Dec 10, 2009

Dangers of mistrust

By Kuldip Nayar

PAKISTAN Army Chief General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani demanded some time back that America “gives Pakistan and its interests a consideration and consult us when they design a new Afghan policy.” There is no reason to believe that President Barrack Obama ignored Islamabad before announcing the surge of another 30,000 American troops to Afghanistan. Nor is there any protest from Pakistan that “its interests” were not considered.

Whatever the truth, the induction of additional US forces—20,000 are already there—is not a healthy development for the region. Afghanistan’s Commander Stanley McChrystal reportedly remarked that “a tremendous amount of things are going to happen, and they are good things.” He is leading the forces in the area. It is too early for America to make such observations because the past experience tells us that the US forces, wherever they have gone, either to Vietnam, Iraq or elsewhere, they have left ruin and devastation in their wake. They have yet to prove their mettle.

The history of Afghanistan says that no power, neither Great Britain in the past nor the Soviet Union in modern times, has been able to discipline, much less suppress, the defiant tribals. Foreign troops are only grist to their propaganda that their religion, Islam, is sought to be curbed. Uneducated masses, with limited avenues for gainful employment, are more driven towards fundamentalism than to the ways to oust poverty. The tribals are in perpetual poverty because their overlords have accepted money to keep quiet. They do not inspire confidence in the future.

Pakistan is the only country which has the necessary credentials. But its problem is that it cannot forget that the Afghanistan under the Taliban, who also dealt with the wayward tribals, were far more friendly and dependable than the Karzai government which has again assumed the charge at Kabul, by hook and by crook. Another fear that eats up Islamabad is that India, through its economic programme, has far more say with the people of Afghanistan than all others. Islamabad still has the dream that Afghanistan would one day give Pakistan “its strategic depth.” Therefore, it is a matter of conjecture how far Islamabad would go to finish the tribal menace once and for all.

True, the Pakistan forces have driven the Taliban from Swat in the North Western Province and vanquished them in southern Waziristan. Swat is part of Pakistan and the refugees who have gone back there are Pakistanis. Their loyalty cannot be questioned. But the victory in Waziristan may be difficult to sustain until local people rally behind Pakistan as the liberator. Probably the doubt on this point has made Islamabad realise that the negotiations with the Taliban are a far better bet in dealing with them than the use of sheer force. Also, the destructive manner in which the Taliban are blasting even the safest localities — Lahore is again the target — suggests that they have more collaborators all over than Islamabad or the West. It cannot be ruled out that some insiders are involved because of the ease with which they blast the most defended places.

And when President Obama says in the same breath that the forces inducted have a deadline of 18 months to quit — although in driblets — he is telling Pakistan to put its part together within that time-fame. That means building up Pakistan’s capability to defend the area in the absence of American troops. Taliban have only to find ways to lie low till the deadline. That may be the reason why the American offensive is not finding any meaningful resistance. Pakistan or, for that matter, America knows that the tribals who have defied authority for hundreds of years cannot be defeated within 18 months. This is particularly so when the war against Taliban is not a popular war in Pakistan.

When a survey conducted recently in Pakistan shows that democracy and the Shariat way of governance have an equal number of supporters — 30 per cent each — the public is not so much against fundamentalists as against America and the Nato powers. This may not be to the liking of the US and Europe but this is becoming clearer as the days go by. People in Pakistan have stake in economic development, not in hostilities, because they have found that their condition has not changed for years. In fact, they find more solace is pursuing the religion vigorously than in wasting money in what they consider the Western games.

That the sum of $750 billion in the next five years has counted with Islamabad while making its policy against the Taliban is clear. But what is not clear is the reason for accepting humiliating terms in getting the money. If this amount is to line the pockets of some high-ups, as has happened in the past, or to strengthen the arsenal and the armed forces, what stake has the public in what the rulers are doing? It is difficult to imagine that the rulers of whatever party will give way to some type of welfare state in the next five years. To begin with, feudalism has to go. There is no sign that even the first step has been taken in that direction.

Still terrorism has to be eliminated because it has made people in the region, including India, insecure. They do not know how to live when they know that they can be prey to terrorism anywhere at any time. The approach should have been regional. All the three countries, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan should have agreed upon a common strategy and forced a joint front to combat terrorism.

It is unfortunate that India and Pakistan are not on talking terms. Islamabad may find New Delhi intransigent. But when the latter has a feeling that the Pakistan rulers use terrorism to further the state policy, they have to do more than issuing statements to convince New Delhi. Therefore, there is a vacuum which the America is filling. Both New Delhi and Islamabad are allowing Washington to do so because their mistrust in each other has been deepening since independence. Mistrust is the core of problem, not Kashmir. Unless that mistrust goes, there would be yet another Kashmir to keep them distant even if they are able to solve the current Kashmir problem.

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