Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Our War Or Their War?

In a post I wrote a couple of days ago, I lamented the fact that many Pakistanis think the war we are fighting against militancy in NWFP and Fata is America's war, not ours. As I said, I think this view is wrong-headed, and that these militants present a far graver threat to us than the U.S. Here are two differing perspectives on exactly whose war it is that we are fighting. One is a former head honcho of the ISI and MI from the 80s, the other is a political science professor at LUMS. I'll let you figure out which is which.
The war our security forces are fighting is our war, a war for the future of Pakistan. The alternative of allowing mini religious fiefdoms would be self-destructive. This message has been lost to the public and the politicians due to the strong anti-Musharraf sentiment in the country, and because divisions within the regime are persistently holding the government back from effectively responding to the threat. The state is already late with too little in its hands to counter growing Talibanisation that presents a grave threat to national security.
But about one thing I have no doubt in my mind that the troops who are fighting there for the last four years are not fighting this as their war. They believe like I believe that we’ve been pushed into this war, fighting against out own people. And that becomes for the soldier such a huge challenge — fighting against your own people, civilians, citizens, women, children...the moment you pick up weapons against your own people, it is not the morale that counts so much. It is your commitment to that fight, it is your reluctance to fire. Even though you can fire and kill people, you don’t want to.


asfand said...

stunning. i initially thought (without reading the articles first, ofcourse), that the LUMS Pol Sci professor would've been the one stating this isn't our war. Apologies to him are in order.

I've been saying this too just as long. The constant barrage of people talking about how we're killing our own people is astonishing, especially as they seem to conveniently leave out the fact that these 'people' are also the ones killing our own.

It didn't take them more than a couple of weeks to throw aside the Waziristan accords and continue with their attacks, while the army in a far more substantial manner restrained itself.

So yes, we can stop. But they won't. And to continue advocating talks (as noble as it may be) is rather convoluted aswell. How can you deal diplomatically with people who have their own bastardized view of religion? How do you deal with an ideology that doesn't value human life in any form whatsoever?

Even the religious nuts need to be slapped shitless. These imbeciles are as much a threat to Islam as they are to Pakistanis.

Ahsan said...


i agree with pretty much everything you say except i would also say that there must be room for political dialogue. this dialogue must be undertaken in the backdrop of two key elements without which it will be completely useless and perhaps counterproductive. the first element is the threat and execution of heavy military force in the region to weed out the militants and their supporters. the second element must be the socioeconomic uplifting of the area with housing projects, development, schools and the like.

this entire problem stems from the fact that when these areas agreed to join pakistan they did so on their terms: leave us the fuck alone and we'll leave you the fuck alone. well that hasn't worked for obvious reasons with obvious results. what we have to change is the fact that many people in the tribal areas only deal with the pakistan government when it faces one end (the wrong one) of a gun or tank. so while i agree that military force is a non-negotiable right in the face of such an extensive challenge to the state's authority, political and economic incentives need to be put in place too. no insurgency, except for perhaps the Boer war (off the top of my head, maybe there are others), has been defeated solely by military measures.

to sum up, these are the roles that i would like to see played out by particular arms of the strategy:

military: these are the reasons you should be scared of us. stop supporting them or we bomb you.

economic: these are the reasons you should grow to like us. start supporting us and you get flowers and food.

political: this is *how* you show you have grown to like us. become an established and rooted part of the state apparatus, instead of existing outside it.

asfand said...


one thing too, perhaps, that i haven't noticed anyone talking about so far is pashtun nationalism or reconciling FATA with Afghanistan.

I'm a pathan myself, and though most pathans find the notion ridiculous, those around FATA do not. Couple that with the wealthy Afghan class in and around NWFP, and unfortunately that 'movement' could hold some sway. The MMA government did table a bill to rename the NWFP to Afghania, and though hounded out of the provincial parliament, the fact that they had the balls to do so means either they're feeling pressure or they're just stupid.

Getting Waziristan and its areas actually integrate itself with the state of Pakistan could be a very, very tough job. Though I completely agree with you that its integration would be the best thing possible (if for nothing else then the fact that ingratiating yourself if you're taliban into that society would be far tougher). But, how long before whichever Govt. we have at that time decides to neglect them? Not to mention, the Jirga leaders might smart up and become extortionists.

