Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Militants attacking Pakistan’s armed forces in Kashmir

Pakistani strategists, who saw the Taliban and the militants as Pakistan’s strategic depth against India, must now ponder over the naivety (I’d call it stupidity) of their short-term thinking that has created long-term pains for Pakistan, which is half the country today than it was in 1947, and faces further threats of dismemberment.

The very militants who have been behind the militancy in the Indian administered Kashmir since the early nineties have now shifted their focus on their handlers in Pakistan. Today (January 5) the militants attacked the army barracks in Tarar Khal area in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir killing four soldiers. Last year in June, a similar attack left two soldiers dead in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir. A series of attacks against the ISI personnel and buildings in Peshawar, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and Lahore has already left hundreds dead.

The militants are loyal to their cause, and not to Pakistan or its people. The militants have bitten the very hand that fed them since 1947. The ubiquitous suicide and other bombings have rendered streets devoid of life and vibrancy in Pakistan. Civilians and members of the armed forces are equally likely to to be the targets of militants. No one is safe in Pakistan any more.

The Pakistan-based militants have been incensed by the change in Pakistan’s official strategy that no longer  supports non-state actors against India, Afghanistan, and Iran. While many argue that the change has not been fully instituted and that not every one in the military hierarchy is on board with the change, their is enough evidence to appreciate that the change in policy has taken place, which in turn has shifted the violence from Indian-administered Kashmir to first Pakistan proper, and now to the Pakistan-administered Kashmir.

The graph below highlights the decline in violence in Indian-administered Kashmir and a simultaneous increase in violence in Pakistan since 2002. It appears that the militants returning from their secondment in Indian-administered Kashmir have resumed their positions in Pakistan causing an exponential increase in violence.


While there is overwhelming evidence that suggests the failure of Pakistan’s militarized stance against India over Kashmir, the civil and military establishment in Pakistan refuses to learn from its mistakes. Only yesterday, the President of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari,boasted in an address to the legislators in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir that they were ready for “a thousand year war” over Kashmir. A nation that has remained economically bankrupt since the early seventies, and is heading to moral bankruptcy and chaos today, should not be flirting with the idea of war. Peace is a bigger challenge for the Pakistani establishment than war. It should not shy away from embracing it.

President Zardari unfortunately will have his wish for a thousand year war come true, but not against India, but against Pakistanis who took the war rhetoric literally.

Pakistan’s military and civil establishment has to come clean and join the civil society (not just the NGOs, but also the religious institutions that have preached non-violence as part of their Sufi traditions) in addressing the menace of violence. Many believe that the battle-hardened militants, who earned their stripes in Kashmir and Afghanistan, are now more than 10,000 strong and come from all walks of the society. The foot soldiers may be illiterate, unemployed youth, but the militant leadership is anything but illiterate. 

The attacks in Mumbai, the recent bombing against the CIA staff in Afghanistan, and the gruesome murder of the Wall Street Journal’s correspondent, Daniel Pearl, suggests that the militant leadership is university educated, technologically savvy, fearless, cunning, and effective in reaching its goals. Furthermore, these militants are not just Pakistan-based. Instead, they have arrived from England, the United States, and the Caucasus to wage a war against the people of Pakistan.

The people of Pakistan have to make a choice. Would they like to win over the militants by reasoning with them or will they go for a full-fledged war that may either eliminate the militant threat or export it to safe havens abroad. The choice between the two alternatives is certainly not easy and carries huge ramifications regardless of the choice.

One thing, however, is clear. It will take decades to free the Pakistani society of the strands of militancy, which President Zardari illustrated in his speech yesterday continues to be state-sanctioned and is in conflict with the stated change in post-911 foreign policy. 

While grave challenges face the nation, the people of Pakistan have yet to resolve the most elementary of the disputes. The people are still divided over the future of the state: should it be a parliamentary democracy or a Khilafat that may take Pakistan back to the governance and norms prevalent in the 7th century Arabia. With fast urbanization, the Pakistanis may increasingly boast of urban geographies, but they maintain their rural dispositions, which have more in common with a tribal order than the rule of law.

Social Justice Lacking

The lack of social justice in Pakistan since its independence has driven many in the hands of the militants and extremist ideologies. The princely State of Swat, for instance, had a more effective judicial system before it joined the federation. The corruption that followed Swat’s annexure to Pakistan was partly behind Sufi Mohammad’s revolt in Swat that began in the early nineties and blew up in the establishment’s face in 2008-09.

The establishment and the society in Pakistan should realize that without social justice in Pakistan peace will continue to be evasive. They should first try to develop a just society by strengthening the institutions that address individual’s grievances against the state and the society. Only then will the militants in Pakistan will see their support disappear. And while Pakistan is at it, it wouldn’t hurt to give up the 1000-year war rhetoric.

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