| Tuesday, January 13, 2009
The fierce clash between militants and security forces in the Mohmand Agency, in which 40 militants and at least six troops were killed, offers evidence that the Taliban and other elements continue to pose an immense threat to the nation and the writ of state. The exchange took place after several hundred militants, including foreign nationals, reportedly attempted to storm a fort occupied by the Frontier Corps. An exchange of fire lasting hours then ensued and militant positions were subsequently bombed. This ranks as the fiercest offensive by militants in the area since an operation began there several months ago. Fighters from Waziristan are said to have taken part in the effort, which had obviously been well-planned and meticulously executed. Other operations, similar to this one, have been seen in the past. (The News)
There is a question that arises: why have the armed forces of Pakistan been unable to overcome a relatively small band of fighters even after months of heavy fighting? Why have the top leaders of these outfits not been arrested? Is it really possible that intelligence agencies have no idea as to their location or their movements? If the Taliban have truly gained such strength as a guerrilla fighting force that it is impossible to knock them out despite the use of all our military might, the state of affairs now prevailing is truly frightening. But then just as grim is the other possibility: that there is still no real will to defeat them despite all that has happened in recent years in terms of bombings, suicide attacks and assassinations.
A full assessment of the situation needs to be urgently made. Our leaders, military and civilian, need to sit down together and contemplate the true position. There have lately been a number of insinuations emanating from regions of fighting that allege an all-out effort is still not being made. These may be nothing more than fiction, but there should be a review of what is happening, how the operation is going and how far it is succeeding in defeating militants. Quite evidently, the militant elements that remain entrenched in the tribal areas are still able to organize themselves into large bands and take on security forces at fortified positions. It is also clear that a large number of non-Pakistani nationals remain a part of the Taliban armies. It is quite obvious that for the sake of the security of our country, the militants need to be vanquished. What needs to be determined is how best this can be achieved. (The News)
ONE look at the weekend’s headlines from Fata and northern Pakistan is enough to dissolve any lingering new year cheer. In Mohmand Agency, several check posts and a fort were attacked; in Hangu, sectarian warfare in the wake of Ashura claimed the lives of dozens; in South Waziristan, an additional political agent was kidnapped; in Bajaur Agency, militants severed the ears of five members of the Khar peace committee; and in Swat, an ANP leader’s home was attacked, yet another girls’ school was torched and a Sharia court ordered the lashing of two alleged drug addicts. While the signs of the state’s disappearing sovereignty are ubiquitous, those of a concerted state fight-back are harder to discern. In fact, at every level of the state’s response there is cause for concern. Zoom out to the macro level: eight months since civilian dispensations assumed power in Islamabad and the NWFP their anti-militancy policy is still unclear. The ANP-led government in the NWFP has flip-flopped, first calling for a peace dialogue, then calling in the armed forces, and then calling for a dialogue again. In Islamabad, the PPP-led government chalked out a three-pronged approach that emphasised development and peace talks with reconcilable militants and military action against irreconcilable elements. However, the government has yet to clarify which militants fall in which category and where the policy has been implemented.
For its part, the Pakistan Army has thus far escaped serious scrutiny of its tactics in Fata and northern Pakistan. Media centres set up by PR departments paint a picture of slow and steady progress but independent reports suggest otherwise. For example, in Swat the lack of a tribal structure and the sheer brutality of the militants has terrorised the local population and denied the state a local partner in its counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism actions, whereas in Bajaur local help has been more forthcoming. Such differences on the ground, and the different origins of the fighting in places like Hangu (sectarian), require different anti-militancy strategies. Worse, the Pakistan Army’s whack-a-mole strategy of fighting the militants in only certain areas at any given time may actually be playing into the enemy’s hands. While the militants have access to an array of weapons and communication systems, their resources cannot match the Pakistan state’s. Were the militants to be engaged across the region simultaneously, they could quickly find themselves stretched thin and unable to mount a serious response. The militancy problem is undoubtedly complex, but without fresh political and military thinking it will only grow worse. (Dawn)
And now the ‘reverse’ jihad
On Sunday, the Pakistan army killed 40 Taliban and wounded scores of them in Mohmand Agency when it repulsed an attack mounted by about 600 fighters from across the Afghan border. The attackers, called “foreigners” by the official spokesman, targeted the Frontier Constabulary positions inside the Agency. The “foreigners” were supported by the local Taliban. In the fight that continued through the early hours, six Pakistani soldiers were martyred.
