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The Sultan of Swat and the Challenge of Integrating Pakistan’s Periphery

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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.

FATA
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.

SWAT
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
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.

NORTHERN AREAS
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.

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Paradoxes and Political Intrigue Persist in Pakistan

Developments in Pakistan in recent days further the view for both insiders and outsiders that the country is a perplexing bowl of contradictions and political intrigue.

KSE RISES
The Karachi Stock Exchange closed at all-time highs on Monday and Tuesday. Investor confidence boosted due to Pervez Musharraf’s re-election as president (pending the validation of his candidacy), which they associate with future political stability and continuity of pro-growth, liberal economic policies. Their sentiments might be valid in the mid-term, but the next three months, at the very least, will be a roller coaster period for the country—and Pakistan’s securities markets will likely not be as immune to the volatility as they have been before.

MUSHARRAF ESCAPES DANGER ONCE AGAIN
On the same day as the market rally, a helicopter escorting Musharraf to Kashmir crashed, killing four individuals. This was also the first day of work for Musharraf’s slated army successor, Ashfaq Kiyani, as vice chief of army staff. Though the president was never in any danger and there is no sign of foul play, the context eerily resembles the assassination of Zia-ul-Haq in 1988. The accident is a keen reminder that a single event of this sort can have a defining impact, but as with Zia’s demise, need not necessarily result in systemic change.

WAZIRISTAN ON FIRE
While investors are buoyant down south in Karachi, the country’s northwest has witnessed some of its most severe fighting between Pakistan’s army and local-foreign insurgents. According to the army, 45 troops and 150 insurgents have been killed in the Mir Ali area of North Waziristan. There have also been significant civilian casualties, with non-combatants fleeing the area. The government has been bombarding insurgents from the air with helicopter gunships and jets. The heightened use of air power markedly differs from the government’s previous ground-oriented strategy, which sought to avoid so-called collateral damage and earning further disfavor of locals. It suggests any number of the following:

  • the army has decided its strong avoidance of civilian casualties has been too costly;
  • patience on its side is wearing thin;
  • there is significant external pressure on Islamabad to bring in decisive results before the winter;
  • or a strategic and/or political (via Bhutto deal) window of opportunity has emerged to enable a forceful confrontation of militants.

Perhaps the army has opted for a Balochistan-like strategy, in which it would deliver strong, decisive blows to the insurgency (costing many innocent civilian lives) and follow up with a heavy infusion of development funds. Large scale, yet short-term violence would be complemented by a vast improvement in quality of life and incorporation/subsidization of local elites. In FATA, these funds would largely come from the 5-year $750 million US aid package and opportunities from its duty-free economic opportunity zone program, and would trickle down to the locals via notables with newly padded pockets.

FAZLUR RAHMAN AND THE FRACTURING OF THE MMA
A critical player in the political solution in FATA will be Maulana Fazlur Rahman, who, despite being in the political “opposition,” has proved to be almost as loyal to Musharraf as the Chaudhries. Fazlur Rahman is epitome of the “siyasi ulema” (political Islamic scholars) Abdur Rashid Ghazi lambasted on national television minutes before his demise in the Lal Masjid compound. The JUI-F should play a significant role in liaisoning between FATA notables and insurgents and the federal government/military. Its role in bringing a death blow to the MMA and APDM will not go unrewarded. The pending dissolution of the NWFP assembly will result in fresh provincial elections that might see MMA factions running on their own tickets, and a final tally that places the JUI-F in a stronger individual provincial position than before.

NATIONAL RECONCILIATION OR POLITICAL GIMMICK?
Recent comments by Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, and to a lesser extent Shaukat Aziz, have sought to cast doubt on the government’s sincerity in its deal with Benazir Bhutto and her People’s Party. Aziz boasted of having divided and outsmarted the opposition, which is true, and Shujaat bluntly stated that the government has no intention of following through on its promises to Bhutto — and that it it will, in fact, get political cover from the Supreme Court ruling the National Reconciliation Ordinance invalid.

Shujaat’s comments should be taken with a grain (or bucket) of salt. One, Washington — Musharraf’s greatest benefactor — strongly wants the deal to go through fully. Two, Shujaat stands to lose most from the Bhutto-Musharraf deal. Musharraf’s presidency is essentially set (barring a Supreme Court rejection of his candidacy), but Shujaat’s party has to face off against Bhutto’s in the general elections. Images of him and his cousin appear frequently on Pakistani television screens, with a massive wave of advertisements on private channels (source of funding unclear) hailing the achievements of the governments of Musharraf (“Sub se pahlay Pakistan”) and Pervez Ellahi (“Para likha Punjab”). The Chaudhries may have reluctantly consented to a Bhutto-Musharraf deal, but they will show some feistiness to retain their dominance over Punjab and share of federal power.

