Wednesday, January 16, 2008

If 500 Militants Faced Off Against 500 Pakistani Soldiers, Who Would Win?

It's a legitimate question in my mind because, as of right now, our troops appear to be quite crappy. I know there's no way in hell I could do their job, but there's no way in hell I could do Imran Farhat's either, and that never stopped me from criticizing him. I awoke to the news that militants stormed a fort - a fort! - in South Waziristan occupied by paramilitary forces, and took it over. Aren't forts supposed to favor the defender? Why are our highly trained, roti-and-water troops (in Musharraf's words), losing battles so regularly to these nutjobs? What the hell is going on?

I also love the military spokesman's line on the troops that died (by current count, about 8 with the whereabouts of 15 unknown): he said they "embraced martyrdom". You can call them shaheed but please don't say they "embraced martyrdom". They didn't embrace anything, except for a chance to provide for their families and perhaps become something some day. They most definitely did not embrace the idea of guarding 200 year-old forts in cold, dry conditions in the middle of tribal areas surrounded by psycho bearded fucks who want them - and the state - dead.

Anyway, this news made me think of an article in the NYT a couple of days ago, pulled up from the Department of No Shit, Sherlock, which said that the ISI has lost control of the militancy it once engendered. You think? One of these days, the NYT might actually supply us with information that is, broadly speaking, useful.

Speaking of providing useful information, recall NB's post on Nicholas Schmidle, a brilliant journalist who got down and dirty with events on the ground. As NB told us, he was expelled by the government, probably because his stories didn't shine such a flattering light on the government. Anyway, he had a statement or two to the BBC yesterday, and he sounds like a really nice guy. See for yourself:

His eyes almost light up when asked about the people of Pakistan.

Both he and his wife now speak Urdu and say it was almost like a honeymoon for them as they went there just two months after their marriage.


Mr Schmidle says his friends, his cook, security guard and all those who put so much on the line during their past few days were in tears when they left.

"It was actually more difficult to say goodbye to them than saying goodbye to my parents when I left two years ago," he says.

He says people may dislike American policy but when it comes to Americans or people from anywhere else the sense of hospitality is unbelievable.

"Hospitality triumphs over everything in Pakistan... they are the best people in the world," says his wife, Rikki, who had enrolled for Islamic studies at university in Pakistan and missed her Arabic exam because of the deportation.

So, would they like to go back?

"Inshallah [God willing]," they almost reply in the same voice.

Pakistan: Where We Throw Out Those Who Like Us.


ayla said...

break over already huh? Guess you didn't find anything suitable enough to put up yur nose. Pity... though i though Chicago was full of the white stuff. You know I just got your joke from the other post :O) Ok I'll stop annoying you now.

Ahsan said...

well, reality and i have a real love-hate/with-or-without-you type of relationship.

as for the "white stuff" i would like to state for the record that rs.5 in no way condones the sale, distribution or use of hard drugs. i apologize for any confusion on this.

soft drugs? now that's another matter entirely.

NB said...

Im not sure if this is correct. Dawn is reporting that theyre paramilitary rather than Army soldiers. The paramilitary were the ones conducting the swat operation initially (when the militants were allowed to take over) and were also the ones who were captured en masse. When the army took over and sent proper toops post emergency is when the Federal Government retook those areas. So if its Paramilitaries, its more of the same dodgy loyalty/ incompetence, and if its the army, well then its a complete shocker.

Ahsan said...

no, i know they're paramilitary guys. i'm sorry if i didn't make that clear in the post.

by the way, the army WAS in there pre-emergency. a number of them were captured, killed and beheaded. while the numbers/composition of the forces up there might have changed post-emergency, it certainly is not the case that (a) the army wasn't in there at all, and (b) the army didn't suffer huge losses up there.

Anonymous said...

what a stupid question. you ask it as if in a stand off between our people and our people, there can actually be a winner.

Anonymous said...

its not a stupid question at all! "our people" are not all the same, especially when some of them are supposed to be trained in combat by the "our" government..

Ahsan said...


our people? i'm wondering how uzbeks, al-Qaeda operatives drawn from the broader arab and islamic world, afghan and pakistani pasthuns who don't believe in the pakistan state, and others who (a) attack and kill pakistani soldiers, (b) attack and kill pakistani civilians, (c) attack and kill foreigners (chinese, americans) on pakistani soil, and (d) aim to establish their writ on the territory of the state of pakistan can be described as "our people". they may be your people, but they are certainly not mine.

