Pakistan is teetering on the edge of the most serious political crisis since the country’s creation in the late 1940s. The ruling generals have their hearts sinking in their boots. President, General Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of a state of emergency, was a last desperate move in order to renew secret deals with Islamic extremists, and to overturn the demands for democracy and civilian rule.
At present Pakistan is very similar to Yugoslavia in the 1980s when the decadent communist ideology wasn’t enough to bind the country together. The ideology of Islamic extremism and the mullah-general rule structure is no longer working in Pakistan either.
General Musharraf’s argument that his decision was made to better combat the surging Islamic extremism in his country, seems to fly in the face of truth and common sense. On the contrary, the de facto marshal law has been good news for the Taliban and Al-qaida who have always preferred dealing with generals than civilian rulers like Benazir Bhutto.
A day after the state of emergency was imposed, a new deal was struck between the Pakistani government and the Al-Qaida-affiliated Taliban in Waziristan, which allowed the release of about 300 Pakistani troops in exchange for 25 convicted Taliban’s activists. The 300 troops were in fact surrendered to the Taliban a few months ago—humiliating for the Pakistani nuclear-armed forces. Pakistani media reported that the troops had been kidnapped by Islamic militants. The secret deal included the pulling out of Pakistani troops from the tribal areas controlled by the Taliban. Moreover in the wake of the emergency, the military regime, incarcerated thousands of pro-democracy activist, journalists and lawyers, the way thousands of Buddhist monks were imprisoned by Burmese generals.
The blame for the current dangerous situation in Pakistan has been General Musharraf’s eight year repressive military rule that allowed al-Qaida and the Taliban to regroup and take control of the vast north western tribal areas of the country. It would have been avoidable six years ago, provided Pakistan had a truly honest and transparent policy in the war on terrorism.
Six years after the war on terrorism was declared, Pakistani military intelligence (ISI) — the real power in the country, is still obsessed with a utopian ideology that Pakistan’s survival as a country is possible only with the use of Islamic extremism, as a magic tool for the foreign and domestic policies of the country. This ideology is the linchpin of the political culture in Pakistan.
The powerful spy agency knows very well that the US-led war in Afghanistan is unable to root out the Taliban. Therefore, they are simply counting down the days till the end of the Western war in order to return to the old policy of installing the client regime dominated by extremist mullahs in Afghanistan. This is the core reason why the ISI has staked its future with the Islamists, by keeping clandestine links with the Taliban and Pakistani religious parties who act as a go-between for the Taliban and military rulers in Islamabad.
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Pakistan’s history may well be a guide to the present realities in this country. This is something always overlooked by the West. Pakistan was created in 1947, not by a bearded mullah or even a moderate one. Instead, it was formed by an Anglicised and secular elite with support from the outgoing British Raj from the Indian subcontinent. Guardian Weekly disclosed recently that the territory of Pakistan was first designed by a British military officer who had never been to India, on a map. The Islamic extremism in this country is an altogether later phenomenon.
The founding father of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jenah, was certainly a secular and even agnostic Indian expatriate in London who had penchant as NEWSWEEK wrote on October 29, for whisky, and according to Tariq Ali, for pork (Islam considers both alcohol and pork as un-Islamic). Tariq Ali also claims that Jenah didn’t speak any Indian language, except English.
Secularism in Pakistan became a taboo in 1971, after cessation of Bangladesh from Pakistan. It was a warning to the Pakistani ruling elite that the survival for Pakistan was only possible through Islamic extremism, for it had the potential to wipe out the nationalism of all ethnic groups that coercively were integrated into Pakistan. The Pashtuns and Baluchis have been categorically disparate culturally, historically, and linguistically from the majority Punjabis. Pashtuns had been the traditional rulers of Delhi before the British and Mongol empires in India. There is an overwhelming desire among the Pushtuns to break away from the Punjabi rule in Islamabad. However, this desire is stronger and generally limited to the nationalist Pushtun political groups living in urban and settled tribal areas.
Pakistan’s successful use of Islamic extremism tamed the unruly Pashtun spirit and caused them to fall into slumbers. But those tribal areas which are termed by Islamabad as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), along the Afghan-Pakistan border have always enjoyed semi-autonomy even under British Raj.
Pakistan FATA is a black hole of the planet where inhabitants are isolated from the rest of the world, and the only means of livelihood is drug and weapon smuggling, and now the safe abode of Al-qaida and Taliban fighters. At present, a substantial chunk of Pakistani tribal areas are currently under the control of the Taliban who reportedly replaced Pakistani flags with their own white and black flags. The ISI so far successfully replaced Pashtun nationalism with Al-qaida-induced religious perversity. The dominant ideology here is a perverted utopia: the imposition of the law of Allah in the entire world and killing all infidels on earth.
