Militant activity in the tribal belt

As long as militant activity in the tribal belt was directed outwards, it never attracted our attention. And when these militants turned inwards, we were caught napping.

Harmonising interests
Talat Masood

…………..The result is our security forces turning a blind eye to the activities of Hekmatyar, Haqqani and others who are supposedly hurting American and Afghan interests, but are not necessarily Pakistan’s enemies. Ironically, similar parallels exist in American and Afghan behaviour towards certain militant groups operating in our tribal belt. India, and even the US, has been blamed for supporting dissidents in Balochistan. This sharp divergence in perception and support of proxies has given rise to mutual distrust and is by default strengthening the Taliban and other militants.

Pakistan’s interests demand that it does not allow the Taliban or any other obscurantist militant group to hold territory and destroy the socio-economic and political structure of the state. And this, of course, it is trying to do, though success is still some distance away. But Pakistan is not wary of the Afghan Taliban despite the face that their resurgence directly impacts the tribal belt. Obsession with India, and now with the US, should not blind us to the fact that terrorism and insurgency are seriously endangering the integrity of the federation.

The argument that the western border became volatile after 9/11, when we joined the US as a frontline state, does not hold on close scrutiny. We had neglected FATA since the creation of Pakistan, and allowed it to fester during and after the Afghan Jihad while supporting the Taliban with grandiose designs of Pan-Islamism and ‘strategic depth’. As long as militant activity in the tribal belt was directed outwards, it never attracted our attention. And when these militants turned inwards, we were caught napping. The highly aggressive and unilateral US policy has aggravated the challenge.

Clearly, stabilisation of Afghanistan and peaceful borders are in Pakistan’s interest. This implies that the efforts of the Afghan government with the support of the international community should succeed. Pakistan’s policy of ignoring the presence of certain groups in FATA, which are supporting the Afghan Taliban, has to be revised. Not only does it create rifts between the two countries, it also promotes militancy within Pakistan.

The US, too, cannot continue to ignore Pakistan’s vital interests if it seeks genuine cooperation. Pressurising a country of 160 million people without a quid pro quo does not work. Only a more equitable policy in the region will succeed. Washington should use its influence and that of the international community to prevail on India to find a durable solution to Kashmir and other issues that bedevil the Pak-India relationship.

For Afghanistan and Pakistan to have stable long-term cooperative relations, formal acceptance of the Durand Line as international boundary is a prerequisite. Additionally, there is an urgent need to improve the conditions of Afghanistan’s politically and economically deprived Pashtun community. The Taliban phenomenon has thrived in Afghanistan and the tribal belt because it flourishes in underdeveloped and marginalised segments of society.

Relying essentially on military force to defeat them has not worked before, and will not succeed now. A subtle combination of limited force, engagement with the people and economic development is key to stabilisation.

The US should cease cross-border raids, and instead work closely to build up Pakistan’s economic and military capacity. It is equally important for the US and the West to dispel the impression that the war on terror is directed against Islam. Resolution of these critical issues through harmonisation of national interests can secure a peaceful future for the region.

The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at
(Daily Times)\10\09\story_9-10-2008_pg3_2