In the neighbouring Bajaur Agency, the local Taliban known to be supported from outside Pakistan cut off the ears of four private guards. The Pakistan army is deployed in Bajaur, the most dangerous stronghold of the militants who pretend to wage jihad against the state of Pakistan. There too, Pakistan has suffered incursions of “foreigners” from the neighbouring Afghan province of Kunar. Next to Bajaur, in South Waziristan Agency, the Taliban carried out the abduction of a government official obviously with the intent of demanding ransom or release of their cohorts from state captivity.
Our misfortune is that that all sides fighting on Pakistani soil claim the obligation of jihad as their motive for violence. Those who attack and those who defend also claim the status of martyr for their dead. In Swat, the “piety” of the militants is being demonstrated through the courts set up by them, doling out punitive verdicts without much examination of evidence. It is said that there are three types of Taliban operating in Pakistan: the Afghan plus non-Afghan “foreigners” attached to Al Qaeda; the Pakistani Taliban who are demanding a change in Pakistan’s foreign policy and enforcement of their tough sharia; and criminals who enrich themselves through jihad.
The Americans complain that the Taliban cross over into Afghanistan from the Pakistani side to attack the NATO-ISAF forces. The CIA uses drones and missiles to target and kill them in our Tribal Areas. This movement of the militants is supposed to be a hangover from the jihad that went into Afghanistan to support the government of the Taliban against the multinational “invasion” of Afghanistan in 2001. When the rout occurred, many of the Taliban escaped into Pakistan’s tribal belt and Balochistan. Now the movement of militants is from Afghanistan to Pakistan, a kind of “reverse” jihad.
In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, our ISI chief General Ahmad Shuja Pasha was asked a question about the presence of the Taliban in Quetta. If the report is correct, and we hope it isn’t, he is supposed to have expressed an opinion of jihad that indirectly denies the presence of the state: “Shouldn’t they be allowed to think and say what they please? They believe that jihad is their obligation. Isn’t that freedom of opinion?” It is quite surprising to see a concept which is not even consensual among the clergy being given a constitutional status like freedom of expression. Saying that jihad is permissible without the authority of the state is one thing; actually waging jihad when the state is at peace is quite another.
An editorial on Balochistan appearing in a national daily on Monday stated: “Challenging the writ of the Taliban is tricky as it is both difficult and dangerous to confront a grouping that says it is working within the religious constitution of the state — the constitution which has the sharia at its very heart. Few of us would wish to risk the wrath of the extremists by challenging them as they will always counter with the cry of ‘Are you not a Muslim?’” The truth of the matter is that the militant clerics — and most others go along for the sake of their empowerment — claim jihad only by negating the fundamental article of the Constitution: the state itself.
Jurisprudence says jihad is for the state or the “ul-al amr” (ruler) to declare, therefore any jihad declared in a vigilante form is not jihad but “fitna”, a most undesirable state of affairs in an Islamic state. The argument of the clergy in favour of jihad quite clearly rejects the state “because it is derelict in its duty to declare jihad when it has become incumbent on the state to do so”. The inspiration behind the thinking of the clergy comes from Revelation; for the state, the mechanics of waging war depend on the calculus of power. Jihad is an aspiration to martyrdom; war is an expression of a state’s economic and military strength.
When the state gets into the business of waging “deniable” jihad with the help of “non-state actors”, it creates multiple centres of power at the cost of its internal sovereignty. These days, an unhinged war in the form of a “reverse” jihad has engulfed Pakistan. And the only reason why it is raging is the waning of the writ of the state and the empowerment of groups who wish to usurp it. (Daily Times)