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ہفتہ، 22 دسمبر، 2012

Pakistan Strangest War

 Pakistan military is fighting the strangest of all wars of the history of mankind because it is unique in nature and kind. It is neither a conventional war nor unconventional, but asymmetrical one, seemingly unending and hydra-headed. It has many facets and fronts, yet it is being fought without a visible front with usually a shadow enemy within, that too within its own territory and with a section of own society.

The Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa capital, Peshawar, might well have had its militant problem highlighted this weekend, because of the attack on Peshawar Airport, the gunbattle in Pawaka, and then the Jamrud car-bombing, the Risalpur College of Engineering attack, and one of the four lady polio vaccinators assassinated nationwide, all on successive days, but the real lesson came from the Pawaka encounter: the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is sending fighters to Pakistan. This means that Al-Qaeda is using elements interchangeably, and is not observing national boundaries it dose not acknowledge. After all, Al-Qaeda itself has seen a Saudi head succeeded by an Egyptian. It would therefore not be inappropriate for Central Asians, or even for Daghestanis, to fight in Pakistan, and if Pakistanis can justify fighting their armed forces, it would be easier for non-Pakistanis to do so, as Pakistani militants would have to overcome that element of their make-up. It would not do to have someone attacking the Pakistani armed forces suddenly ask himself what he is doing.

One aspect of the militants killed in Pawaka needs consideration. It is possible that the tattoos carved on them could have any number of explanations, but there are two bodies which, in all Western cultures, including the ex-Soviet, have a greater affinity for tattoos, the military and prisons. Military service remains compulsory on the post-USSR Soviet republics, while devout Muslims are arrested if found. Uzbekistan is notorious for Islam Karimov’s repressive regime, and it is particularly opposed to manifestations of Islam. Many languish in Uzbek prisons because of their affinity to Islam.

It is also true that there may be a Blackwater connection. However, Pakistani officials would not target Americans, and the USA would be more vigorous in its defence. It must be noted that the US Congress has agreed to pay Pakistan what it owes only after these attacks.

Actually, tattoos obtained in jail are a greater likelihood. Even assuming jail for ordinary criminality, a turn towards Islamic roots would meet a personal need, but life would still be stained by the criminal record. So why not place that life in the path of the Almighty? Why not engage in a Holy War? This is where Islam’s internationalism comes in. Jihad is not limited to fighting for one’s own land, but extends to wherever the fighting is taking place. If the Afghans are fighting to liberate their homeland, the foreign fighters are not coming to their help for simple solidarity, but so as to carry out a religious duty.

This raises questions about the relevance of Western concepts of nationality. Pakistan is familiar with that, as the very basis under which it claimed separate nationhood, Islam, was rejected by the colonial ruler. On a theoretical basis, the idea of a nation based on a community of belief, without sharing geography, descent, language, or any other marker of nationality, is repugnant to Western modes of thought. This might explain why the Indian National Congress, which absorbed the Western concept of nationality thoroughly, has refused to accept the existence of Pakistan. After all, Congress has always followed the original definition of nationality, and has rejected the idea of religion defining citizenship not just in the case of Pakistan, but also to deny the Kashmiri people the right of self-determination.

The Pakistani state has gradually followed Western orthodoxy, originally allowing Muslims from outside the dominion’s territories to come and join in the building of the new state. At the same time, there were elements working with the Western concept to nationality, and making East Pakistanis feel left out. While the Indian role in the secession of East Pakistan is undoubted, the role of West Pakistan, or rather West Pakistani bureaucrats, cannot be doubted in creating the conditions which India, then as now under Congress rule, exploited to the hilt.

It seems as if the series of attacks shows a return of the focus of the militants to KPK, which had earlier seemed to be shifting to Karachi. This may reflect the fact that the USA is planning to withdraw a large number of its troops from Afghanistan. Another factor in this is the fact that the Pakistani government has agreed to make the Taliban negotiate. The militants may be focusing more on Pakistan because of this.

It should also be noted that while the militants may have become internationalized, they are still striking targets in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. That implies that the Uzbeks or Daghestanis recruited have come over and joined local groups, which might indicate that organizations in Central Asia or the Caucasus are not sending their people, so much as individuals are joining in. It is also possible that the organizations abroad are acting as points of contact, perhaps conduits, for individuals wanting to take part in the jihad against the USA. It would be interesting to see if these fighters go to Syria, where there is also a fight going on, and where the fighters (or at least some) are engaged in a jihad. There too, the fight is against the government, and it is nearer to ex-Soviet Daghestan, though not Central Asia. Neither has seen the issuing of a formal call for help, probably because there is no commander with the authority to make such a call, but there have been foreign fighters in Syria already, mostly from Iraq. It is only a matter of time before Uzbek volunteers realise that the Syrian regime is, unlike the Egyptian or Libyan anciens regimes, not going to give up until it has spilled much more blood. As the opposition in Syria is not well entrenched, compared to the Maghrib countries, where the Ikhwanul Muslimeen maintained a strong presence, there is greater room for new entrants, whether from abroad or within. This might explain the success of An-Nusrah, which is not just making its presence felt, but raising Western hackles that the Syrian opposition is going into the hands of ‘terrorists’.

However, it must not be forgotten that the same spirit infuses the people launching attacks in Peshawar as those fighting in Syria: the willingness to die. That such attacks should not be launched against the organs of the Pakistani state, especially the military, would appear self-evident, but would also depend on the behaviour of that state. If it seems that the state (and its organs) are toeing the American line, it would make the militants’ task of justifying their attacks that much easier.

This increases the responsibility of the government, which backed the USA ever since 9/11, to adopt a more balanced approach, and not fall prey to American blandishments related to the future of Afghanistan. In particular, the government needs to ask itself many questions, but perhaps the main one is why the USA seems to want to stop Pakistan talking to its own citizens, even as it itself wants to talk to the militants. It is perhaps a truism, but all conflicts end in a negotiation, and one of the reasons the Afghan jihad ended as it did was because there was no negotiation, or rather not enough at Geneva between the two sides. Pakistan must exercise due caution if it does not want to get caught in the blowback again.

By M A Niazi

The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as Executive Editor of TheNation.
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