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Pakistan’s security crises resemble the Whac-A-Mole game regularly found in amusement parks and fairs. The central government bashes — or at least attempts to — the head of insurgents in one area, only to find “miscreants” popping up elsewhere. The cycle continues with repeat offenders. Crises aren’t resolved — just temporarily contained. The containment strategy has served to keep these regions, as well as Pakistan as a whole, stagnant.
However, the potential danger of the coming months and years may leave one longing for stagnation. The words of Fatima Jinnah — Pakistan’s first female presidential candidate and sister of the country’s founder — expressed over fifty years ago have been proven to be prescient: “Those who resort to maneuvers and machinations only succeed in raising up Frankensteins, which ultimately threaten to devour them.”
Violence in Balochistan, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and now Swat could spread further into the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and even into pockets of Punjab and Sindh. The short-lasting but deadly bursts of violence in Pakistan’s major cities could also regularize.
Pakistan’s central government has had historically difficult relations with areas in the country’s periphery. These were the areas least modernized and integrated by the the British presence. Bureaucrats in the new Pakistani government, largely of Punjabi and Urdu-speaking Muhajir background, merely continued the role of their British predecessors. They interacted with locals via agents — largely, if not exclusively, traditional elites. While this process was mirrored to some extent in electoral politics in Punjab and Sindh, the hierarchy and distance was greater in the periphery.
In many senses, these elites provided an efficient way of dealing with insular communities populated in difficultly-accessible areas. However, central governments repeatedly failed to game plan a transition toward greater equity and representative governance in these areas. Due to a variety of reasons, it failed to establish its writ locally and provide basic services that would provide residents with a sense of national citizenry. They have failed to integrate the periphery with the center.
In FATA, Islamabad has been challenged by the area’s peculiar constitutional status. These areas were never formally integrated into British India; local notables (maliks) consented to joining Pakistan on the condition of that their autonomy would continue. Common folk in the region face dire poverty and severe backwardness; literacy rates, for example, are abysmally low — somewhere in the teens. The hegemony of traditional elites relies on the preservation of the area’s constitutional exceptionalism and prevailing hierarchy, as well as the subjugation of the common man. However, the rise of religious militancy since the 1980s — with the assistance of security agencies and foreign donors — has progressively challenged eroded the influence of these locals. Baitullah Mehsud and Haji Omar are prime examples of today’s Frankensteins produced by short-sighted or non-comprehensive policies of the past.
Similarly in Swat, which was nominally integrated into the NWFP in the early 1970s, has witnessed the rise of a 28-year old upstart by the name of Maulana Fazlullah. He leads the outlawed Tehreek-e Nifaaz-e Shariat-e Muhammadi (TNSM), while his father-in-law — the group’s original leader — Sufi Muhammad, is in jail. TNSM’s capabilities declined significantly shorly after 2001, but the government’s meager response in the area to the 2005 earthquake boosted the group’s fortunes. Fazlullah’s group fills a void by providing law and order through his Talibanistic forces. Moreover, he has won the hearts and minds of many locals (including women) with his illegal FM radio station. TNSM has sought to impose its interpretation of Islam upon other Muslims and has also targeted non-Muslims. Their movement could potentially spread to nearby Chitral, where many residents practice a pre-Islamic tradition. Here, jihadi upstarts have also displaced local notables and mainstream political parties.
Balochistan faces an altogether different problem. The province has been and continues to be dominated by a hierarchy led by notables (nawabs/sardars). Resource rich, but otherwise desperately poor, the province has featured several proto-wars with Islamabad and at least two insurgencies. The tensions are exclusively ethnic-nationalist, not religious. The most recent insurgency was dealt a significant blow by the assassination of Nawab Akbar Bugti, an Oxford-educated Baloch notable, in 2006. Since then, the government has used a multi-pronged strategy to defeat the insurgency. Its non-military tactics include supplanting notables with the JUI-F, an Islamic party; capitalizing upon (and creating) divisions between and within Baloch tribes, as well as between Baloch and Pathans.
A recently released report by the International Crisis Group states, “Previous insurgencies were led by sardars but today’s insurgency is spearheaded by ordinary, middle-class Baloch.” This suggests that Pervez Musharraf’s purported strategy of breaking the nawab’s hegemony and winning the hearts and minds of the common Baloch by increasing their quality of life is failing. While the Baloch nawabs were highly obstinate, they played a semi-predictable game (serve as chief minister one year and lead an insurgency the next). For many, there isn’t an offer they can’t refuse and the hierarchy keeps their followers under control. But a middle-class insurgency led by younger Baloch will be much more difficult for Islamabad to manage. They will be less willing to compromise and will be prone to fragmentation — which destroy the insurgency or push it toward erratic behavior and/or nihilism.
