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Pakistan: South Asia’s failing state

Pakistan: South Asia’s failing state


by Susenjit Guha

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen’s warning to Pakistan – to clean up its act or else –came as no surprise.

But the recently announced US$750 billion aid package over five years for development of schools, roads and clinics – part of a bill introduced last Tuesday by Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Biden and Republican Senator Ruchard Lugar – in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as an alternative tack to combat terrorism in light of the failure of Pakistan’s armed forces to do so, could have come much earlier.

The rugged hilly terrain of Waziristan in Pakistan’s northwest falls inside the FATA, where Pakistan’s Frontier Corps is fighting. Imposing the government’s will on the Taliban and al-Qaida appears to be a losing battle.
Peshawar, the nearest principal city in the North West Frontier Province, threatened to fall to them recently like the surrounding rugged regions.

Are the Pakistani armed forces, supposedly knowing the terrain like the back of their hands, totally inept, or are they sympathizing with the militants deliberately to mislead the United States and NATO forces in neighboring Afghanistan?

The Pakistani armed forces are a demoralized lot, having lost more troops than the United States and NATO forces have in Afghanistan. Stepped-up terrorism inside Pakistan in the recent past has already taken 2,000 civilian lives.

The United States has used Pakistan’s armed forces –which were more powerful than the elected democratic governments – by showering them with arms as part of a strategic partnership. And the arms and aid were used in good measure to build a surrogate army from left-in-the-lurch Afghans who are now known as the Taliban, by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter Services Intelligence. Pakistan’s ISI and the armed forces, while in power, used them to create trouble in neighboring India

Military rule in Islamic Pakistan ratcheted up a non-existent threat from a Hindu-majority India. Lack of public acceptance made them co-opt Islamic religious hardliners who shared a loathing for India for “occupying” Kashmir.

And the armed forces were always at odds with a multi-religious India where the minority Muslim population was second only to Indonesia’s. Only Indian Muslims in South Asia have enjoyed uninterrupted democratic rights for over 60 years.

Be it the brief 1999 Kargil conflict or the 1971 genocide in East Pakistan, or even the previous two wars against India, the aggressor was always the Pakistani army. Kargil proved once again that Pakistani armed forces can subvert democratically elected governments by keeping them in the dark. The United States decided to overlook this aspect of the military and the ISI while using them for strategic alliances during the Cold War and more recently for the War on Terror.

Even the world’s finest fighting forces can morph into dispirited losers if their leaders and the military intelligence repeatedly use the institution to satisfy vengeance and jealousy.
The beating they are taking in FATA betrays demoralization.

FATA, predominantly Pashtun with refugees from Afghanistan – civilians left in the lurch by the United States after the Soviets pulled out – is also the most neglected region in Pakistan, with unit incomes less than the national average. Run by the NWFP governor through tribal elders, military governments from Gen. Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq onward urged tribes to emphasize their Islamic rather than Pashtun identity.

The Bush administration preferred to cover up Pakistan with Musharraf and his uniform even when accusations flew about ISI’s hand in terror strikes on Indian soil.

The ISI’s obsession with covert games is now coming home to roost.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly accused Pakistan of turning a blind eye toward cross-border movements of the Taliban and along with the Indians – who had pretty good evidence – held the ISI responsible for the ghastly killings at the gates of the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7.

Kabul is close to Jalalabad, where the Taliban is strong and has been hand in glove with the Pakistani army and the ISI.

Some sections of the Taliban may still be loyal to ISI, which kept them as stock in trade for trouble against India, but other groups have turned against them and the Pakistani armed forces. Faulty data leading to large numbers of civilian deaths by U.S. unmanned drones are also swelling recruitment of fresh fighters.

Pakistan’s interior minister, during an interview with BBC’s Nik Gowing, was at pains to justify the short span of civilian rule for not being able to make the militants walk the talk as yet. But will he succeed when the United States is getting impatient and blurring innocent civilian and militant targets?

A poll by the U.S.-based International Republican Institute released on July 18 suggested that 71 percent of Pakistanis were for political talks and 61 percent believed education and development to be antidotes for extremism, while a mere 9 percent preferred force.

The belated US$750 billion performance-related aid package may perhaps be too late to save an ailing state from total failure, since it may lose out to an inevitable foreign troop presence in Pakistan.

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