Distancing ourselves equally from the Taliban and the US is not as great a contradiction as may appear at first. by Ayaz Amir

Degrading… but do we have a choice?
Islamabad diary

Friday, December 12, 2008
by Ayaz Amir

Is the Lashkar-i-Taiba – or the organisation it has morphed into, Jamaat-ud-Dawa – guilty of terrorism? Did it have a hand in the Mumbai attacks? India says it has proof and the United States is all but openly supporting India’s point of view. Pakistan has received warnings and veiled threats. There is also the joke of someone pretending to be the Indian foreign minister and calling up President Zardari and it is a measure of the incompetence prevailing in Islamabad that this hoax call was taken seriously.

But warnings and threats apart Pakistan has received no definitive proof. Yet such is the pressure mounted on Pakistan that to appease Washington and New Delhi it has started moving against the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, some of whose offices in Kashmir and Hazara have been raided and some of its officials taken into custody.

There should be no doubt about it, Pakistan is being put through a degrading routine –

one not exactly calculated to promote national pride. Without all the evidence coming in – evidence that conclusively proves Lashkar’s involvement in the Mumbai killings – the government is acting in a manner which substantiates the accusations the Indian government, and a very shrill Indian media, are hurling at Pakistan. In other words, our actions are making us look like criminals.

But do we have a choice? Do we have that in us which would make us stand up to American and Indian pressure? Honestly, I don’t think so. Nuclear-armed Pakistan with the fifth or sixth largest army in the world is not as plucky as tiny-by-comparison Lebanon. There is nothing in Pakistan, not even the ‘jihadi’ organisations like the Lashkar dedicated to vague causes, to compare with the courage and organisation of Hizbollah. And there is no leader in Pakistan, or indeed across the embattled world of Islam – a religion which we disgrace by our incompetence and cowardice – to match Hasan Nasrullah. So with what weapons in our armoury can we stand up to America and India?

National dignity is a term we should stop using. Pakistan lost what dignity it had when General Pervez Musharraf – commander-in-chief of the army, President of the Islamic Republic – handed over the Taliban ambassador, Mullah Muhammad Zaeef, duly accredited to Pakistan and therefore protected under international law, to the Americans when they attacked Afghanistan. When officers belonging to our intelligence agencies handed over Zaeef to the Americans they started beating him in the presence of our officers and our officers, by Zaeef’s account, said and did nothing. With what conscience can we speak of national dignity?

And what makes us think that with our coffers empty, our begging bowl extended feverishly in every direction, the army stuck in the treacherous terrain of the tribal belt, when there is no grimmer joke than to call the seven tribal agencies ‘Federally Administered’ because any semblance of federal administration there has long since vanished, we have the gumption to tell America and India that while we are not for terrorism will they kindly stop pushing us around until all the evidence is in and the smoking gun linking the Lashkar to Mumbai is found?

Our poor circumstances leave us with little choice except to make appeasing and soothing gestures, hoping that the clouds above will somehow dissipate and all that we are presently facing somehow passes.

From which the slow conclusion emerges that it may be time to bid a final farewell to the diplomacy of ‘jihad’. There was a time when Pakistan could get away with the sponsoring of cross-border ‘jihad’. We did it in Afghanistan, forgetting that what made that such a resounding success was American sponsorship. Profiting by the Afghan experience, and indeed spurred by it, we did it again in Indian-occupied Kashmir. When a few thousand fighters tied down nearly half a million Indian troops we considered it brilliant strategy.

Cross-border terrorism was a term then unknown (incidentally, the man who helped bring it in fashion was Gen Musharraf with his Kargil adventure). But times have changed. Adventures once affordable are no longer so. What was doable 10, 15 years ago is now hazardous business, the international terrain having changed after 9/11.

So whether the Lashkar was involved in Mumbai or not is beside the point. General Headquarters (GHQ) and Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), the twin fortresses which more often than not have produced disasters in the name of higher strategy and the national interest, may no longer be able to ignore the warning signs. The concept of ‘jihad’ may be alive and well in Afghanistan but it has become passe, a dangerous fad to nurture, in Pakistan. The world has moved on and other demons have arisen and living in the past is an increasingly perilous undertaking.

Not that we declare war against the votaries of ‘jihad’ or what passes for holy war in their understanding. That would be suicidal, entailing the risk of replicating in the rest of Pakistan conditions now prevailing in the tribal areas, Waziristan multiplied many times over, the whole of Pakistan, to the delight of our enemies, turning into a vast battleground. No, the sense and wisdom we forfeited when under the CIA’s banner and General Ziaul Haq’s we fought Charlie Wilson’s war in Afghanistan must somehow be rediscovered. Elements schooled in the politics of ‘jihad’ must be brought in from the cold and rehabilitated so that they become not disgruntled, and therefore potentially dangerous, members of society but fully integrated components of the national mainstream.

So let us not be provoked into any panic reaction by America and India. We must deal with the problem – and let us be under no illusion that it’s not a problem – in our own way and on our own terms. We must learn to think and act for ourselves as we have failed to do in FATA where our army is mired in a conflict dictated by American compulsions. Far from quelling terrorism we have seen terrorism expanding, the writ of government replaced by the assault rifles of shadowy forces.

Pakistan thus faces a double task: exorcising the ghosts of ‘jihad’ and at the same time, while seeking American friendship, saying goodbye to the military alliance with the United States which sits like a yoke round our necks. Let America fight its own Afghan war and let the Taliban fight their own war of national resistance. Let us be an interested spectator but not a party to either enterprise. Thirty years of concentrated folly lie behind the present mess. It will take some pretty hard shovelling to clear it.

Distancing ourselves equally from the Taliban and the United States is not as great a contradiction as may appear at first. For us both the Yanks and the Black Turbans pose a mortal danger. We play with either and we burn our fingers. We play the ‘jihad’ card, or do not erase what’s left of the traces of ‘jihad’, and we risk more pressures of the kind we presently face. The ISI should relearn the definition of ‘asset’. Warriors of ‘jihad’ who may have been assets once upon a time are clear and present dangers. On the other hand, if we remain tied to America’s war chariot we make internal fissures deeper because identification with America is a spur to extremism carried out in the name of Islam.

America is purporting to fight extremism and terrorism but as Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated America, through its blundering ways, has been a greater promoter of these very tendencies than even Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. American friendship is a great thing, a passport to gain entry into halls of learning, knowledge and profitable trade. But being caught up any of America’s wars is a recipe for disaster. Where America in military mode steps in, terrorism and chaos are not far behind.

Empires best exercise power and influence from a distance, indirectly. For an empire to be dragged into a military quagmire as in Vietnam all those years ago and now in Iraq and Afghanistan means loss of power and prestige. But America can look after itself. We have to be clear about what is best for us.

In a way, therefore, if the proper lessons are drawn, Mumbai, a terrible event for India, may turn out to be a blessing for Pakistan, helping to concentrate Pakistani minds and enabling Pakistan to take the turning that otherwise it might not have taken so soon.

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