The Federally Administered Northern Areas of Pakistan (FANA) — including Gilgit and Baltistan — have had an unsettled constitutional status as a result of their connection to the dispute with India over Kashmir. Islamabad has deferred giving the areas any sort of permanent status until the resolution of the border conflict with India, which has a claim over FANA. Recently, the government issued a governmental reform package for the region, increasing enfranchisement and local governance. These are steps in the right direction — signaling that both Islamabad and New Delhi are coming to terms with the Line of Control as a de-facto border — but the local population wants more. A senior government representative there has suggested the current reforms are only a prelude to future ones. Future movement toward provincial status would have to take place after elections. Any moves before that would add new variables to a volatile election calculus; moreover, New Delhi is waiting for things to settle down in Islamabad for peace talks to move forward any further. Islamabad, however, should recognize that it is presented with a significant opportunity to integrate one of its elements on the periphery into a democratic, federalist framework. Such opportunities are rare and don’t last forever.
THE BIG PICTURE
The challenges faced by Islamabad in Balochistan, FATA, and Swat — and the current opportunity in FANA — are all spokes in its crisis of governance. It is convenient for many talking heads in the U.S. to throw out the question, “Why don’t we just go in there and take care of them (al-Qaeda and the neo-Taliban) ourselves?”, when they don’t have the responsibilities (and risks) associated with governing Pakistan after the bombs fall. The challenges faced in the first three regions will undoubtedly involved targeted military solutions, but real, long-term change requires structural, political reform. Even Hamid Karzai appeared on 60 Minutes this Sunday asking for the U.S. to restrict its use of air power in southern Afghanistan. So-called “actionable” intelligence has all too often proven to be bunk or outdated, resulting in the loss of innocent human lives and no associated strategic gains. It furthers the idea within Pakistan, its military, and its frontier regions that it’s fighting a war on behalf of a foreign benefactor — and not in its national interest.
Ultimately, the solution to these conflicts are political and socio-economic. Some Pakistanis turn against the federal government because the only face of Islamabad they see is an attack helicopter or the barrel of a rifle. Government’s primary task is to provide security, law and order, and basic services and infrastructure. If it offers little but has a visibly heavy military presence, what else can it be seen as but a colonial army?
All of Pakistan’s citizens must be given the right to complete citizenship and adult enfranchisement. Regions such as FATA with an outdated tribal-colonial mode of government should be given full status and integrated into the provinces or made into their own. Public activity should be channeled into legitimate, representative institutions. Citizens must be able to redress their grievances through the ballot and the judiciary, not the Kalashnikov. All non-violent and non-secessionist political parties — mainstream, Islamist, subnational or otherwise — should be considered by the federal government as allies in winning back the periphery. A federal security presence must gradually yield to a local and provincial police force, combined with a competent and elected local administration that provides necessities such as medical care and education.
Development in Gwadar and elsewhere in Balochistan must make use of available human resources talent from the province’s indigenous talent. Balochistan’s nawabs have subjugated their people as much as they have actively voiced their collective discontent. A Baloch middle class must be developed — not only for the improving the lot of the locals, but also for supplanting an antiquated authoritarian socio-political order. It is preposterous to assume that those who offer their complete loyalty to a feudal lord can be integrated into and reap benefits from the global economy.
Similarly, economic and political empowerment should be encouraged in FATA and the NWFP. The $750 million U.S. aid package for the region can contribute greatly toward this, but Congress should monitor such aid extensively and ensure that it’s reaching the common Pakistani, rather than simply getting distributed as booty to various local and federal elites.
Above all, Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus must engage in some serious introspection. Like the country’s feudal lords, it has made sizable pockets of the country and various institutions its playground. In doing so, not only has it embraced the worst characteristics of the civilian power class it derides, but it has also contributed to a virtual state of lawlessness across the country. Not only is the state of Pakistan a global joke, it is in danger of imploding from within. The state and only the state must maintain a monopoly over the use of violence, implemented by an individual under the control of an elected executive, and checked by an empowered judiciary. This needs to be the case all across Pakistan — not just in FATA and Balochistan, but also in cities like Karachi. This is not only constitutionally mandated, but also a national security imperative for Pakistan. What goes on it FATA doesn’t stay in FATA.
Finally, these crises should cause some deeper study of Islamabad’s engaging in non-conventional war. Pakistan must consider the strengths and weaknesses of its previous and current usages of the strategy — including the lack of a socio-political endgame and the dangers of blow back. Interested foreign parties in Kabul, New Delhi, and Washington must also consider whether they have helped create a structure that only avails Pakistan’s security establishment with the sole option of nonconventional war. The lessons of recent years indicate that all those involved in non-conventional warfare, whether they be inducers or the induced, tend to lose greatly in the long-term from such short-term, deleterious methods.