How to fight the Taliban
PAKISTAN'S struggle against Islamic extremists is a worrying matter. There is pessimism abroad; most think that the Taliban will eventually overcome the security apparatus of Pakistan. That might leave most of Pakistan engulfed in multiple civil wars and conflicts. Its federation might snap and Balkanisation may not be stoppable then.
The worries are not confined to Pakistanis; most foreign countries, particularly the leading Nato ones, including the not so loquacious Moscow and Beijing, share these concerns. Most voluble is the US. Since its involvement in Pakistan's policy-making is deep, its thinking and actions are among the determinants of possible outcomes.
For virtually two years, America's security thinkers have more or less pronounced Pakistan to be a failing state that might collapse any time. Their starting point is based on America's short-term interests. The American government's overriding worry is the presence of nuclear weapons, in considerable numbers, in Pakistan. Should they fall into the hands of al-Qaeda and Taliban, it would pose a grave threat to America in particular and the West in general.
But American thinking is confined to what can be done to prevent these nukes falling into undesirable hands. Moreover, it is mainly militaristic: go in, do the rescuing job of either taking away the nukes to America or putting them in an inaccessible corner of Pakistan, to be guarded by Pakistani troops loyal to America, and probably supervised by an international force.
That would be the solution. What really happens in, or to, Pakistan is not the worry. Pakistan's possible disappearance has been in the news for some years and the backroom boys in most capitals seem to have accepted it as anyhow likely.
The Zardari regime is too craven and weak to resist any American action, including virtually constant bombardment of the supposedly al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in NWFP's tribal as well as settled areas.
The inevitable conclusion is that Islamabad seems to be content with making pathetic protests, while the Americans continue to merrily do their job. It may be only a matter of time before Americans land their troops in Pakistan on the pretext of either training Pakistanis or some other excuse.
It is too late in the day to fear foreign aggression with a view to colonising Pakistan. Since they fear that Pakistan will be Talibanised, US troops are intended to be there to tackle any emerging exigencies. There is, however, an element of doubt: this was the Bush government's plan. Would the Obama administration also share this thinking? It is not yet certain. What Pakistanis say has not been accepted in Washington, London or Brussels: the more predator attacks on Pakistan, or what the US troops did on September 3 last, would only produce more Taliban.
The latter will go on becoming more popular despite their despicable actions in the Pushtoon areas and by resisting foreigners. They are sure to spread into the rest of Pakistan.
To repeat, the Americans know well what Pakistanis of most persuasions are saying. And yet, the campaign the Americans are running in Afghanistan and Pakistan would strengthen Taliban and even al-Qaeda. Why are they, then, doing this? One simplistic answer is that America is a hyper power and its thinking is primarily militaristic; its military strength was thought to be capable of achieving whatever objective the US may want.
Many Pakistanis are now convinced that Americans are looking to stay on indefinitely in Afghanistan for doing whatever they might have to do in Central Asia, and for them Pakistan is only an extension of the same problem, an accessory. Treating them as one theatre of war would eventually facilitate big new requisite actions to be taken.
How the people of Pakistan or of other states fare is not America's worry; its forces would be around and since they have wonderful relations with India, and should BJP form another government in Delhi soon, they have no great fear. India can greatly help in looking after these areas. Who can forget the BJP government's offers to the US following 9/11? The US would be able to reorder things to its heart's content, then.
But what would happen if Pakistan is won over by Taliban? Its federation will snap with the disappearance of federal authority. The US and India will feel a lot of responsibility while the Pakistan army will be on its own.
And can it stay united? Pakistan army has been in a bad shape since 2004; its state of morale can scarcely be high. It should be tired of fighting its own people. Which expert can take its unending unity for granted? Few can be nonchalant. Foreigners would only think of possible options in the context of expected scenarios. What they are likely to do is to latch on to their supporting army faction, or factions, and rely on them to help achieve their nuke-removal objective.
Taliban are an anti-civilisational and actually an Islam-abusing force that threaten Muslim Pakistan. They have to be fought. But where most Pakistanis differ with the West is in approach.
Taliban are moved by an ideology, no matter how misconceived. You cannot shoot an idea in the brain; no gun has been invented to kill an idea. This war will, therefore, have to be primarily ideological. Thus, an ideology will have to be fought ideologically.
One has had occasion to underline the Taliban ideology to be a new politically-motivated construct designed by western and pro-western intelligence services since 1970s; it is at variance with the sub-continent's more tolerant and peaceable Islam.
That immediately suggests what needs to be done. Democratic means have to be adopted. One assumes, for argument's sake, that Islamabad government is committed to democracy and its methodology. Therefore, what is needed is that the whole NWFP, extending to all of Pakistan, promotes as many ideologies and programs of social, political and economic reforms as possible, to be widely debated. Let more debates and arguments be centre-staged.
For survival, Pakistan itself needs to be further democratised and in all discussions the emphasis should be on democratising the tribal society. Assuming that economic deprivation and social backwardness are the real causes that favour Taliban ideology, the means are at hand: more democracy.
Give them maximum possible rights with accompanying citizenship duties; start as intense a program of economic development as possible, with a view to giving almost everyone a job. General acceptance of rule of law, tolerance of all views, and a program for real economic progress will do the main job. No doubt, the organised militant armies and militias have to be disarmed and fought with where necessary, mostly for defensive purposes. The offensive should be ideological. This is the way to go about the business.
Can we do it? No South Asian state has been able to do it so far. We know that using overly militaristic approach would aggravate the problem rather than solve it. Democracy itself has to be given an orientation that gives more job opportunities and equality in law for all by ending old privileges.
If, and when, a state is able to provide from its own resources for investments in job-creating development, consider half the battle won. Whether the new Obama leadership looks likely to share this view cannot be said with certainty. However, so far, taking a more optimistic view of the situation has been possible.
Pakistan may have to fall back eventually only on its own resources with a greater dose of egalitarianism. A lot more money has to be invested in tribal areas. It has to be found along with a democratic dispensation. The West is irrelevant. Tackling Taliban's Islam is Pakistan's own responsibility.