Saturday, February 14, 2009

Creating Pakistan

Ayaz Amir's article, "Missing the essence of Talibanism," should be required reading for Western decision-makers. Mr. Amir, it is not just Pakistani officials who "are not getting it." Read the whole essay in Pakistan's The News.

Islamabad diary

Friday, February 13, 2009
by Ayaz Amir

I think we are not getting it. Talibanism in Afghanistan is a revolt against the American occupation. Those who can't see this deserve an extended stay in a re-education camp. From this perspective the true godfather of the Afghan resistance is the United States of America.

But Pakistani Talibanism, as represented by Baitullah Mehsud in South Waziristan and Maulana Fazlullah in Swat, is a slightly different phenomenon. It may have originated as a side-effect of the Afghan war but it has now mutated into something with a personality of its own. With all its primitive and even barbaric permutations — the bombing of schools, the insistence on what amounts to female segregation, the slitting of throats — it is a revolt against the Pakistani state. Or rather a revolt against the dysfunctional nature of this state.

Far from being defeated, much less crushed, this revolt is spreading. Hitherto it was confined to the Frontier Province. But on February 7 we saw this revolt cross the River Indus for the first time when a police check post in Mianwali (Qudratabad near Wan Bachran) was attacked by Taliban fighters. On Feb 11 another police outpost near Essa Khail came under attack....
There is a stratum of privileged people in Pakistan, a middle class which also lives comfortably or gets by reasonably well, and then an entire population of have-nots, with no stake in the existing order of things, whose existence may not be short but it is nasty and brutish all the same.

Which are the elements flocking to Mahsud's banner in Waziristan and Fazlullah's in Swat? Not the big Khans or Maliks but the have-nots. Beware Punjab's huge under-class which will be fodder and recruiting ground for the Taliban if the revolt in the north-west, escaping the best ability of the Pakistan military establishment to suppress it, snakes its way into the adjoining districts of Punjab.

Every Punjab town, large and small, has a mosque, if not more than one, sympathetic to the Taliban brand of Islam. So at least there is a handy network — a Ho Chi Minh Trail, so to speak — down which the ideology of the Taliban can travel, whether we like this ideology or abhor it being a separate issue altogether....

Al Qaeda may be a factor in the larger situation but the Taliban revolt in Pakistan has acquired an impetus of its own. Like a runaway plant it is rearing its head wherever it can — freebooters, buccaneers, committed Islamists, all drawn to its cause.

There are people who don't have enough to eat, who don't have a job and no prospects in life. If they are wronged they have no redress. There are people tortured daily in our police stations, people caught up for years in the endless grind of court cases. There is endemic corruption all round. Every government department, without exception, serves itself, not anything as esoteric as the people. If this is not recruiting ground for Talibanism, what is?...

If dollars alone could do the trick the US would not have lost in Vietnam. Dollars alone cannot prove triumphant in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

If history is any guide, the American effort in Afghanistan is doomed. Not for nothing is it called the graveyard of empires. The Americans will come to this realisation sooner or later but by that time it may be too late for us.

Talibanism is a form of radicalisation. The only way to fight it is through radical leadership. But do we have anything of the kind? The PPP and PML-N are both wedded to the status quo. Both are pro-American, both terrified of getting on the wrong side of the Americans, both incapable of independent thinking.

At a conference in Qatar in December 2003 — attended from Pakistan by Mushahid Hussain, Ejaz Haider of Daily Times and myself — Richard Holbrooke came up with the astounding statement that if the participants chose to speak about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or the Iraq war they would be wasting their time. He spoke like one who was utterly sure of himself, someone who had all the answers. The impression he gave throughout the three-day conference was of being a stuck-up guy. And it's on him that our leadership, civil and military, has been fawning these last few days. Just goes to show the kind of stuff we have.

But this is the best we have, the sum total of our collective political intelligence. And it is with this that we must fight the Taliban revolt. It is not going to be easy.

I am so embarrassed by the American propensity to pour its wealth and power and energy into a suffering country like Pakistan without taking the time, without having the humility to taste the soup before pouring in its seasoning. I have only had one true Pakistani friend in my life. Veena, wherever you are, my apologies and my deepest sympathies.

Two suggestions:

  1. American and Pakistani societies need to communicate far better. Where is the foundation that will fund a serious effort to engage people like Ayaz Amir who can help us Americans learn about Pakistan?
  2. Washington needs to appoint someone outside of the American power structure that has done so much to create this mess in the first place to oversee any U.S. effort to repair the damage. Why? No American "establishment" solution will work; Pakistanis will have to find their own way to a just society, and that society will certainly not be either a lackey of the West or a copy of the West. Its form will be unpredictable, but it is very predictable that it will not fulfill any vision in the head of the Washington establishment.
This struggle is not about forcing Pakistan to fit itself into a mold that comforts Washington. This struggle is about the Pakistani people inventing a society in which they can live lives acceptable to them. The West is in very big trouble if Pakistanis decide that they must turn to the Taliban to realize their aspirations.

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