The rejection of Shujaat’s statements by a Musharraf spokesperson suggests that the president will have to play a fine balancing act between PML-Q partisan and partner of Benazir. It’s the same kind of lack of partiality the Bush administration has sought to display in recent days vis-a-vis Pakistan (i.e. support for the country, not just one man–Musharraf). Should Musharraf alienate his PML-Q base, one might witness the party distancing itself from Musharraf and veering toward some sort of rapprochement, if not re-consolidation, with the PML-N.

NAWAZ’S NOVEMBER SURPRISE?
The PML-N offers little in political value without the presence of at least one Sharif brother in Pakistan. As a result, the Musharraf government was keen on keeping the former prime minister out of the country prior to his re-election. Since then, they have expressed resistance to his return prior to general-elections — though it is unclear as to whether this is a reflection of the government’s needs or the wishes of the Bhutto camp.

Nawaz is reportedly to return to London after Eid. If proven to be true, it will indicate that Sharif and family were informed of this upon return to Saudi, as Kulsoom Nawaz made such claims early at that point. Also it would prove to partially explain the Sharif family’s relative quietness in the past few weeks. From London, the Sharif brothers could return to Pakistan between November and post-elections in January. Reports suggest family members will trickle into Pakistan individually. Nawaz’s son Hassan has said his father will return to Pakistan between November 15 and 30. A pre-election return is more likely for Shahbaz Sharif. Odds of a Nawaz return pre-elections would multiply if he got another Supreme Court ruling in his favor. If Nawaz returns after the general elections, he could shake things up if discontent in the PML-Q and with others is high. Alternatively, his return could come after the candles have been blow out and the cake has been eaten.

POWER DISTRIBUTION POST-GENERAL ELECTIONS
Najam Sethi has stated that the Bhutto-Musharraf understanding will likely produce a PPP government (and Musharraf presidency) at the center, a PML-Q controlled Punjab with a significant PPP presence, a PPP-PML coalition government in NWFP and Balochistan, and a PPP-MQM coalition government in Sindh.

I think Sethi errs in only noting three political mouths (other than his own) Musharraf has to feed. There’s a four rewardee, the JUI-F. Fazlur Rahman’s deeds on behalf of Musharraf in recent weeks, as well as in the past four years, cannot simply be wishful lobbying. JUI-F will likely play an important role in addressing issues of militancy in NWFP, Balochistan, and FATA. Washington probably recognizes and supports this. Moreover, it makes little sense for JUI-F to have enabled Musharraf’s re-election under the current parliament and the fracture of its political alliance only to be punished with a loss of provincial power.

The JUI-F will likely be a part of the NWFP government at least for the same reasons the MQM will share power with the PPP in Sindh. Both were used to displace the previous ruling party, which necessitates a ‘soft landing’ for them — especially since they’re still useful. The PPP’s Sindh compromise is a concession for power at the national level, though its relations with the MQM will have its share of challenges. Sethi doesn’t seem to give much thought to a PML-Q presence at the national level. Mushahid Hussain and others with the party have proposed the idea of a national unity government. While this remains possible, strong animosities between PML-Q stalwarts and the PPP, combined with Benazir Bhutto’s compromises vis-a-vis Musharraf, will likely prohibit her from entertaining such an idea. Why would she accept a prime ministership already diluted by the troika?

CARETAKER GOVERNMENT
The general elections will be held under the rule of a caretaker government. At this point, there is only pure speculation as to who will be the interim prime minister. Candidates include: Jehangir Karamat, Ishrat Hussain, and Hamid Nasir Chattha. Tariq Aziz and Shujaat Hussain have been tasked with arranging for the interim set-up, but clearly Benazir will have significant input in these matters as they will factor significantly in the outcome of the elections (i.e. free and/or favorable).

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Editor:

Arif Rafiq, a Washington, DC-based consultant on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues. [About]

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Arif Rafiq regularly appears on the John Batchelor Show Friday nights from 09:30-10:00pm Eastern Time. Tune your dial to 770AM in New York or 630AM in DC. The show appears on affiliates in other cities. Listen live online at WABCRadio.com.
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