Owning a War
Corruption, illiteracy, epidemics, and fiscal constraints are typical third world problems, ones that Pakistan is no exception to. But one problem that sets us apart from the rest is the unbridled and ever increasing incidence of terrorism.
During 2010 almost 3000 Pakistanis died due to terrorist attacks. These included the more than 100 dead in Lakki Marwat when a car bomber attacked a volleyball match, another 86 were literally hunted down when two Ahmadi mosques were attacked in Lahore, and yet another 50 were killed in the carnage at Daata Darbar.The resulting atmosphere of fear and uncertainty is further aggravating all our other problems; foreign investors are becoming increasingly reluctant, illiteracy is getting exacerbated through the wanton destruction of schools, incidence of polio is on the rise as health workers are under threat, and so on. There is no doubt that this state of affairs needs to change.
Apparently, change is in the air as accredited to the thousands strong jalsa of Pakistan Tehreek i Insaaf (PTI) at Minar i Pakistan. Many who usually cringe over news of suicide bombings are suddenly upbeat about the “hope” that is Imran Khan. True, the mobilization in Minar I Pakistan was impressive, but in my opinion the rally did not address our main issue i.e. militancy. To Mr. Khan, our biggest problem seems to be that of “corruption”, he even views militancy from the same lens as to him terrorism is simply a response to the American invasion of Afghanistan, an invasion that is facilitated by our “corrupt” Government for the sake of dollars. While there is no doubt that post 9/11 the frequency of terrorist attacks has increased within Pakistan, but is that only because the Americans started bombing Afghanistan?
Before 9/11, we had proudly declared the Taliban as “our boys”, the same boys who were then blamed for supporting insurgencies in India, Iran, Russia, as well as China. If there was much less terror in Pakistan, then it was because we were exporting terror all over the region. Post 9/11 we decided to take a U-turn and the boys who used to be “ours” were not so anymore. What we faced as a result could be termed as the wrath of the proverbial chickens that were coming home to roost. If Mr. Khan is criticizing the crackdown on militancy post 9/11, then he should also defend the support for militancy before 9/11, criticizing both these decisions in the same breath is tantamount to having ones cake and eating it too.
But since Mr. Khan insists on doing both, the question is; what would he have done as a Prime Minister? His current solution is simple; terrorism stops when the US leaves Afghanistan. But then, would his future solutions include the liberation of Kashmir, Kashghar and Chechnya, for terrorism to stop in Pakistan? Because if he is so understanding of the Tehreek I Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) need to reach out to their brethren in Afghanistan, then by the same token he should also be very understanding when the TTP reaches out to help insurgencies in China, Russia and Uzbekistan, as currently Uighar, Chechen and Uzbek fighters are part of the TTP.
What option do we leave China, if an insurgency on its soil is being supported from Pakistan, and we simply refuse to do anything about it? But Kashghar is no Kashmir, and it is highly unlikely that even a Government led by Mr. Khan will allow support for an insurgency in China. Then in that case, would a PTI led government also launch a military operation against “our people”? If yes, then how will that be any different from what the current Government is doing?
It wasn’t long ago that Mr. Khan, demanded investigations into the killings of May 12th 2007, and was willing to go to courts in UK to bring the culprits to justice. But that zeal is certainly missing in his response to the Taliban who are not even denying their crimes, ones that are far worse than those attributed to the MQM. The Taliban have not only subjugated the people of FATA, but they are also using the area as a launching pad for attacks into the rest of Pakistan and our neighboring countries. Furthermore, their prolonged influence has the potential to permanently change the perceptions of those living under their rule. Through forced indoctrination of children they are overseeing the radicalization of a whole generation in FATA, and that in itself presents the biggest threat to our country. If there ever was a reason to justify the existence of an army then this is it, therefore declaring the military option as “futile” is tantamount to declaring the existence of our army as useless.
While the military option is necessary, the way it is being exercised needs a closer scrutiny. The FCR backed scorched earth policy that is currently deployed has resulted in the destruction of whole towns and villages. It is obvious that this strategy is counterproductive, and for that, changes are in order, including a transparent system of accountability and performance measurement for our armed forces. Embedding journalists with our military units as well as allowing media access into FATA will bring out the clearer picture about what the Taliban mean to the people of FATA and also act as a check on the execution of military operations. The need is to fine tune our response to the Taliban; saving our people from getting caught in the crossfire doesn’t mean that we should be content with them living under the yoke of the Taliban.
Our recent history has proven that the Taliban threat cannot be contained through appeasement, if the plan is to handover Swat and Waziristan to buy the safety of Islamabad and Lahore, then it is only a matter of time before the latter two also need rescuing. This is our war, let there be no confusion about it, whether we own it over Swat or Lahore simply reflects the way that we define “ourselves”, a real hope would promise a change in that particular definition and not perpetuate the status quo.