The ISI, nonetheless, has failed to transplant such an ideology in Baluchistan where Pakistani military is at war with a low-key separatist Baluchi movement. The ISI is using the Taliban to suppress Baluchi nationalism in the province. The international crisis group recently issued a warning about this dangerous secret strategy inside Pakistan. Pakistani military are following a policy of “repression, killings, imprisonment, disappearances and torture to bend the Baluchis to its will”.
The very idea of Pashtun nationalism is a terrible nightmare for Pakistani paranoiac military rulers in Islamabad. For such nationalism will certainly be a hundred times more lethal than the Bengali nationalism. This is the reason that the General Musharraf chose a policy of running with the hare and hunting with hounds. It does everything under the sun to please the US, while keeping its umbilical cord with the Taliban.
The irony is that the ISI and Al-qaida both have the same strategic aims vis-à-vis the Taliban, which were developed during years of perfect amity in the past. The Taliban has often been a legion of fanatic religious automatons, a bone of contention between Al-qaida and the ISI. They both have a hard-headed calculation: for Pakistan, losing the Taliban is tantamount to losing Pakistan once and for all, and for Al-qaida, the loss of religious militancy as the motivating force for the Taliban is amounted to the loss of control over the movement.
Relying on a divide-and-rule policy, the Pakistani military supports Pashtun extremist parties like Jamiati Ulema-i-Islami (JUI), led by Maulana Fazlur-Rahman, a key patron of the Afghan Taliban, in a bid to counter secular Balochi and moderate Pashtun parties. Pakistan’s military is using the flow of American money and weapons for fighting Baluchi and Pashtun nationalism, while promoting militancy among the Taliban. JUI has a vast network of madrasas in both Baluchistan and Pakistani nameless province—the North-Western Frontier Province—which are used as universities for the perverted ideology and terrorism.
The ISI turned a blind eye to Al-qaida’s activities on its soil, such as training and sending insurgents and suicide bombers into Afghanistan. A UN source reported recently that in the current year eighty percent of suicide bombers were sent from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Media sources indicate that attacks from Taliban rose from 1,632 in 2005 to 3,388 in 2006, and simultaneously, suicide bombings increased from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006.
Since 2004, General Musharraf has begun a dangerous trend of clinching peace deals with al-Qaida and Taliban-affiliated religious groups and Pakistani Taliban who have shifted their nerve centre and operation network to the Pakistani Pashtun tribal belt after the Taliban were squeezed, by the US and NATO forces, out of Afghanistan. This policy emboldened the Taliban in Afghanistan to the extent that they are now capable of launching pitched battle on NATO forces. They have reportedly captured three districts in the Western provinces of Afghanistan this month alone. Such pitched battles and capture of territories inflicted defeat on the occupying Russian forces in Afghanistan in 1980s. It is expected in the upcoming year, it will be very difficult for the US and NATO troops to keep the military status que without pouring in extra troops.
The Bush administration is gripped by the grand illusion that Musharraf is the only leader who is capable of navigating Pakistan through the maze of the ongoing raging crisis, and his fall could jeopardise progress in the war on terrorism. He is far from being a “defender of freedom,” as George Bush called him last fall on the general’s official visit to Washington.
Against all odds, Pakistan is a greater problem in the war on terrorism than Afghanistan. For the Pakistani ruling elite is trying by every means to cash in on the war on terrorism. The one war has two different perceptions in the West and in Pakistan. The Pakistani military sees the war on terrorism as an opportunity to pocket billions of Western dollars and use the Western support for extending central rule in its restive tribal areas. The NW recently published a staggering report on how Pakistan is secretly supporting the Taliban.
“The Taliban don’t think they’re putting anything past the ISI—“the black snake,” as they call the agency. Mullah Shabir Ahmad, a provincial commander [of the Taliban] spends upwards of six months of the year inside Pakistan. “The Pakistanis know where we eat for lunch and dinner…Pakistan knows everything about us, but it seems to ignore us”. Mullah Momin, another Taliban commander said to NW, “Pakistan is like your shoulder that supports your RPG…Without it you couldn’t fight. Thank God Pakistan is not against us.”
General Musharraf’s military uniform has become a funny bargain chip and its shunning will not fix the problems Pakistan has been facing. Nor will a power-sharing with Pakistan’s then Prime Minister, Ms Benazir Bhutto do any magic. Pakistan needs an overhaul of its power structure—a hybrid of generals and extremist mullahs, instead. The ISI, as Benazir Bhutto also said recently, has to be entirely reconstructed. Only democracy and a real civilian rule can save Pakistan and help the world win the war on terrorism. The West and NATO will leap towards a grand failure in Afghanistan if they fail to end military rule and its complex web of wrongdoings in Pakistan.
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