Beginning with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement before a Congressional House Committee on April 23, a string of statements – besides Clinton’s – by the US secretaries of state and defence, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the commanding general of American forces in the Middle East all issued blunt warnings that with ascendant militancy, Pakistan faced an existential threat – and that its government and Army were not facing it.
Most said the threat was “certainly real, and the Pakistan Army untrained in counterinsurgency and rigidly focused on India was either “reluctant to take on” the Taliban or “mostly ineffective”. On April 27, Centcom Chief David Petraeus once again warned of the militants, saying they had turned the situation in Pakistan very dangerous.
In recent months, based on the extremely controversial Swat deal leading to the Nizame Adl Regulation, the string of suicide attacks – about 22 so far this year – and the inability of the provincial and federal governments to arresting the slide and offering workable dialogue-development strategies to countering the militants, most talk about Pakistan has centered on whether it stands before a possible disintegration and how to stem the drift into chaos.
Statistics and events in the last four weeks or so seem to have evoked these alarmist views; let us look at the western border; today, 27,220 square kilometers of FATA-Bajaur, Khyber, Kurram, Mohamand, North Waziristan, Orakzai, South Waziristan FATA are beyond Pakistan’s control. Some 5,337 square kilometers of Swat and the areas around it are, by virtue of the Presidential approval of the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation 2009, are beyond the Constitution of Pakistan de jure.
Maulana Sufi Mohammad of the Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) made it abundantly clear on April 19 that he intends to stretch the Nizam-e-Adl to Chitral (14,850 square kilometers) and Dir (5,280 skm). Simultaneously, Pakistan’s writ in most of Balochistan — a total of 452,243 square kilometers, or 58 percent of Pakistan — is increasingly challenged and getting weaker by the day. Forces challenging the writ of the state stalk the roads and streets even in cities such as Peshawar, Mardan, Nowshehra and Swabi, mowing down police and paramilitary at will, and thereby sowing terror in the hearts and minds of security forces and people at large.
The list of failures is pretty long including the failure to integrate FATA and Federally Administered Northern Areas — i.e. 99,716 square kilometers, nearly 13 per cent of our total landmass — in mainstream Pakistan since 1970. The surrender of Swat is the latest addition to the areas that can be characterized as “ungovernable” by the state of Pakistan. The noises, therefore, particularly resonating in Washington and London, sound quite logical when officials and think-tanks suggest direct military action in areas that Pakistan cannot “govern”.
If more than half-a-million strong army cannot take out radical militants who are considered threat to the entire world, the US-led western forces would do it for Pakistan. A string of analysis and studies by Washington and London-based think tanks also support this western military push, maintaining that Pakistan itself is unable to handle the spiral of violence unleashed by Al Qaeda and its local associates.
This argument requires our ruling elite – the civilian as well as the military – to indulge in a deep introspection of its acts and words in the last 62 years. It is incompetence, absence of commitment and vision as well as sheer indifference of the ruling elite – backed up by a pliant and conniving bureaucracy – that has brought this country to the brink: a point where conjectures about its survival or disintegration have become an inevitable element of discussions even at home.
What is happening in vast parts of the NWFP (Swat and Buner in particular) and FATA offers quite a glaring glimpse of what had preceded and followed the Taliban emergence in Afghanistan: governance had broken down, central authority melted away, and the country degenerated into medieval fiefdoms, controlled by individual warlords, who at times also operated in a well-knit network under one umbrella. Taliban exploited the conditions and buried most of the population under their draconian version of Islam. Pakistani Taliban – whether in Waziristan or Swat – are practically doing the same. In fact through their ruthless terror campaign against police in particular, they have scared most of the police in Swat and the Malakand region either into hiding or resigning from the service. On April 20, they did the same in Buner and established their writ their.
Contrast this with the declining governance in the centre and provinces. Rule and respect for law still remains a far cry, while the Constitution is being violated by none other than the president who chose to call NWFP as Pukhtoonkhwa (without getting a parliamentary approval for it.
Moreover, a 50 million dollar US aid for Swat and affected areas is still unspent for lack of initiative by the government. Despite promises, the Balochistan government is still beset with extreme funds shortages. Despite the raging militancy all over, the entire country is manned by less than 400,000 largely underpaid, under-trained and under-equipped policemen for over 170 million. Similar, is the case with the Frontier Corpse, a force in the forefront of the questionable war against terrorism.
Also worrisome is the fact that power generation at Tarbela sank to a paltry 125 MW because 11 of the 14 generators went in-operational (April 20), underlining the acute energy crisis the country has been facing since mid 2007.
Talk of the country’s capital, Islamabad has seen no new hospital since the Japanese funded the Hospital Complex in the 1980s (whereas the capital’s population has doubled meanwhile.) Forget about other cities and towns, where potholed roads, broken road fences, chaotic traffic with pedestrians crossing all over reflect a society in a continuous state of disorder.
It is also worth noting that as many as 800 government officials remained in a state of limbo for five weeks following the Governor’s Rule imposition on Punjab in February, offering another glimpse into how whimsically successive governments and governors handled bureaucracy, and thereby jeopardized governance.
On the democratic front, the president and his party demonstrated little respect for the relevance of the parliament to the system (They did when they needed to pass the buck i.e. passage of Nizam-e-Adl Regulation in the presence of about one-thirds of National Assembly members).
On the bureaucratic front, insiders insist Pakistan lacks the capacity and the vision to actualize the pledges made at the Tokyo Friends of Pakistan conference on April 17. Donors, they say, are still waiting for credible and workable projects that can be turned into reality. Financial management capacity is grossly poor, hence lapses of billions of rupees almost every year. State entities such as PIA or PTV are in a shambles, public sector educational institutions in disarray and little oversight of private universities which are virtually selling even Ph.D degrees.
Based on this performance, the US Foreign Policy magazine listed Pakistan among the 20 worst performing states during 2008, with its performance registering a negative 3.7. The FP study said: “Pakistanis constitute the largest national U.N. contingent operating in Liberia (as part of the peace keeping operations… yet it is a reminder that while helping to maintain peace abroad might be an attractive national project, keeping the peace at home can be even more elusive” (Army’s failures in Waziristan and its lackluster performance in Swat, accompanied by extremely negative perceptions on its intent, are points to ponder).
The question is whether the perilous journey – a combination of mis-governance, insecurity and incapacity coupled with continuous state of denial – takes the country down into disintegration or still keeps it teetering in instable conditions? Most probably the ruling elite can try to prevent the myth from becoming a reality. But for that, both military and civilian leadership will have to demonstrate sincerity and unity of thought and action.