It was Goebbels who came up with the brilliant theory that if the government wanted people to follow its policy, it must first instill fear in them and then slap all dissenters with the unpatriotic card. Anyone like me, who disagrees with the current indiscriminate military operation is accused of being a Taliban apologist.
Let me state categorically that I have been against the military operations since the disaster of what was formerly the East Pakistan. From East Pakistan to the present Swat operation, the political mantra has always been “no option but the military”. Successive military operations in Balochistan have only added to the sufferings of the Baloch people, which nurtured the seeds of their disillusionment with the Pakistani state.
When Bush decided to attack Afghanistan in less than a month after 9/11, I opposed this US policy at every forum, including through the print and electronic media. Later, when he ordered the invasion of Iraq, I joined the nearly 2 million marchers in London opposing the Iraq war. It is noteworthy that at the time, over 90 per cent of Americans supported Bush’s Iraq invasion. Today, the overwhelming opinion in the US is that Iraq was a disaster. Moreover, the so-called “good war” in Afghanistan is being lost and its support dwindling.
It is not surprising to see the findings of a Rand Corporation study of the last 40 years of terrorist or asymmetric conflicts, which reveal that only 7 per cent of these conflicts were resolved through military means.
When Musharraf buckled under the US pressure and sent the Pakistan Army into Waziristan, I opposed it in parliament and through the media. Speaking to the editors, Musharraf called me a “terrorist without a beard” – as if terrorism is the sole domain of bearded folk. When the Pakistan Army was sent into Waziristan, there were no militant Taliban in Pakistan. As a result of the Army operation, the tribal social and political structure was destroyed throughout Fata and Malakand, and the vacuum has been filled by nine major militant Taliban groups.
Again, at the time Musharraf commenced military action in Balochistan I opposed it and was accused of backing the “anti-state” elements. Today, what was a movement for Baloch rights and autonomy within Pakistan has morphed into a Baloch independence movement. On opposing the Lal Masjid operation, some of the self-appointed “liberals” accused me of backing the Islamic fundamentalists. But soon most of the indefatigable crusaders for human rights joined the critics of the Lal Masjid operation. More sobering is the fact that there were 60 suicide attacks in the aftermath of the slaughter of the Lal Masjid inmates and a steep rise in extremism. The Swat flare-up is a direct consequence of the Lal Masjid operation.
While discussing my opposition to the current military operation, I must state where I stand politically and ideologically. My political inspiration is derived solely from Quaid-i-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the constitutionalist and democrat who believed in the rule of law above all else. My ideological moorings are firmly rooted in the political and spiritual dimensions of Allama Iqbal’s exposition of Islam, which not only liberates society from bondage but also the human soul from material desires – releasing the enormous God-given human potential.
Above all, I am an ardent follower of our Prophet’s (PBUH) example of inspiring the heart and the intellect rather than forcing ideas through the sword – a far cry from what has been happening in Swat in the name of Islam. So on no count can I possibly either support the un-Islamic acts such as beheadings, flogging of women, or forcing a way of life on others, nor am I an apologist for such people – I am only answerable on this count to my conscience and to my God.
As for my opposition to the Malakand military operation, first and foremost I believe that the military option, if it has to be used should always be a last resort. Yet in Swat, the military operation was started barely two weeks after the presidential signing of the accord without alternative political strategies being given a chance. In my opinion, a national conference of all stakeholders, including religious and political parties and groups, particularly those representing Swat, should have been called prior to the operation. A delegation from such a conference should have been mandated to visit Swat and talk reason to the militants and report back to parliament. In other words, every effort should have been made to make the militants abide by the peace deal. All along the political effort, a concerted effort should have been made to gain time to revive civil administration, police, and the paramilitary presence in Swat.
The diehard militants who consistently refused to adhere to peace agreement could have been isolated over time – a key counter-insurgency tactic followed by precise military action to decapacitate the leadership.
Assuming, there was no alternative to the military option, then while it was being planned, arrangements should have been made for the people who were going to be displaced. Sadly, and shamefully, the military operation began suddenly under increased US pressure, timed with Zardari’s US visit and with the least concern for the people of the area.
The unfolding tragedy that is taking place in Swat is mindboggling. To flush out a few thousand militant Taliban, more than two million people have been forced to live in misery in camps not fit for animals in civilised societies. Even more disturbing is the use of heavy artillery shelling and bombing from the air alongside helicopter gunships in areas with significant civilian population. Despite a heavy blackout, the news coming from the war zone tell tales of dozens if not hundreds of innocent civilian casualties.
Given the collapse of governance in the country, can we adequately look after so many displaced people – especially as summer temperatures soar? And for how long? The wheat crop has already been lost. If the IDPs cannot return within two months, the fruit cash crops will be at risk. Hence how will they sustain themselves for the coming year? Perhaps most dangerous is the possibility of IDPs’ anger and frustration that besides resulting in riots may also swell the ranks of the militants.
In such a situation, according to the Army briefing given to the parliamentarians, there is every possibility of the Taliban resurfacing not just in Malakand Division but elsewhere in the country – possibly the urban centres. Can we afford further spread of terrorism in our cities given the precarious security and fragile economic situation? Military action breeds more militancy.
An Army action which has already led to almost 2.5 million displaced countrymen cannot simply be accepted without questions. And, as if we do not already have a crisis, Zardari has declared that the war in Swat is merely the beginning of a wider war, which is likely to engulf other parts of the country. It is time to take stock and stop ourselves from committing collective suicide. What needs to be done is the following:
* The military action unfortunately is already underway but there is no political, particularly governance, strategy which is guiding this operation. That should be the first priority so that the military action does not continue in a political vacuum.
* A clear governance and political strategy that allows the IDPs to return following a swift end to military operation is needed. This strategy should be focused on a system of speedy justice through the Nizam-e-Adl and effective civil administration. The writ of the state and the rule of law go together and this has to be ensured if violent challenges to state and government are to be avoided in the future.
* The military action, if at all, should have been extremely limited in scale and targeted with precision to minimise civilian casualties. Tragically, this did not happen and my fear is that widespread use of aerial weapons would only result in greater civilian casualties, swelling the ranks of the militants. So the military action needs to be revised to focus more on specific targeting and commando action.
Will any of this happen? Unfortunately in the present mood of the ruling elite, this does not seem likely. Instead, we will see increasing military action in the tribal areas as long as the US is in occupation of Afghanistan.
In other words, as long as US troops in Afghanistan are perceived to be an occupying force that is anti-Pushtun and anti-Islam, there will be no peace in this region. We are heading in a fatal direction unless we change our strategy and pull out of this insane war that is sinking us into chaos. The longer this persists, the deeper we will find ourselves in this quagmire and we will confront a deeply divided society.
Finally, my heart bleeds for the poor soldier confronting his own people turned into misguided and brutalised militants and giving his life for a war wrought on him by a corrupt and decadent ruling elite that cannot see beyond the lure of American dollars that have become as much of a curse for this hapless nation as the criminal extremists in our very midst.