis.

To a greater extent, Swat is now free of Taliban control. The educated people of Swat, both in Pakistan and abroad, share a credit for that. Every educated Swati did whatever he or she could to inform the world about the Taliban atrocities in their hometown. I wonder why the educated people of Waziristan have been silent for years. What good is their education for? By keeping silent they are behaving like enemies of Waziristan rather than brave sons and daughters of the land. It is true that the educated families of Waziristan have also suffered due to the target killing in the area. But that does not mean they resign themselves to the adverse circumstances. They must now stand up and make alliances with like minded people all over Pakistan to stop the military from engaging in any more dubious peace deals with the terrorists and make sure that the operation Rah-e-Nijat is taken to its logical end—the complete elimination of the terrorists.

There are Pakistani and foreign terrorists in Waziristan running an Islamist Emirate there. The Pakistanis are mostly Pakhtun and Punjabis. The army must treat them as dangerous criminals. The foreigners are stateless Uzbeks, Arabs, Africans, Afghans, Chechens, Tajiks and even Muslim immigrants from Europe. If deported, they would mostly likely be killed in many of their countries of origin. Waziristan is the only place in the world where they could freely rule. They are not going to surrender their rule easily. For them it is do or die. They will give a very tough fight to the army. But the army must keep fighting them, no matter what, because the alternative is disaster.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. Email: (The News)


Support for the troops
By Huma Yusuf
Monday, 26 Oct, 2009
Troops patrol in Mingora.— Photo from AFP/File

RECENTLY, I was standing in the immigration line atAtlanta’s international airport along with dozens of arrivals to the US from South Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Nearby, Americans were also lining up to re-enter their country.

While we waited, a flight carrying International Security Assistance Force (based in Afghanistan) troops set down. With no need to clear immigration, the troops, in army fatigues and carrying backpacks, walked through the arrivals hall in sporadic batches.

As each group passed the line of foreigners, they were met by deathly silence, piercing stares, rolling eyes or deep sighs. As they reached the Americans, though, there was an explosion of cheers, applause and hooting.

Throughout my recent trip to the US, I was reminded of that country’s unwavering backing of its armed forces. Walk into Starbucks, and you’ll be asked if you want to donate instant coffee to the troops this morning. Get on a bus, and the man across from you will be sporting an ‘I support the troops in Afghanistan’ button.

Pick up a women’s magazine, and the ‘guy of the month’ will be a serving officer. And this in a country where, according to a recent Gallup/USA Today poll, 45 per cent of the population does not favour a troop surge in Afghanistan.

Here, in Pakistan, a similar outpouring of support for our army is made impossible by that institution’s longstanding entanglement with civilian politics. Writing on these pages, Shandana Khan Mohmand rightfully asked, ‘why, after all these years, are we not able to differentiate between the army’s rightful role as defenders of Pakistanis, and its wrongful role as a political force?’ In this moment, however, it’s essential that Pakistanis learn to see the difference.

In the wake of the GHQ attack, troop morale must have been compromised. In Waziristan, the jawans are ill-equipped, dealing with stiff resistance from Uzbek and TTP fighters, and toiling under the knowledge that their 3:1 ratio against the area’s militants is probably not enough to decisively win this battle. They have been described as American mercenaries and are being held responsible for the mass displacement of thousands of people. Their deaths — like those of the militants they’re battling — are becoming statistics.

It also doesn’t help that recent setbacks in Swat — after what was described as a victory over the Taliban — have clarified that there’s no such thing as a conclusive victory when it comes to counterterrorism operations. And days into the Rah-i-Nijat push, the thought of a new frontline emerging in Punjab has to be an exhausting proposition.

Under these circumstances, the army, in its role as the defender of Pakistanis, should be backed by nationwide support. Before the Waziristan operation was launched, the political leadership expressed its support of the army. Talking heads on television acknowledge that we are relying on the army to ‘save’ us. And last week, traders in Rawalpindi brandished banners supporting the army. But don’t the foot soldiers deserve more?

Ironically, Pakistan’s failure to stand by its troops in a time of war is a direct consequence of the army’s omnipresence as a political force. Any support the public has recently expressed for the army has been in its political capacity; this, in turn, has negated the public’s backing of the army in its current role as the nation’s defender.

Consider the ongoing brouhaha surrounding the Kerry-Lugar act. Though widely read as a symptom of endemic anti-Americanism, opposition to the act was also a demonstration of regard for the army as a political institution that need not be checked by the civilian government.

Instead of bolstering public and official support for the army during Rah-i-Nijat, campaigns against the act have heightened tensions between the government and army, and forced civil society to dwell on the army’s many undemocratic indiscretions at a time when we should be grateful for their sacrifices in the battlefield.

Similarly, Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s recent comment about terror attacks being orchestrated by India toes the army’s political line, but does the troops on the ground a disservice. Knee-jerk, anti-India rhetoric is the hallmark of Pakistan’s military-dominated foreign policy. But it also muddies the waters with regard to the Waziristan offensive.

If the public is to believe that India is responsible for this country’s predicament, then the ongoing operation seems misguided — an example of kowtowing to American demands while real trouble brews on the eastern border.

Headlining India also confuses the public perception of the army’s real intentions inWaziristan. After all, some might wonder, if India is the real threat, why should the army fully eradicate the strategic assets it has been cultivating all these years.

The fallout of such politicking is less support — in both figurative and real terms — for our troops at the frontlines. For example, Maulvi Sher Mohammad, the founder of an anti-Taliban Mehsud militia, recently refused to fight alongside the army in Waziristan, claiming that he did not fully trust the military’s motives.

As attacks become more audacious, Pakistanis need to stand by the troops confronting the militants head on. One of the first ways to do this is by not raising objections to the newUS defence bill, which will provide $2.3bn in the coming fiscal year. The bill requires that this money be monitored, but that’s not always a bad thing.

At the moment, the US is holding back important equipment, such as helicopters and satellite phone jamming equipment, needed to fight militants because of the Pakistan Army’s past financial lapses and history of turning a blind eye to Taliban attacks against UStroops (a consequence of its political stance).

If confident that the army is committed to countering terrorism, the US will share equipment and intelligence with Pakistan. Such resources will help the army better defend this country, and reposition Pakistan as a partner — not a client state — in the war against terror. (Dawn)