War for dummies

We are in this for the long haul. There are no easy and final solutions. This fact must be drilled into naive minds.

Ejaz Haider October 01, 2013
The writer is Editor, National Security Affairs at Capital TV and a visiting fellow at SDPI

Let me try and explain again for those who just can’t seem to get it. 1) The current war that Pakistan finds itself in is a product not just of external developments (the US-led, UN-mandated attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan) but also of two other, very important factors, both indigenous to us: a policy that sub-let the country’s security to non-state actors and a state policy to ensure all Pakistanis became ‘good’ Muslims.

Corollary 1: this war’s enabling environment preceded America’s arrival in West and South Asia. Corollary 2: it will not end with America’s departure.

2) The two policies of Islamisation and sub-letting security meant that we were allowing and encouraging groups and individuals, even if unwittingly, to develop supra-state agendas. And while these policies emerged independently of each other, in the long run it was inevitable for them to complement each other, the extremism begotten of one informing the millenarianism of the other.

Corollary 1: all state theorists are agreed that the dilution of state writ is the beginning of the unravelling of a state. Corollary 2: the religio-political groups began by sacralising the state and when the state tried to check their supra-state activities, they started to attack the state’s interests.

3) Pakistan did not get into a US war. It was obliged, as a member of the United Nations, to abide by the legal regime on terrorism, which also mandated the use of force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. No power, including China, vetoed that war.

Corollary: the war in Afghanistan, led by the US, has/had a completely different legal basis than the US invasion of Iraq which, to wit, remains a legally untenable war.

4) The UN-mandated action in Afghanistan gave India the opportunity to isolate Pakistan on the issue of terrorism. The problem for Pakistan was not just to save a situation gone bad in Afghanistan but also to avoid a strategically impossible situation on the eastern front. [NB: the debate on whether we exercised the options well is a separate one.]

5) The legal basis of the war is conveniently avoided in the debates in Pakistan. Most people tend to conflate the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Of course, there are those who also reject the UN but that is an absurd position in a world where the UN is a reality despite its weaknesses, which also find expression in International Law. The same people, however, will want the state to invoke the UN on the question of violation of sovereignty and the Kashmir dispute.

6) The US-led invasion of Afghanistan created a situation for Pakistan: it drove al Qaeda and Taliban fighters into Pakistan’s tribal areas, a natural sanctuary for them not just for reasons of geography but also because of the environment the state had created over three decades ago when these areas were used as sanctuaries and launching pads for the ‘mujahideen’.

7) The local tribes began giving sanctuaries to al Qaeda fighters and the Afghan Taliban. The war created an insurgency economy. The local social dynamics, which had been undergoing change since the first commanders had made their appearance during the war against the Soviet Union, saw new individuals emerging as powerful warlords and dictating terms. Their objective was to keep the state at bay and support elements that were wanted by the world.

8) It is a myth that Pakistan sent the army into the tribal areas for the first time. For details on military deployment, read my article, “More on talks with the TTP” (May 29).

9) The war was not started by the army. The state had to ensure that its territory is not used against another state. The supra-state mindset of extremist groups and their sympathisers does not accept that.

10) The effort to establish the writ of the state, any state worth its name, is not someone else’s war. While the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan has acted as a catalyst, it did not create the extremist mindset that challenges the state today. That has been our doing.

11) The US drone campaign is a problem at various levels and I have discussed it many times in this space. But to argue that the Pakistani Taliban and their affiliates are attacking Pakistan only because of US drone strikes is at best naive, at worst, pure dissembling. It also begs the question of why the TTP stresses these strikes when most of those taken out have been top al Qaeda leaders. Reason: the TTP and its affiliates are closely linked to al Qaeda and have lost many heavy lifters in these strikes. Does Pakistan support al Qaeda?

Now to some finer points. If we accept the state as the organising principle, then we have to establish certain parameters. One cannot, like Ansar Abbasi, say that we accept the state’s framework and then turn around and also support supra-state activities by certain individuals because doing so is, according to their understanding, in line with Islam; or worse, that such activities are to be condoned because the state is not Islamic enough.

Second, as I have pointed out repeatedly, the statement that we should talk to terrorists because we have never talked to them before is an outright lie. Nor are fighting and talking necessarily mutually exclusive. Even if the state is talking, that does not — and it should not — preclude it from ensuring its writ. Capturing the perpetrators of recent terrorist attacks is a case in point.

Third, we are in this for the long haul. There are no easy and final solutions. This fact must be drilled into naive minds. Also, while the state has been conducting military operations, it hasn’t done too well on the counter-terrorism front.

Fourth, it’s time we focused on the funding to these groups, especially the charities, domestic and foreign, that siphon off money for insurgency. One of the most important CT measures is for the state to control resources. This is a neglected front.

Finally, formulate whatever strategy you might, it mustn’t do two things: it must not signal weakness and it must not lose the gains. The current mood threatens to do both.

Those who still don’t get it don’t need facts and logic; they need lobotomy. Unfortunately, that’s a large population of this country.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2013.

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RR Iyer | 8 years ago | Reply

@Sexton Blake: Appreciate yr support, Mr. Blake. They stop me on every alternate message, I guess. I probably hit a nerve when I commented on subjects too close to home. Best, RR Iyer

Sexton Blake | 8 years ago | Reply

@RR Iyer: Dear RR, Please do not give up. ET does it to me also, but Pakistan needs people like you.

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