Posts Tagged ‘Terrrorism’

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, the relationship between India and Pakistan has certainly suffered. Below, Rakesh Mani, a New York-based banker and freelance writer, discusses the current state of our countries’ relations, and what needs to occur for the good of both nations. [The piece originally appeared in Dawn newspaper on January 19]:

We are now gripped by a solemn fear that the terrorist atrocity on India’s financial capital can trigger new furies across the arc of the subcontinent. If the terrorists wanted a mobilization of troops to the India-Pakistan border and a diversion from the pressure applied on them in Pakistan’s northwest areas, they will soon have their way if the region allows itself to be taken over by nationalist fervor.

Across the world, Indians are outraged by what they see as Pakistan’s alleged complicity. But it might well be that the terrorists, though Pakistanis, were not state-sponsored. It is a difficult fact for many Indians to accept, but the Pakistani state seems to have largely exited this “business.”

The fact that India held peaceful elections in Jammu & Kashmir with massive voter turnout points to this. The electoral success would not have been possible if Islamabad had sent in extremists and militants, as New Delhi believes it is wont to do.

Yes, Mumbai’s terrorists may not be state-sponsored agents but, as with other terrorists, they are indeed society-sponsored. For various reasons, Pakistan has become the global epicenter of Islamic terrorism – a problem that has serious security implications for not just India, but for Pakistan itself.

Still, we cannot afford war. It will be political and financial suicide.

Politically, launching targeted strikes against the militants’ facilities will give rise to increased public support for Pakistan’s fiery mullahs and pose a dangerous threat to the country’s stability. Economically, the prohibitive price of battle will hit hard at India’s booming economy and Pakistan’s crumbling one.

Escalating tensions need to be defused swiftly. Now more than ever, we need real statesmen to step up to the plate and act with maturity, restraint and vision. We need a realisation that India and Pakistan are in this together, one cannot succeed while the other falters. Along with a shared history and culture, we now have a shared enemy.

The only real beneficiaries of this are the right-wing religious parties. The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accuses the ruling Congress party of being soft on terror. “Fight Terror. Vote BJP,” they say. Can we feign shock if an embittered India votes to sacrifice its pluralism for the sake of its security in the coming elections?

And who benefits the most from Hindu nationalists sweeping to power in India but the Islamists in Pakistan? It gives them justification as the defenders of faith. The two complete each other’s constituencies, they thrive on each other. But if we can knock them out on one side of the Wagah border, we can take the ground out from beneath their feet on the other.

But here it is the failure of Pakistan’s intellectual and social elites. Sipping cocktails comfortably in New York and London, they bemoan the government and old mindsets. But in Karachi, they won’t ever set a bold example. Back home, it’s easier to follow the rigidly conservative social diktats. Social freedoms are better exercised abroad.

They’re educated and modernized, but won’t speak out against anti-Indian rants and hard-line religious doctrine. So from the pluralist, tolerant Islam that was once the case, the country is now held captive to a puritanical version of the faith that is constantly policed by those who believe themselves to be rightly guided. Growing up with this rigid doctrine, young, ordinary Pakistanis are readily subordinating the love of the state to religiously inspired visions.

A crisis is the perfect opportunity for solutions; even radical solutions. So we cannot let this crisis go to waste. It must be used to curb a dangerous national obsession with faith, and to arrange an economic marriage in South Asia. Ultimately, this economic marriage is what will bring long-term peace and prosperity in the region. Businesses must open up across the border. When times are less tense, permits must flow for industries and investments. The impacts on the economy and on the people’s psyches will be huge.

Soon, South Asia’s businessmen will become the region’s most ardent diplomats. They will exert every pressure on their governments to avoid conflict, because conflict will hurt their commercial interests. Perhaps in the long term, the region will become one economic bloc, and share a common market and currency, along with a common culture. Divisions can break down in the face of economic cooperation.

The world has woken up to India’s economic potential. India is being courted as never before. Why should Pakistan, whose people have so much in common with Indians, not do the same? Getting riled up by old prejudices arrests us – Pakistan can only gain from an economic marriage of convenience with India. For Pakistan’s sake, and the world’s, let’s hope that wedding bells are round the corner.

Read Full Post »

On Monday, BBC News cited the United National High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which stated that 20,000 people have fled Pakistan’s tribal area of Bajaur for Afghanistan “amid fighting between troops and militants in recent months.” The BBC added, “The UN’s refugee agency says almost 4,000 families have crossed north-west into Afghanistan’s Kunar province.”