Anonymous said...

heh. dude, save the jingoistic polemic for another day...

'your' soil is defined by where some english gentleman drew the line on a map. if his hand had slipped, you'd be blogging about india's amazing cricket feats and the bjp/congress tussle all day...

and your point (d) 'aim to establish their writ on the territory of the state of pakistan' - what state? what border? that same one the englishman drew that nobody west of islamabad, multan, shikarpur and karachi (if you draw lines between them) EVER recognized. you cant just create states and say 'ok, now you are under our rule.'

i'd reverse your point (d) and say that pakistan is trying, for the first time, to extend ITS writ to the ALWAYS independent FATA.

why after all these years do they do this now? does it really have anything to do with shariah law? hah, no - shariah has been there for many many years.
why then? because they're killing pakistani soldiers and we can't let this go on? - hah again. no pakistani soldier was being killed three years ago.
really, honestly. why now? as cliched as it is, its true that the only reason we're there now is because america told us to be there.

i consider both sides 'our' people and its sad to see either side die (hardly any foreign fighters at ALL have been involved in this fighting - even the army admits that much).

and i guarantee that any of your beloved political leaders (any bhutto, altaf hussain, sharif, anyone!) are responsible for more pakistani deaths, pakistani crime, pakistani murders and the general looting of the pakistani nation than some guy trying to run a valley in NWFP.

(anon 1027)

ayla said...

Anon 1027 I wish you would post with a less anon name - i would back you up. Indeed i do... except for the tone of your comment.

Anonymous said...

i apologize for the tone - i realised its effect in retrospect and didnt mean it that way...

NB said...

It is agreed that the remaining 7 agencies that comprise FATA have historically had high levels of autonomy, but how exactly did FATA become an independent Country at partition? And as for that autonomy, it was stripped from Dir, Swat, Chitral, Malakand in 1970 when those agencies were incorporated into the province of NWFP and were given adult franchise. The independent entity of the 'Tribal Areas' didn’t object to (what according to Anon 1027 would be) the appropriation of their territory by a foreign state.

I don’t recall Indian or Afghan state political agents operating in FATA. Or Uzbek or Tajiks for that matter. I do recall that the Federal government of Pakistan having its agents on the ground, that too in an administrative and executive capacity. Please tell me what the source of their authority is. Because it seems to me that their mere presence (if not their authority) is a tacit admission of an obvious fact, namely that FATA is part of Pakistan.

A very good friend of mine in Karachi is from Malakand (an ex-tribal agency) and he considers himself a Pakistani, as does his extended family. Frankly your idea of FATA as some kind of independent state is alien to them.

The fact is that there is no independent country of FATA, with its own budget or currency or foreign policy. They claim to have an independent judicial system, but really its a series of unrelated mediations which may occur under a standard template, but which lack any unifying structure. Pakistan’s judicial system is probably just as half baked, but what is relevant here is not efficacy but rather any sign of central authority and state hood. Jirgas are sporadic, ad-hoc and not administered or regulated by any overlying authority, and don’t meet any modern or historical standard of structure. And before I have to address any arguments as to western standards etc, that includes the standards of any pre-colonial Muslim society, wherein the Qadis were appointed by the Governors of the respective provinces and the writ of the court was binding law enforced by a unified police force. It was not a privately mediated settlement.

That said, the tribes in FATA are quite keen on retaining their own potent military capacities. Particularly as this enables them to slaughter each other senselessly and in large numbers, whenever the mood possesses them. However there is no unified military command or army in FATA.

So if Anon 1027 is suggesting that FATA is part of some other country that no one in Pakistan recognizes or is even aware of, then where is the proof? Perhaps this is one of those occasions where the feeling is more important than the facts, in which case I’ll understand.

The remaining bit of FATA (post 1970) is what it looks like. A collection of tribes and families within Pakistan, each with their own stockpile of weapons, who have been left to their own anachronistic and destructive devices for far longer than they should have been, and that too for ALL the wrong reasons.

America’s insistence is not the reason Pakistan ended up going into FATA, it is the catalyst. It was always in our interest to establish the Federal Government's writ. That interest became both apparent and immediate when America went and parked in Afghanistan, and when parts of FATA rose in armed opposition to Federal policy.

