Originally published in Dawn.
The war the Pakistan army is being made to fight in the two Waziristans is not our war. It is a war calibrated to an American agenda. Pakistan being asked to pull the chestnuts out of a fire the Americans have started.
Yet so helpless is this government, so tightly held in America’s embrace, that it can do nothing. Even if it wants to, it cannot break free from this suffocating relationship, more like bondage, which is costing us dearly and will cost us more as time passes.
This is a war for Pakistan’s soul, we are told, a war between the forces of moderation and extremism. This is self-serving nonsense served up as justification for performing mercenary duty in defence of American interests.
Mercenary? Yes, mercenary, the Musharraf regime receiving about 100 million dollars a month in return for its military services to the United States. (Where this money goes and how it is accounted for few people outside the defence ministry or General Headquarters know.)
This is in addition to the nearly 700 million dollars annual subsidy Pakistan receives as part of the five-year military-cum-economic package concluded after 9/11. Into the equation must also be put the Bush administration’s political backing for the Musharraf regime. Indeed, what keeps [Pervez] Musharraf in power is control of the army plus American largesse.
But there is a price to pay for this alliance and it comes in the form of fighting a war against one’s own people. Close to 80,000 fighting men are now deployed in the tribal areas pursuing the ghostly shadows of al-Qaida and the Taliban. In this undeclared war a thousand soldiers have already lost their lives. For what?
The ultimate sacrifice is, of course, part of a soldier’s covenant when he signs up for service. But the ultimate sacrifice is for defending the fatherland, not fighting alien wars.
Are there “militants” in the tribal areas? For sure there are. But we have to be clear that the Nek Mohammads and Baitullah Mahsuds we have seen arise in the tribal areas are products of America’s war in Afghanistan. Just as the American invasion of Iraq has fuelled militancy and brought al-Qaida to Iraq (when no sign of it was there before), the American invasion of Afghanistan has fuelled the fires of a genuine resistance and brought the flames of war into our tribal areas.
No “surge” or anything like it is working in Iraq. American forces there are not only over-stretched, by now they are plain exhausted. I am reading Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s excellent “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” which is about the American occupation of Iraq and the unbelievable stupidities the Americans went about committing there. If Iraq has turned into the second graveyard of American hubris after Vietnam, it shouldn’t come as a surprise, American folly and arrogance leaving room for no other eventuality.
What makes anyone think Afghanistan is going to be less of a screw-up? Have we forgotten our Afghan history? When was the last time Afghanistan welcomed a foreign invader? Like the American occupation of Iraq, the pacification of Afghanistan is also doomed. When Bush, the architect of what surely will qualify as one of the gravest disasters in American history, is in history’s trashcan, where he deserves to be, the Afghans will still be fighting.
But as long as the Americans remain in Afghanistan, Pakistan has to face the heat. As American frustration with Afghanistan grows, Pakistan becomes the scapegoat for American failure. Indeed, as we have seen, everyone’s favourite whipping boy in the American presidential election seems to be Pakistan.
From Barack Obama to everyone’s uncle has threatened Pakistan with military strikes if “actionable” targets emerge, meaning, presumably, if Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri are discovered having breakfast somewhere in the tribal areas.
General de Gaulle was never in doubt about what Americans were capable of. “You may be sure that the Americans will commit all the stupidities they can think of, plus some that are beyond imagination.” Are the Americans now serious about wanting to extend their imperialist war to the Mahsuds, the Waziris and what have you in the tribal areas? They can barely cope in Iraq while Afghanistan too is proving difficult to control. Opening another front will be a step too far.
Yet, know what? American pressure tactics as applied to Pakistan succeed because the Musharraf regime is too weak to resist pressure. But who pays the price of this fatal weakness? Why, the Pakistan army, which ends up fighting a war for which it has no heart or stomach, a war whose reasons escape most senior commanders.
Kargil was a disaster but it was mercifully short. In Waziristan, the army faces a war of attrition which is sapping morale and draining strength. It is a war with no clear objectives and no end in sight. And all because the present military command, which also holds the country’s reins in its hands, is helplessly tied to American interests.
Look at the bind we are in. America’s other allies have contingents in Afghanistan which are minuscule compared to the troops Pakistan has deployed on its side of the border. And we are doing all this unthinkingly, mindlessly parroting the mantra that this is a fight in our interests too. It is not.
Pakistan’s first Afghan adventure under Gen. Zia fuelled religious extremism. Its second Afghan adventure under Gen Musharraf is fuelling a reverse kind of extremism, directed against Pakistan. But we have to look at first causes. The first brand of extremism arose because the Russians were in Afghanistan. This second brand of extremism, its signature tune written by the suicide bomber, has arisen because the Americans are in Afghanistan.
If the first American-backed Afghan jihad was legitimate, how come the present one is illegitimate? An occupier is an occupier unless we are to sanctify double standards and turn them into a new commandment.
The English-speaking liberati of Pakistan is living in a strange world. The threat of Talibanisation it fears comes not from the suicide bomber. It comes from the conditions producing suicide bombers. Just as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian occupied territories are products of Israeli arrogance and intransigence, the Pakistani suicide bomber is a crazed product of American atrocities—yes, atrocities—in Afghanistan.
We risk becoming another Lebanon or Cambodia unless we disengage from Waziristan and break free from our present American alliance—a yoke round Pakistan’s neck, good for the ruling junta but disastrous for the country. But this bond we won’t break unless there is a change in the power equation in Pakistan. The local versions of Anwar Sadat must go if Pakistan is to turn a new leaf and step out into the future.
That is why we urgently need a return to democracy, the genuine article and not the sham stuff which has been the prevailing currency in Pakistan these past eight years.
We are not a banana republic, say our leaders. We are not indeed. Ours is a country of not inconsiderable size and, all said and done, we are the only country in the Islamic world with a nuclear capability. This last is not a badge we should be flashing around but it shows that when we set our minds to something, we can achieve it. Our problem is something else. We throw up leaders who behave like the leaders of a banana republic.
So we need to put our house in order. Musharraf is living in a fool’s paradise if he thinks he can keep wearing his uniform and make himself president from these assemblies for another five years. The time for that is past. Few people in Pakistan are willing to put up with this charade any longer.
We need the army to go back to its own job and we need the politicians to stand up and give a better account of themselves. The judiciary has stood up, and what a sight it is. The nation now needs to ensure a return to constitutionalism and the rule of law.