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June - July 2009


Political News

THE STATE OF CONFLICT IN PAKISTAN

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee


HOW PAKISTAN'S STATE-SPONSORED JIHADI PROXY WAR AGAINST ITS NEIGHBOURS MORPHOSED INTO A SPIRALLING INTERNAL ETHNIC CONFLICT? WHAT CAUSED IT? CAN IT BE CONTAINED?

Some dedicated think tanks specialising in security affairs and also individual American experts who are known for their knowledge on issues of conflict management have recently predicted that given the domestic turmoil and conflict spiralling uncontrollably in Pakistan there is a possibility that this country may collapse by about the close of the year 2009.

Most Western governments led by the US see the raging conflict in Pakistan exclusively through the prism of religion. There is no doubt that Islam is in ferment and an off-shoot of that on-going revolution is that militant Islam is fired by a dream to dominate the world. The dominant US view is that the Muslim world, particularly Pakistan - an ally of Washington since its birth - must be saved from the onslaught of Islamist terrorism. This is imperative if what we know as western civilisation has to survive and flourish in the future.

The flaw in this line of thinking is that one is probably overlooking the hard reality that the Islamist terror onslaught - which has now spread across the whole of Central and South Asia - was conceptualised and created by none other than the Pakistan Military establishment in the first place. The Taliban was set up to fight in Afghanistan and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the Jaish e Mohammad to conduct the terror campaign in India. Using religious extremism driving a prolonged proxy war to destroy Hindu majority India and grabbing the Pashtun region of Afghanistan to be used as strategic depth in a future war with India were Rawalpindi's military objectives and they remain unaltered to this day. Which raises the question : what is the US trying to defend Pakistan against?

But the world has come a long distance from the days this dangerous business of sponsoring cross-border terrorism all began. As conflicts

develop and go though their own momentum they evolve into something that nobody could ever imagine. Britain went to war in 1939 against Hitler's

Germany to defend Poland making it safe for democracy but that beautiful country ended up in 1945 as a communist satellite of the Soviet Union.

The driving Jihadi onslaught in Pakistan has developed a dangerous bye- product.

The bye-product is the Ethnic Conflict which now engulfs all of Pakistan. This is spiralling uncontrollably as the daily roll call of suicide attacks go to show. When the experts say that Pakistan is likely to collapse within less than a year, this is what they have in mind.

What is this Ethnic Conflict that has the potential to destroy Pakistan warrants a study and an analysis.

Consider how many terror attacks have blown up convoys of Pakistan Army in both North and South Waziristan and the NWFP, how many girl's schools have been levelled to the ground in towns and villages in the Malakand Division's Mangora and the Swat Valley where the harshest version of Sharia Law has been introduced, how many heads have been put to the sword for non-compliance, how many Shia mosques in nearby Khurram region have been destroyed, how many lives have been lost in the long-running insurgency in Baluchistan - killing and injuring hundreds of people both military and security personnel and civilians. While the spread of violence in the volatile tribal/ethnic Pashtun and Baluchi-dominated regions of Pakistan is worrying enough, what is causing deeper concern among the Generals of Pakistan Army and the civilian leaders virtually living in conditions of imprisionment in the Presidential Palace and the nearby buildings cordoned off by security forces, is how this line of fire has escalated so fast from the remote areas in FATA, NWFP and Baluchistan to Islamabad the nation's capital and Lahore, the cultural heart of Pakistan. The recent suicide attack on the Police Academy near Lahore and the earlier outrage on the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad and countless other attacks only confirm that the conflict is escalating fast and with great fury.

Is Pakistan imploding? Commenting on the suicide attack Friday 27 March 2009 on a packed Mosque in NWFP's Khyber tribal region killing upto 100 people bowed in prayer, Isfandyar Wali Khan, the leader of the secular Awami National Party and the ruling party in NWFP, made the ominous comment "What kind of a holy war is this? This is outright insurgency".

Judged by any yardstick, Pakistan is to all intents and purposes caught up in such a multi-layered combination of ethnic insurgencies and Jihadi conflict that it is beginning to pose a serious existential threat to the national fabric of the polity. Even the mighty Pakistan Army did not feel bold enough to take over the country when President Asif Ali Zardari and Opposition Leader Nawaz Sharif of PML (N) were squabling over the restoration of the dismissed Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhry pushing the country almost to the brink. A military take over, although not difficult to visualise, had however the potential to produce disastrous consequences of unimaginable proportions for Pakistan. Make no mistake 2009 is not 1999. It is possible that the largesse that the Pakistan Army received from the US during the Bush Administration of $11 billion may have impaired its fighting capability. In 2009 Pakistan is comprehensively at war with itself; General Pervez Musharraf's Military Coup in 1999 marked the beginning of the process.

In these difficult circustances, the need to "save" Pakistan from an impending disaster and protect the nuclear arsenal from falling into the hands of the Taliban should legitimately engage the minds of the security communities of the key nations concerned with what is happening in Pakistan including the US, India, Russia, China, the EU, the OIC and others. Saving Pakistan, imperative though it may be for the strategic stability of the region and the world at large, from objective historical experience, seems to be a hope against hope at this late stage.

Two historic events dramatically changed Pakistan's tryst with terrroism. One was the terrible events of 9/11 of 2001 when General Pervez Musharraf changed sides - in pure self interest - in the US-led war on terror while the other was the mass massacre perpetrated by Pakistan Army on July 10, 2007 in Lal Masjid - the Red Mosque - in which at least 300 inmates of the Quranic Seminary at the heart of nation's capital were slain, transformed the Taliban movement in Pakistan into a blood-soaked adversary against the Pakistan Army. It was an irony of fate that the incubator of terrorism became its victim. Within a few days after the bloodbath, al Qaeda's No.2 leader, Aiyman al Zawahiri openly declared war on the Pakistan Army. Zawahiri's Fatwa remains in place till today.

