All the developments of the past few days underscore one bitter reality; Pakistan is in for a protracted phase of militancy – a conflict between pro and anti-Musharraf forces. By implication a collision of interests and perceptions between nationalist and religio-political forces and those seen as proxies of the US-led western cultural imperialism. Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan, say the former, exemplify the predominant high-handed American role against the “oppressed Muslims”. But the US, on the other hand, remains determined to decimate the “forces of evil and terror”.
The events since late 2001 provide ample evidence that this conflicting view has resulted in greater instability and more violence rather than helping in diffusing tensions and narrowing gaps of mutual perceptions. The existing gap and the danger of its spill-out, however, remains the prime focus of the United States. The Bush administration keeps reassuring to employ all possible means to bring the perpetrators of violence and extremism to justice. The determination to work for democratic transition in countries like Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan, is visible through the funding that the administration is providing for areas such as governance, education and health.
Both Democrats as well Republicans mostly speak in unison when it comes to dealing with these countries. Most of the analysis from intellectuals and US-based think tanks also echo more or less similar concerns and propose identical solutions.
Let us examine some of them; on October 19 Richard N Haass, President of the Council for Foreign Relations (CFR) and an expert on Middle East and South Asian affairs, cautioned that Pakistan currently “faces dual challenges of building political legitimacy and fighting extremism, either of which “would be a lot to take on.”
“There are various individuals and groups in Pakistan who, while not popular by any count—radical groups have never gotten more than 10 per cent in any election—they are still in a position to disrupt Pakistani society. And secondly, what we are seeing is a seeping out, the spreading of radicalism from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.”
“It is not that the radicals have a political foothold, but increasingly, it is becoming a situation, in ways that are reminiscent, quite honestly, of Iraq or Afghanistan, where people who have negative agendas are increasingly in positions to assert them.” Haas was quoted by the CFR news.
Compare this with what democrat Senator Joe Biden. He thinks the United States needs a stepped-up presence in Pakistan, and if terrorists were to eliminate Pakistani President Perez Musharraf, he would “probably” go in to secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal if he were president.
“Here, you have a country that is on the edge, called Pakistan, with nuclear weapons and missiles to carry them that can strike the entire portion of that world, the subcontinent, all the way to the Mediterranean,” Biden, the presidential candidate, told ABC News On Oct 21st.
“What I would consider is uniting the world,” Biden said. “It’s in everybody’s interest, not just the United States alone. The first thing I would do, I would call a meeting. I would ask for a meeting of the Security Council. I would be on the telephone with everyone from Putin to the Chinese premier to our allies in Great Britain and Nato. This cannot be a U.S.-alone operation.”
Biden, however, also proposed a more pro-active US involvement in Pakistan.
“We should be in there,” he said. “We should be supplying tens of millions of dollars to build new schools to compete with the madrassas. We should be in there building democratic institutions. We should be in there, and get the rest of the world in there, giving some structure to the emergence of, hopefully, the reemergence of a democratic process. But what are we doing?” Biden questioned.
Weekly The Newsweek in its Oct 20 publication also looks at Pakistan as a country endangered by forces of extremism and terrorism.
“Today no other country on earth is arguably more dangerous than Pakistan. It has everything Osama bin Laden could ask for: political instability, a trusted network of radical Islamists, an abundance of angry young anti-Western recruits, secluded training areas, access to state-of-the-art electronic technology, regular air service to the West and security services that don’t always do what they’re supposed to do.”
“If you were to look around the world for where al-Qaeda is going to find its bomb, its right in their backyard,” the paper quoted Bruce Riedel, the former senior director for South Asia on the National Security Council, as saying.
The homegrown militants who have hidden al-Qaeda’s leaders since the end of 2001 are no longer restricted to untamed mountain villages along the border… militancy is woven into the fabric of Pakistani society. Since then the various military dictators who have periodically ruled the country have found jihad to be a convenient means of distracting their citizens and furthering their foreign-policy aims.”
Generally, such statements and write-ups come across as very strong pronouncements on the state of Pakistan which, foreign analysts believe is embroiled in several wars – one with al-Qaeda and others within.
Moeed Yousuf, an analyst with an Islamabad-based think tank, says Pakistan’s future threat is not from India: “The threat is an internal one for years to come.”
And in the neighborhood, the Afghan defense minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak told editors and reporters early this week that foreign fighters are entering Afghanistan from Pakistan in greater numbers than at any time since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.
“There are more foreign fighters in Afghanistan now than ever before,” Wardak said at a press conference.
He also complained that some coalition members like Italy, Germany and Japan have made only half-hearted efforts in rebuilding Afghanistan’s security institutions. Asked whether Pakistan — which has suffered numerous soldiers killed and wounded in the region in recent weeks — could do more to halt the infiltration, the minister said, “They can definitely do more.”
Ex-premier Benazir Bhutto, while in Washington a few days before her triumphant return to Pakistan, took more or less similar position saying if need be NATO and US could be allowed to take out militants and their sanctuaries.
That precisely is where Pakistan’s problem lies; faced with the rising tide of violence through al-Qaeda allies; it has failed to convince it has done enough and is doing more. Rarely do foreign governments believe Islamabad’s defense on this issue. Most of them now believe that al Qaeda has turned Pakistan into its battleground and that its army is increasingly reluctant to fight a war that the soldiers don’t take as theirs. This perception also breeds suspicions and prompts foreign governments to think of getting involved militarily as several US MPs have suggested.
And alarmingly, militants on the other hand continue to keep the heat on (attacks on Ms Bhutto’s cavalcade) and thereby keep Pakistan under international spotlight – albeit for the wrong reasons. Also, the spiral of anti-US violence doesn’t look likely to abate. Greater turmoil looks imminent.