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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pakistan: A country divided against itself

PAKISTAN IS at war. It is not a declared war but everyone, one and all, both the natives and the foreigners know that a war is going on. The Pakistan Army is dead serious on eliminating the menace of terrorism. However, other citizens like teachers, bureaucrats and ordinary citizens are not convinced that the Army is serious about its business vis-a-vis terrorism. Nevertheless, in the heart and mind, a guide escorting some brave foreign tourists is convinced that this is not the best of times to see Taxila’s Buddhist university of yore or the Anarkali Bazar of Lahore today. But he has to earn his daily bread and this is the cleanest way of doing so.
 
Where is the enemy
 
It is an undeclared war. No unit has identified an enemy. A circular floated by General Headquarters has just arrived. It defines the enemy and asks all ranks not to have any dealings with the defined enemy. A person, male or female of any age, who challenges the concept and formation of Pakistan and is waging a war against Pakistan or is prepared to wage a war, and with this common intent assembles and organises them to go on a raid to destabilise the country, will be called an enemy of the state of Pakistan and will be brought before a court of law to stand trial. On conviction, such a person will be hanged till death. The body will be handed over to the next of kin for performance of last rites.

Who runs the government of Pakistan? It is a sensitive issue and is never discussed in an open space. In the lighter vein, one may say that three A’s run the show –America, Army and Allah –and in the same order of importance. America has loosened its purse strings and gives a soft loan to Pakistan to the tune of 1.25 billion dollars per year. He who pays the piper, dictates the tune – the age old saying is true to situation even today. Army has run the government most of the time since independence and knows the finer nuances of administration.
 
One of the major reasons why the Pakistan army lost the 1971 war and surrendered unconditionally to India was their distaste for the devilish business of fighting and their penchant for a cushy job like governance of the country. Be that as it may, the Pakistan Army still runs the show by using remote control. There is a civil administration with a President, a Prime Minister and an elected legislature. They know their limitations and do not wish to cross the Lakshman Rekha. No one in his senses expects a powerful Army Chief like General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani to take orders from a President, Asif Ali Zardari. In any case, the two are not on talking terms.

Thus here is a government where the right hand does not know what the left is doing. Here is a country where the people are badly divided on sectarian lines like the Shiite, the Sunni, the Ahmediyas and what have you. The residents of the tribal belt come under a separate administration called the FATA or Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The British in India had kept them divided so that they gain no political strength. Since Independence on August 14, 1947, the government of Pakistan made no endeavour to improve their educational, economic or political condition and they are where they were more than 62 years ago.
 
Since no effort was made for their integration, the process of disintegration gained momentum. The tribes like Mehsuds, Waziri, Yusufzai, Tadjiks and what have you who were fiercely independent by nature gained more momentum through the barrel of the gun. The British Indian Army of the undivided India had found it difficult to control what is now called FATA through force and they bought their silence through hard cash. The situation is no better now; rather it is worse. The invisible enemy lies in wait for the regular army in the hills and dales, jungles and ravines of the unforgiving terrain of Waziristan.
 
Waterloo of foreign forces

Alexander’s invincible phalanxes had found it difficult to hold the ground in the areas called FATA today. The mighty Mughals ruling from Delhi lost the humorist general, Raja Birbal in the process of suppressing the revolt of these tribal people. The tribal loyalties are strong and the entire tribe goes out to the rescue of an individual or a family in distress. Even Tadjiks and Waziris come to the active aid of Mehsuds, notwithstanding tribal rivalries.
 
Of late, Pakistan had been trying hard to play one tribe against the other but had no appreciable success. With modern system of surveillance, an organised regular army has gained more strength. Baitullah Mehsud, the tribal chief and head of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan was thus killed by a missile fired from an American drone while sleeping in the open terrace with his young second wife. While making an attempt to sire a son, he lost his life. His place is now taken over by Hakimullah Mehsud who has vowed a revenge for loss of his predecessor.

As is well known to those who have been following the strategy of the Taliban and the Pakistan Army, it is the United States of America that had been pressurising the Pakistan government to make a decision to eliminate the Taliban leadership and proceed against Islamist terrorism with determination. The Americans increased the aid money to Pakistan but kept an eye on the recipients ’budgeting. It is an open secret that General Kayani is unhappy with the strings attached to the US aid and was in favour of declining to accept it. President Zardari, however, did not wish to alienate the Americans and has accepted both the aid and strings.
 
The US pressure on Pakistan worked and in June 2009, a firm decision was taken to fight it out with a one-time brothers-in-arms, the Taliban. However, it took time to mobilise two divisions of 28000 men and deploy them in the battle zone. Thus it was not until October 16, 09 that a ground attack code named “Rahe Nijaat”or Road of Deliverance, was launched. The air attacks by helicopter gunships and fighter jets had been going on for quite some time. The troops were needed to hold the ground snatched from the Taliban. Should the Pakistan Army make a decision to penetrate deep into the jungles or the hills and dry ravines, they will have to constantly keep an eye on the Terrain, the Weather and the attitude of non-Mehsud tribes towards the ongoing armed confrontation. The winter is not far behind and a snowfall may be expected in November-December 2009.

Progress of battle

Let us admit right at the beginning that there is no transparency in the battle procedure and progress of battle. The whole process is opaque. The press briefing by the PRO confuses the scribes more and removes doubts less. Whatever little information comes out of the battle zone is rather scanty and paints only the army in good light. The Taliban is shown as the losing force. However, the press corps know that had the Army been so efficient and powerful, the Taliban would have been exterminated long ago. But they are still alive and kicking. The government spokesman says that only 17 soldiers lost their life but more than 90 Taliban were killed in a fierce fire fight. Anyway, the media has no means of checking the truth or otherwise of this report.

Some refugees who came out of the dense jungles and ravines did mention that most of the residential areas have been vacated by the local tribesmen. At the same time they did not confirm any large scale movement of army officers and soldiers on footpaths or cart roads leading into the ravines and broken terrain. One may safely surmise that the fierce hand to hand battle between the army men and the tribesmen has not yet begun. It may be mentioned that in 2004 and twice thereafter the Pakistan army had closed in on the tribal people but they were beaten back by the tribal fighters. The Army Headquarters was forced to negotiate and propitiate the tribal fighters every time. Naturally, the Pakistan army officers and soldiers did not cover themselves with glory in these face offs. No wonder, the Army is still testing the waters before taking a plunge. The million dollar question is; how long?
 
Since the Wajiristan warfront is getting more and more opaque, we have little choice but to sign off for now. We promise to return when there is some worthwhile report to bring to our readers who are real connoisseurs of news and views.

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