UNHCR spokesman Nadir Farhad said the organization would look out for the refugees’ welfare if they are unable to return home as “winter sets in.” He was quoted saying, “It’s very difficult to predict the security situation on the other side of the border but what we hope is that the security gets better and people will be able to go back.” Although many of the families have found accommodation with friends or family, UNHCR reported “that some 200 families are already living without shelter.” BBC added, “The UNHCR says around 70% of the families are from Pakistan but the rest are Afghans who have been living in Pakistan.” [Image from BBC News]

Dawn also reported on the evacuation of Bajaur residents amid the intensifying conflict. The news agency reported,

Military authorities issued a warning to civilians in Taliban-dominated areas in Bajaur to move to safe places…Pamphlets were dropped from helicopters in Khar, asking people to vacate areas where militants were hiding and not to travel after sunset and warning that they could be attacked if the instructions were not followed.

In August, the Pakistani military launched this offensive against militants in Bajaur, the smallest of Pakistan’s seven tribal agencies, which are “semi-autonomous ethnic Pashtun tribal regions,” reported Reuters. According to the BBC’s Barbara Plett, “Bajaur is a crucial hub for insurgents. It has access routes to Afghanistan and the rest of Pakistan and the Taliban knows its worth.” On Monday, a Dawn piece assessed whether this operation, dubbed Operation ‘Sher-dil’ [“Operation Lionheart”] has been successful. The news agency cited military sources who said in a media briefing on Monday, “It is a continual operation. It is not going to end in 2008 and it is not going to end in 2009. Don’t be optimistic, as far as the timeframe is concerned. It is a different ground and it will take some time.”

In Bajaur, noted Dawn, militants were putting a more stiff resistance than the military’s offensive in Swat, using “better tactics and communication system, reinforcements and heavy weapons from across the border.” A military official told news sources:

Those who have been telling us to do more, we turn around and ask them to do more. Stop the reverse flow into Bajaur. It’s coming. Heavy weapons are coming. The militants are coming…The militants are coming and their travel starts from Central Asia; they cover the entire track of Afghanistan. You are not stopping them and they are coming into our country…

Reuters also cited this senior military source in their coverage. They quoted the official stating, “The Pakistani-Afghan border is porous and is now causing trouble for us in Bajaur…Now movement is taking place to Pakistan from Afghanistan.” Although the officials did not blame the Afghan government for the movement of militants across the border, they did call on Kabul and U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan forces to help halt their flow.

Although the U.S. supports the Bajaur operation, they are also demanding “a widespread crackdown on militant bases… throughout the tribal belt, and especially those used for launching attacks on international and Afghan troops in Afghanistan,” reported the BBC. However, Pakistani generals say they don’t have the resources for an all-out war. Army spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas told the news agency, “One has to prioritize the bigger threat…Is it a compound in [the tribal areas of] North or South Waziristan, or is it Bajaur, which has become a huge stronghold of all the militants?” Although cross-border infiltration is a concern, Pakistan must primarily focus on combating a local insurgency that threatens its people and its overarching state.

Aside from the military offensive in Bajaur, the Pakistani Army is undertaking other tactics to overturn this militant stronghold. Media outlets have reported that the Pakistani Army is also encouraging local villagers to take up arms against the Taliban. The Wall Street Journal reported, “The Pakistani army is backing tribal militias that are rising to battle pro-Taliban groups, a development that the government hopes will turn the tide against insurgents here in the embattled northwest.” According to the Guardian, “The Pakistani movement relies on tribal customs and widespread ownership of guns to raise traditional private armies, known as lashkars, each with hundreds or several thousand volunteers.” The news agency quoted Asfandyar Wali Khan, head of the Awami National Party [the secular political party which heads the NWFP provincial government], who said, “There’s going to be a civil war…It will be the people versus the Taliban.” [Image from Reuters]

The lashkars have reportedly been organized in Bajaur, Peshawar, Khyber, Swat, Dir, Buner, and Lakki Marwat, and “have had some success in driving the Taliban from local areas by conducting patrols and burning down the homes of Taliban fighters and their supporters,” noted the Long War Journal. Already news outlets are hailing the militias’ formation and likening them to Iraq’s Sunni Awakening movement in Anbar province. However, the tribal dynamics in the northwest region of Pakistan are markedly different and  constitute a more complex terrain. The LWJ reported,

The Pakistani government has to coordinate different strategies for each individual tribe, making the task of tribal engagement difficult. “The dynamics [with each tribe] are very different, as is the strategic situation of each tribe,” the source stated. “The biggest single hurdle is that there is no overarching body to coordinate tribal resistance In contrast to the TTP [Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan].”

Although the lashkars operate as distinct, local units, the Pakistani Taliban can coordinate support for their activities across northwest Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan. The LWJ noted that this is complicated further by the tribes’ unwillingness to cooperate with the government and the military. Some tribes also claim to be equally opposed to the Taliban and U.S./NATO troops, [see this video by BBC News]. While the tribes’ resistance to the Taliban should be seen as a positive, the complexities of their allegiance should still act as a reality check for those already hailing it “Pakistan’s answer to the Anbar Awakening.”

Read Full Post »