If a part of the country has been without governance for some time, the solution is not to leave in that state, but to govern it. Particularly as the tribes of FATA have only wrought destruction with their autonomy. There is a reason why Chitral and Malakand, both ex-FATA, contrast so much with Bajaur and Wana. And that contrast was there well before America came to Pakistan. 'America-is-to-blame' is not a cliche in this instance, it is a blindfold, or alternatively the pile of sand that one might stick one's head in.

Finally a question poses itself. Why do you, Anon 1027, consider the People of FATA to be ‘our’ people, if they were never part of Pakistan? What is the basis of the kinship? it a shared faith or a shared homeland or a shared culture?

If either is the case, I will simply point out to you that the Militants in FATA do not stop to ask the religious persuasions and birthplaces of their civilian victims before they bomb them. The boundaries of their community, as they choose to define them, are laid along ethnic, tribal and ideological lines, and include the implementation of a bastardized version of the Shariah and dogmatic, blanket Anti-‘Westernism’. Consequently, regardless of what you may think, the militants in FATA have decided that you are not one of them. I hope that they are correct.

somethingrichandstrange said...

nb - thats a great reply, esp. the last paragraph. actually, i just copypasted it and emailed it to my dad.

karachi khatmal said...

i am currently working on a report on the baloch resistance. while i generally agree with your response NB, and am frankly just as sick of the blanket blame America rhetoric, there are some questions that have to be raised.

armed resistances can never be polite, or can take care to ensure that they are not harming innocent people. in fact, since they are generally an expression of outrage, they are careless. more importantly, in our fucked up world, there is so much news of violence on a daily basis that you need to kill a lot of people to get noticed. and once you get noticed, then only people start thinking about addressing your concerns.

i wish there was a way where we would wake up to the needs of other people, but there doesn't seem to be one.

as for anon 1027's assertions about how pakistan was little more than the pen drawing of an english cartographer, the claim is valid. however, by that account, there is literally no nation state in the world that can claim to have an immaculate conception.

its just how it has been. that is why every successful nation state comes up with a series of myths about themselves to legitimize their existence. thus we had gandhi talking about a 10,000 year old Indian culture which had never been a monolith until he called it one. we have the americans and their founding fathers with their apple tree cutting honest leaders.

and that's where the two parts of this comment tie up. we desperately need an idea of pakistan that we can all ascribe to. from khyber to karachi. without it, the efforts of the state to establish its writ would inevitably be colonial. just because we have the legal right to FATA as our property doesn't make it right.

in a lot of ways, the creation of pakistan is like an arranged marriage. arranged marriages can work, but you need a lot of love. if you just buy presents for your spouse, and expect them to be fine with everything, you won't get anywhere.

NB said...

I wouldnt say that armed resistance needs to be polite, and consequently I wouldnt even say that militants perceive all non-combatant deaths as unavoidable collateral damage. Non-combatants do often constitute the actual targets, either to send a message, generate attention or to provoke a savage response from the victim group.

So the tactic is effective, but its done to polarize, create two camps. Which is why I argued that the militants have identified themselves in opposition to the the rest of Pakistan, rather than being an essentially Pakistani group agitating for its interests.

And yeah, its incredibly sad how Pakistan doesn't seem to able to wake up to the needs of its people until they're seceding.

Really liked your last 2 paragraphs, esp the marriage analogy.

Any thoughts as to what that vision of Pakistan might be?

karachi khatmal said...

NB what's scary is that for a lot of people, that polarization is not happening.

there seems to be a thought process here that yes the taliban's actions are bad, but there are part of God's punishment for the sins of our nation, and thus they are ok. i mean, it sounds far fetched, but the number of people you'll meet who will find a way to justify the taliban and their cohorts, or at the least resort to comapring it to america's actions is far too many.

i'm glad you liked the marriage analogy, i think i can squeeze a blog out of that one... hehe

NB said...

@ Karachi Khatmal

In a sense what you pointed out is a sort of polarization.

Like you said, you have loads of people who support neither the government nor the militants (whilst simultaneously being apologists for the latter), but public opinion as to the *root cause* of all of this is something that seems to be splitting roughly into two camps.

And thats the first stage right?