12 December 2010

"Scorpion's tail" by Zahid Hussain

Zahid Hussain, senior editor at Newsline in Pakistan, has the credentials and compassion to cover issues relating to Pakistan and the prose to keep your attention riveted with brevity and analysis.

It is a waste of time to keep identifying individual leaders of terrorism and eliminate them, claims Zahid. You can cut the scorpion’s tail; it would develop a new one.

Your perspective gets challenged and widened when you read Zahid Hussain.

The war in Afghanistan is a war between a state and a nation; not a state and a state. The US is at war with Pashtuns. A third of the Pashtuns are in Afghanistan (comprising 42% of the Afghan state). Two thirds of the Pashtuns are in Pakistan (comprising 15% of the Pakistan State). The Talibans are substantially Pashtuns.

Pashtuns do not care about the political boundaries between Afghanistan and Pakistan. They move freely from one to another. Pashtuns are governed more by the tribal leader at village level than by the shura council at the national level. This makes it easy for a tribal leader to hold complete sway over his terrain (and use the village for opium cultivation). This makes it quite difficult to set in place a national government that can he held accountable to good principles of governance.

The Pashtun theology is a combination of the two most radical schools of Islam: the Deobandis from India and the Wahabis from Saudi Arabia. This theology acquired political power because of two reasons: US (to settle score with Russians) and Saudi Arabia (to get the extremists in the Kingdom out of the Kingdom and be busy with something else) used theology to rally radicals to wage a proxy war. Unfair exploitation by tribal leaders and war lords seeded the need for an uprising. The Talibans stood up; provided relief but brought in new miseries.

The US strategy is flawed:

One: US cannot fight the Pashtuns in half the land; and stay restrained from extending the fight to the other half (because it is in a different state; a nuclear power). The Pashtuns are free to use their territory in Pakistan for rest and recuperation and for keeping the ambers alive and recruit fresh talent.

Two: US cannot rely on Pakistan to maintain its supply line; and deter Pashtuns from retreading to safe havens in Pakistan or hound them out of such safe havens. US has to appreciate that Pakistan is running with the hare and hunting with the hound here. Pakistan military would offer symbolic wins (to merit the aid and equipment) but not substantial wins (that eliminate the power of Taliban). Pakistan believes it is better off in the long run to retain friendship with the Taliban by emphasizing shared religion and shared interests.

Three: US cannot “drone down” a few tribal leaders and think it can win the war. There are enough Hakimullahs to succeed on the death of Baitullahs. Each drone kill ends up creating a few hundred new terrorists.

Pakistan’s strategy is flawed too:

One: Pakistan thinks there are good Taliban and bad Taliban. Truth: There is one Taliban. You cannot befriend Sirajuddin Haqqani and eliminate Hakimullah Mehsud. They work together. They support each other. The Afghan Pashtun cannot survive the US army had it not been for the hospitality and safety provided by the Pakistan Pashtun.

Two: Pakistan thinks that the Pashtun fundamentalists, the Al Qaida fundamentalists and the Punjab fundamentalists are different silos that are not integrated; that one can be a friend serving interests in Kabul, another a small price to dispense with for aid from US and the third a tool to wage a proxy war. Reality: They communicate. They share a mission. Al Qaida thrives in Pakistan; most of its new recruits come from Sind and Punjab. The Lal Masjid priest Abdul Rashid met and was inspired by Osama Bin laden.

Three: Pakistan thinks it is good strategy to train and nurture theology driven fundamentalists to achieve the purposes of the State. Pakistan has ended up creating two forces that it cannot control increasingly: (a) disloyal members of its own army and intelligence services going “rogue” and (b) fundamentalists turning against the State of Pakistan. In effect, Pakistan has created a Frankenstein monster.

Four: Pakistan has attempted too often (and without success) to buy peace by ceding concessions to theology driven fundamentalists. Each time such a concession was given, the fundamentalists have used the window to regroup, recruit, re-equip and strike back with a greater force.
Zahid Hussain presents the picture with excellent insight.

Solution: Pakistan has to recognize that it is dealing with a scorpion and cutting the tail is not solution enough.

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