Another thing is, do you feel public consensus attaining a state of "yes. this is our war. we need to weed out these elements and take control" is going to make a substantial difference?

For one, yes, you might see less Lal Masjid's popping up, but surely it'll have minimal, if any, effect in FATA...

Ahsan said...

a couple of points before i get back to doing what i should be doing.

the intertwining of pashtun nationalism and anti-state militancy in the tribal areas is very interesting and deserves a proper social scientific study. my first cut analysis of the situation is that they are two distinct movements that don't have a great deal to offer to each other. as for ceding FATA to afghanistan, i myself floated this idea to a couple of friends recently and was (rightly) told that the strategic benefit of that area is too great for pakistan to ever even contemplate it. but i do think going forward we're going to hear more about it.

my other point would be that greater public support for this war would mean that there is less political trepidation every time something like lal masjid or bajaur happens. even though both actions were eminently justified, they became politically damaging only because they were interpreted through a "their war" prism. such political hullabaloo makes it difficult for the senior army command to do what they have to.

zeyd said...

Ahsan,I'm not sure about the effectiveness of the 3 strategies you've proposed.

1) Military: Sure we can bomb the fuck out of them (and we've already bombed the fuck out of them), but at what level are you talking about? Carpet bomb the entire region with complete disregard? Will the army, or the media, turn a blind eye to the enormous civilian casualties?

2) Economic: Flowers and money are great but our F.A.T.A neighbours have lived for ages without any significant financial assistance from the govt (I may be completely wrong there) and I imagine collaboration and subsequent reward is the last tool they'll employ. Unless of course they send a party full of suicide bombers posing as a jirga or something. Remember that these psychos see collaboration in any form as the ultimate crime. We have many headless corpses to prove that.

3): Political: Pretty much the same as above. They've existed (happily) outside the state and I imagine they want to continue doing so. In fact, isn't that what this entire struggle is about?

Ahsan said...

1. i'm not talking about carpet bombing zeyd. my point was that an aggressive military strategy is a sine qua non for success in this war. and you're incorrect when you say we're bombing the fuck out of them. our security forces have actually been incredibly restrained in fighting this particular threat for many reasons, none of which have to do with "killing our own people". our military has been MORE than willing to kill our own people, e.g. east pakistan in 71, balochistan in the mid 70s, and balochistan today. they've been hesitant to keep the pressure on continually partly because of the very reasons you mention - public outcry and media attention, both of which focus disproportionately on the innocents that die at the hand of security forces and not those that die at the hand of the militants (as is the case all over the world btw).

2 and 3. just because our FATA neighbors have lived without our assistance does not mean their lives (and by extension, our lives) would not be better if they lived with our assistance. literacy rates in the region are abysmally low, even by pakistani standards. there is no infrastructure in the region. no economic development. no airports, no highways, no schools, no parks, no nothing. that must change.

if "they've never been under our control" was a valid argument for leaving an area well alone, then we would never see territorial aggrandizement by ANY nation-state, an obviously ridiculous notion. for instance, large swathes of rural france were not established as part of the french republic late into the NINETEENTH century. through a variety of mechanisms that i will not get into only because i have real work to do, that changed, and france today is the prototype for an indivisible national identity. even closer to home, parts of punjab and NWFP were considered tribal and uncivilized even through the 1840s and 1850s, before they were brought under state control by the british. my point is that it's not as if what i'm saying is particularly revolutionary or unprecedented.

i think the tribal leaders obviously have the most to lose because of the current existing power structures in the area. but FATA is not just about the tribal leaders, it's also about the actual people who're living there, an all too easily forgotten part of the equation. those people will gain a great deal by becoming a part of the pakistan state (if the pakistan state is committed to them, of course) and it is that idea that we must keep in mind.

all my suggestions are based on the proposition that we must wean off support for the militants and tribal leaders who support the militants, and establish an alternative in terms of a political and economic structure of governance. both are key, and both are useless without the other. to put it in another way, my initial points 1, 2 and 3 are all necessary conditions for success but not one of them is a sufficient condition for success.