Military storm hovering over Pakistan?
By Imtiaz Gul
Weekly Pulse, Islamabad July 18, 2008
Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s July 14 tirade against Pakistan's intelligence agencies and the army has certainly triggered speculation as to whether the US-led international forces based in Afghanistan have finalised their case for direct strikes into Pakistani tribal territories?
“The murder, killing, destruction, dishonouring and insecurity in Afghanistan is carried out by the intelligence administration of Pakistan, its military intelligence institutions,” Karzai said in a statement. “We know who kills innocent people,” the president said. “We have told the government of Pakistan and the world and from now on, it will be pronounced by every member of the Afghan nation.”
Karzai listed a number of terror incidents, which he blamed on the ISI including attacks on the Indian Embassy in Kabul and a suicide attack that targeted police in southern Uruzgan province on July 13 that killed 24 Afghans, most of them civilians in a bazaar.
Preceding Karzai’s statement and his cabinet’s decision to boycott a series of upcoming meetings with Pakistan unless “bilateral trust” was restored were at least two unprovoked missile strikes into the tribal areas in the first half of July, and a sudden Islamabad visit by Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee on July 12. All these incidents, underscored the American patience was running thin, as far as the activities of the Taliban in the Pakistani tribal areas were concerned.
Mullen’s visit and the outrage Karzai expressed on July 14, clearly suggest a storm gathering over Pakistan in the coming weeks. Any aerial and missile strikes over suspected hideouts, would incinerate an already explosive situation that the Pakistan military currently faces in the tribal areas.
Exclusive discussions with highly placed military officials on the current situation in the border regions suggest that the military high command is pretty concerned about the course of the events and their possible fallout
“They might already have taken the decision (to operate in and around Pakistani border regions). The only way to deal with them is to perform and show our own mettle, so we can fend off direct actions by the US and the allied forces based in Afghanistan,” said a very senior army official.
“If we get our policy right, we can prevent them from conducting precision strikes into our territories,” said the general, while elaborating the limitations of the Pakistan Army.
That is why, said the general and other officials, the civilian government must move and secure political ownership of actions that the military is undertaking in the border areas.
Essentially, what the military command desires is
a) Political ownership of the policy.
b) Consensus on the threat perception (whether it is internal or external). Pakistanis at large must be made to understand whose war is this, and be able to distinguish the internal terrorism from the external terrorism (that is personified by al-Qaeda and Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan).
c) Draw a line between what the government is ready to do and what is not desirable.
d) The United States is a stakeholder in regional peace. All agreements (with militants), therefore, must address fundamental US concerns; cross border infiltration, militants’ training camps and their sanctuaries in the tribal areas.
e) Sovereign states don’t and cannot afford to allow private groups and militias run parallel administration.
f) The anti-terror war requires much greater and sincere resolve, as the Islamists operate as trans-national movements, and not restricted to one country or region any more. Statements by Dr. Zwahiri, the al-Qaeda second man in command, on various occasions urging Pakistanis to stand up against Musharraf and his US mentors offer ample evidence of the trans-national nature of the threat that we face right now.
g) Clear guidance from the civilian government as to how to deal with an increasingly offensive and impatient US-military establishment, which believes that the mother of Afghanistan’s all ills lives in Waziristan.
h) Peace deals with the militants must not appear as “appeasement”. They rather be seen as tools for establishing the writ of the government, rather than “ceding the ground” to these obscurantists.
This all sounds noble. But the ground realities are quite bitter. What we are witnessing in Khyber (the hackneyed and phoney ‘Operation Sirate Mustaqeem’) and in the Swat and Malakand region (decision to set up Shariah courts), for instance, run contrary to the current wish list of the military high command. The helter-skelter talks even in Waziristan, which predominantly drew guidance from the military and intelligence officials, have also been suspect because, rather than punishing the criminals, the authorities have been rewarding the interlocutors with money and materials.
The challenge facing Pakistani Establishment and the government is to either live with “incremental damage”, whereby indulging in talks and deals with militants -- more or less the policy adopted so far. This policy, which essentially amounts to appeasement -- has proved disastrous. Lal Masjid offered an example of a group challenging the write of the state. The conflict began in January last year with the occupation of a public library next to Jamia Hafsa, and culminated in the bloody operation. This also emboldened Taliban groups in Mohmand, Kurram and Khyber to take law in their own hands, set up courts and deal with issues in their own right.
Smaller “godzillas” have spread all over, attempting to assert their
authority over their small fiefdoms on the one hand, and vowing Jihad inside Afghanistan on the other. The likeliness of them spreading all over is much bigger than of reining them in.
The other alternative is to pack a punch, as some observers suggest, and deliver with all the force, take out the leadership, followed by engagement with people at large. They must be empowered and given the ownership of the actions, rather than being treated as silent onlookers of the dual between the military and the militants.
Briefings by senior most military officials suggest they are “obediently” following the civilian government. We will do whatever the government tells us. But this comes across as quite a naïve statement; looking at the mess of almost a decade under General (R) Musharraf and expecting a three-month-old erratic, headless government would take the right and timely decisions is quite a simplistic assumption that discounts the realities of Pakistani governance; all issues that revolve around Afghanistan, India and the war on terror are essentially and largely determined and defined by the military Establishment.
And this Establishment simply cannot step back in the crisis -- that it helped precipitate through its uni-focal policies. It has to step forward and stand in step with the civilian government to sail through the crisis. Putting the entire onus on the civilians, who don’t carry the larger responsibility for the current situation, is being wishful and unrealistic.
(The author heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.