Pakistan's mortal combat
Pakistan is fighting its battle for survival. If we go by the figures of Taliban militants killed (over 1,000) in the armed operation carried out by the army, Pakistan's civilian and defence establishment seem to be passing a tough message to the jihadi leadership. Pakistan is fighting back for real, sending troops to dislodge the jihadies who had spread out of the Swat valley.
Also, as Pakistan struggles to contain an ever growing Taliban and Al- Qaeda militancy, it has aroused concern that it is a failing or fracturing state. There is a real threat to Pakistan's sovereignty and integrity emanating from within. The current situation in Pakistan is dim and dismal.
The alarming advance of the Taliban forces close to the capital Islamabad and a declaration by Sufi Muhammad, the 78-year-old religious cleric that democracy was an 'infidel' concept came as a real wake up call for the Pakistani establishment. But remember the same establishment under Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, and Army chief General Pervez Ashfaq Kiyani was silent when the same Sufi Mohammad and his son in law Maulana Fazlullah with their Taiban men razed close to 200 girls schools, banned music, closed down barber shops, and delivered justice in Sharia courts through their version Koran in Swat.
The military operation in Swat 130 kilometers northwest of capital Islamabad is seen as a test of Pakistan government's commitment to confront a growing extremism in the country. A successful army operation would go a long way in proving Pakistan's commitment as a strong American ally in its war on terror. Also, Pakistan is running out of options and excuses for not taking action against extremist forces on its soil. Whether America gains something out of this operation or not, Pakistan has lot to lose. Specifically due to the likeliness of heavy collateral damage in terms of civilian deaths. This could turn public opinion against the army and the government. May be Pakistan army can learn something from the humanitarian approach adopted my the Indian army in kashmir about winning hearts and minds of people of the warn torn area.
A successful armed operation against Taliban would help Pakistan regain control of Swat, but a bigger challenge begins from there of establishing civilian rule, bring back social life to normalcy, and more importantly to keep Taliban under check and restrict its movement in the northwest of the country on Pak-Afghan border. This would require Pakistan to have strong and perpetual presence of its armed forces in the vally. Not only this, the government will have to employ a hugh 'civilian army' to deal with the mass exodus of civilians in the valley. One mistake and Taliban would be tempted to get back at government and gain ground in the area. Restricting their movement on Pak-Afghan border region would help in suffocating the Taliban forces and hunt them down.
Pakistan's heavy-handed armed operation in the northwest risks further distabilisation of the country. The military campaign against Taliban in response to growing militant threat has led hundreds and thousands civilians to flee their homes in Swat, Buner, and Lower Dir districts of the North West Frontier Province. According to estimates about one million people have already fled the valley. Media reports suggest that among the charities that have set up relief camps is Jamat-ud-Dawa whose named appeared after Mumbai terror attacks last November. It is certainly Pakistan's worst internal displacement crisis since partition. International humanitarian community in calling this mass exodus from the valley the largest migration of civilians in the region since 1947. It is difficult to conceptualise the sheer scale of the refugee and internally displaced population (IDP) burden that Pakistan has borne. This displaced populations themselves can be a source of tension and unrest for the establishment. Taliban who is on the run could turn its gun this displaced population.
At the same time the humanitarian crisis could well generate public opinion against the government and create sympathy and political opportunity for militants. For example, after 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, militant groups launched humanitarian operation to provide aid in the areas where government could not reach and that helped create positive opinion for the extremist forces. Similar circumstance in Swat helped Taliban gain ground and establish parallel judicial system with the help of Sharia and deliver justice by flogging. The fact is that Pakistan would never have got to this position had it provided stable government and economy, and not shuffled between military coups and democracy.
Safety of nuclear arsenal:
Major concern for the international community is the safety and security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Members of the American Congress have been told that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency, raising questions about whether billions of dollars in proposed military aid by the White House might be diverted to Pakistan’s nuclear program. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a classified briefing to the US Congress has confirmed the assessment of the expanded arsenal, the New York Times has reported.
Pakistan’s drive to spend heavily on new nuclear arms is a source of growing concern, because the country is producing more nuclear material at a time when Washington is increasingly focused on trying to assure the security of an arsenal of 80 to 100 weapons so that they do not fall into the hands of Islamic insurgents. Remember Pakistan has more terror groups operating on its soil than anywhere else on the earth. As this article is being written satellite images are being released in Washington showing two nuclear sites in order to bolster Pakistan's nuclear programme. The satellite pictures follow confirmation from Admiral Mike Mullen. Given turmoil in Pakistan with the army waging war against Taliban militants in the northwest, security of its nuclear assets remain in question.
America continues to pour money into Pakistan in order to ensure safety and security of its nuclear technology and not to put its own interest in Afghanistan in jeopardy. In a way American monetary aid is proving to be ransom money, which the former is paying willingly or unwillingly. In fact, Pakistan is being pampered with no assurance in return that such money will deliver any positive results. In order to succeed in its AfPak policy, America will have to pursue Pakistan to take stern military action against militant outfits on the Pak-Afghan border frontier as its 5,50,000 strong army is capable enough to crush domestic terror on its own.
Current security and economic situation poses mortal threat to Pakistan. It will have to do away with its obsession India centric policies and give priority to rule of law, economy, and internal security.
First, establishment of independent judiciary. It is one critical step. But it would go a long way in regaining and restoring confidence of people of Pakistan in its civil set up and deny welcome of Swat like Sharia courts in other parts of the country.
Second, the Swat offensive has worried investors in Pakistan. Net foreign investment in Pakistan fell 42.7 per cent to $2.21 billion in the first 10 months of the 2008/09 fiscal year compared with $3.86 billion in the same period last year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on 19th May unveiled $110 million in emergency aid to show US support for the Pakistani people. But the amount should be used for the said purpose and not directed to country's military objectives and purchasing of arms.
And finally, as Pakistan's major security threat comes from within it threatens very survival of the Pakistani state. To deal with the security crisis, Pakistani armed forces will have to acquire multi-role capability to fight guerilla war with Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the mountainous region on Pak-Afghan border. And not remain static on border with India.
Considering the present situation in Pakistan without losing the context of its history since 1947, the prime necessity for it is to shed away its approach, which is always governed by three factors: role of religion, India centric policies, and democratic set up of government. This is a hard dose for Pakistan to digest. More importantly it is civil society that has to erode and then eliminate the ideological threat that has been allowed to grow.