Malala and Beyond

The striking photograph of a single man facing a tank with upraised arms in Beijing’s Tian An Men Square galvanized China and the world to the reality of oppression and resistance to state power. Another memorable photograph that stunned the world showed a naked terror struck screaming girl running from a fireball behind her — more than anything else this one picture summed up the sordid horror of the VietNam war — the massacres, the use of Agent Orange, napalm and indiscriminate bombings. More recently the visuals of the prisoner abuse in Abu Gharib prison, the images of US Marines urinating on Afghan corpses, the killing of a US diplomat in Libya — and closer to home- beheaded bodies, bomb blasts, kidnappings and random killings — all make up the mosaic that is the war on terror. The teenage Malala gunned down by Taliban in the name of what they call Islam is a horror that drives home the image of intolerance, ignorance, brutality and extremism. Those who carried out this atrocity and those who ordered it stand exposed for what they are and what they stand for.

As Malala fights for her life in a British hospital the world prays for her. In Pakistan besides the prayers there are endless debates on what has happened and where we should go from here. The event is crystal clear so debating it is futile. Beyond the event the road is murky. There are people calling for an operation in North Waziristan — identified as the hub and nerve center of insurgent and jihadist activity. Others are pointing out the pitfalls and the consequences of such an undertaking. There are others blaming the drone strikes and US/NATO operations and some even pointing fingers at those who want a military operation in North Waziristan being the master minds behind the atrocity. So far no one has said that what is actually required is introspection and a review of what has been Pakistan’s strategy so far. After a decade of the War on Terror the situation is much worse than it was before the war started. Afghanistan remains destabilized, the Afghan Army and Police forces are ineffective and falling apart, drugs smuggling is rampant, the Taliban are as active as ever and the US and NATO are running for the exit with the New York Times calling for this to happen quickly. Pakistan faces insurgencies in its western provinces that are fed by sponsors in Afghanistan and inspired by others through Afghanistan. Pakistan also faces an economic crisis and a high level of internal security. Its military is stretched thin in FATA essentially containing a situation that begs a political-military strategy.

There is sympathy in Pakistan for those are fighting to free Afghanistan from foreign presence and from those in Afghanistan seen as collaborators of the foreign presence. There is no sympathy for those who seek to overpower the Pakistani state to impose their own brand of religion and governance — these are the criminals and extremists who have banded together and are being exploited to destabilize Pakistan from within. There is also no sympathy for those who link themselves to the insurgents for their own narrow sectarian and ethnic agendas that are seen by them as the path to power and control. The question is that if this is true then why does not the state of Pakistan assert itself and speak with one voice so that a comprehensive strategy can be forged?

At this stage of the end game, Pakistan does not want to strike at the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan because these Taliban or those sponsored by them could be part of the Afghan led reconciliation process and the eventual political dispensation in Afghanistan. If, after the exit of the US and NATO, there is a civil war in Afghanistan then Pakistan would not want these Taliban to become the sponsors of the insurgents fighting for political space in Pakistan — the TTP (Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) in order to leverage Pakistan’s support in their own internal struggle. The US, however, wants Pakistan to clear the Afghan Taliban from North Waziristan. It uses drone strikes in Pakistan territory against them and turns a blind eye to the insurgents operating from Afghanistan against Pakistan possibly with Afghan government and Indian support. A runaway from Swat now living in Kunar province of Afghanistan is reported to have ordered the attack on Malala for speaking out against his atrocities. For Pakistan, the problem is also the fact that economic issues and the divisions in its society that remained latent or at least below threat level have surfaced under weak governance as major threat to internal stability. Pakistan’s environment is now being exploited by criminals, political factions, religious extremists and external forces and the result is lawlessness, violence and zero human security. In such a situation there is no way that the economic decline can be arrested much less turned around.

A strategic review would drive home the reality of the situation facing Pakistan and the long term danger to the state. It would point Pakistan in the direction of a methodical step by step approach to meet the threats and challenges. The focus would have to be on forging bilateral relations with neighbors that define and secure land and maritime borders with conflict ruled out as an option. It could lead to the conclusion that the Baluchistan situation can only be tackled by strong effective government and administration in the province, supported, not driven by the federal government and the military. Sindh including Karachi needs political accommodation not dominance by a single faction — it cannot be left to fester nor can Karachi remain the city of death that it has become. The comparative calm in Punjab comes at the cost of appeasing those who can create mayhem to survive and those who have forged linkages across borders to calibrate violence and exert coercive pressures. Punjab needs to be prepared for what may erupt suddenly. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is totally destabilized by the blowback from FATA and Afghanistan — its stability is linked to the situations in those areas and with the bilateral relations with Pakistan’s neighbors. Pakistan’s relationships with the US, Russia and China are most important and cannot be at the cost of any one of these countries. The US and India must act to give Pakistan the space it needs to review and rework its strategy and not act to pressurize it into some kind of submission because that will not happen. There has been silence on the various allegations leveled at the military and a tacit acceptance of statements that blame the military for all policy formulation and control. This projects the image of an elected government that wants to do much but is hampered by the military from doing so. There is perhaps a need for a strategic directive that defines the scope and scale of the actions that the military is to undertake as part of the orchestration of all the elements of state power including the political institution.

Spearhead Analyses are collaborative efforts and not attributable to a single individual)

Spearhead Analysis – 19.10.12