The Lal Masjid massacre split the Taliban movement into two entities.

The original ISI-created Taliban led from its base in Quetta in Pakistan by Mullah Mohammad Omar, backed by some "retired elements" of the Pakistan Army's Intelligence Agency, continues its fight against the US led coalition forces in Afghanistan. Those fighting alongside Mullah Omar against the US and the British Army in Afghanistan are Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Sirajuddin Haqqani.

The newly formed Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan ( TTP ), on the other hand, headquartered in South Waziristan, led by Baitullah Mehsud splintered from the parent body and started its own bloody insurgency against the Pakistan Army. The TTP has formed a coalition with Tehreek-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) led by Sufi Mohammad and his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah. A formidable force, together with Muslim Khan a ferocious fighter, they forced the Pakistan Government to sign the Sharia Law agreement in Swat Valley.

Pakistan Army's surrender of the Swat Valley to the joint command of the TTP and the TNSM should be seen as almost similar to the surrender of Pakistan Army to the Indian Army in 1971 in Dhaka which created Bangladesh.

It can be argued that the Swat Valley in fact the whole of the Malakand region and beyond extending further west to North and South Waziristan have ceased to be sovereign parts of Pakistan anymore.

Taliban is now on the march towards Islamabad. They have taken the district of Bunair with its capital Daggar and is now poised to take the next district called Swabi which connects the highway from Islamabad to Peshwar. Once Swabi falls the highway to the Capital will turn into a freeway to disaster where there will be no traffic jams.

Ethnically the two fundamentalist entities namely the TTP and the TNSM are Deobandi Sunni Pashtuns and there are obvious signs that together their struggles have increasingly concentrated on achieving a separate national status for themselves truncated from Pakistan. In their view the US-led war on terror - now defined by the attacks from the unmanned drones - is actually a War on the Pashtuns where Pakistan is a coalition partner of Washington. So why not bid good bye to Pakistan and go for independence.

The Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban, although they are currently fighting on two fronts against two different enemies, will in the long run be left with no alternative, if their insurrections succeed, but to join up to create a Greater Afghanistan in a merger and acquisition like deal. However much America might wish, it will not be easy for the two Talibans to alter their newly charted struggle to truncate a homeland for the Pashtuns from the body politic both of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The Pashtun groups are different from the Punjabi outfits. The Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad are ISI-created Punjabi terror outfits fighting India. The Mumbai terror attack of 26/11 of 2008 killing 193 innocent people, including US and Israeli citizens, was the handiwork of LeT as police investigations have revealed. The Punjabi terror outfits have fine tuned their doctrinal moorings to a more radical theology namely Ahal-e-Hadis and are closer to the Wahabi/Salafi extremist ideology of Sunni Islam. They were so far loyal to the state of Pakistan but things may have changed recently. After Pakistan was forced to acknowledge at India's insistence ( perhaps prodded by the US ) that the Lashkar e Tayyaba was responsible for the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, there have been signs that the LET may have re-considered its unstinting allegiance to the state of Pakistan. The speculation that the terror attack on the Sri Lanka cricket team in Lahore was perhaps the handiwork of the LET who wanted to humilitate Pakistan is a case in point.

With their opposing strategic goals and incompatible ethnicities it is becoming evident that the Pashtun-dominated Tehreek-e-Taliban-e-Pakistan and the Punjabi Lashkar e Tayyaba supported by their respective coalition partners are getting sucked ever more deeply into a bloody ethnically driven civil war.

The on-going Baluchi insurgency in which the Bugtis, the Marris, the Bizenjos, the Mengals, and others are all involved and intensifying and the Shia-Sunni conflict in which elements from both Iran and Saudi Arabia have their fingers in the pie, are only complicating the scenario beyond imagination.

The experience of Yugoslavia splitting into several independent Muslim entities is a signal warning that ethnic affinities in Islamic societies have grown stronger than the bond of religion. When the Soviet Union collapsed, its southern flank splintered into several Muslim Republics. They did not join together in an unified homeland of the Muslims of the former Soviet Union. Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon like Pakistan are all ethnically diverse Islamic societies. Who can say that these countries will not go down the route taken by Yugoslavia as the security situation deteriorates.

There is a thought that has not quite surfaced yet among think tanks in India, the US and elsewhere that should a redrawing of the map of Central and South Asia occur founded on ethnic fault lines such a destiny may have the potential of securing peace and stability of the entire region as no other solution can.

The other alternative will be nearest equivalent of a doomsday scenario of a magnitude that will be beyond human imagination. If Pakistan collapses into an uncontrollable chaos under the pressure of Islamist onslaught, India may have to remain ready to pay a high price should such a denouement come to pass. There may be huge dislocations and uprooting of populations in the nearby regions across the borders. The masses of destitute people may have nowhere to go but to head towards India and it will be very difficult for New Delhi to stop the exodus. It will have the potential of changing the very cultural identity of India. Just imagine the Lashkar e Tayyaba and the Jaish e Mohammad operatives joining the queue of mass infiltration into India. Add to that Pakistan's nuclear arsenal falling into the hands of al Qaeda.

(The writer is a retired Indian diplomat and the author of " A Long Journey Together - India Pakistan & Bangladesh " published in October 2008 in the USA and is available on Amazon.com)

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