Setting Waziristan ablaze

Setting Waziristan ablaze

Roedad Khan

Why doesn’t our military leadership learn from history? They are certainly making history on our western border by waging war against their own countrymen.

The nation is beginning to see the rapidly unfurling consequences of Gen Musharraf’s fateful decision to join the “coalition of the coerced.” Dragged into a proxy war at gunpoint, America’s dreaded war on terror has indisputably arrived on Pakistan’s soil. Pakistan is slipping into a Dantean hell. The belle époque days for us Pakistanis are over. Pakistanis cannot continue deluding themselves by the romantic notion that they could go on living happily and peacefully under the American umbrella. Pakistan stands on the brink of civil war. A perfect storm is looming on the horizon. Fasten your seatbelts. It will be quite a ride.

The irony is that far from being an autonomous power waging its own parallel war, Pakistan has been reduced to no more than a lackey. Jinnah’s Pakistan, I regret to say, has ceased to be a sovereign, independent state. Today it is not just a “rentier state,” not just a client state. It is a slave state with a puppet government set up by Washington.

Euripides said: “Whom the Gods destroy, they first make mad.” At a time when Pakistan is extremely ill-prepared for adventurism on any serious scale, with the war in Malakand still not conclusively won and over three million internally displaced persons–men, women and children–living under inhuman conditions in Mardan and Swabi, this government decided to open a second front against its own people in Waziristan. The match is lit, the blaze will soon spread like wildfire throughout the tribal areas and beyond. That is for sure. The decision to launch a military operation in this highly sensitive border region is ill-conceived, ill-advised, ill-timed, and would almost certainly turn into a prolonged bloody conflict and, in time, prove a massive self-inflicted wound.

Today the killing or capturing alive of Baitullah Mehsud has become a top priority for the Pakistani government. Anybody who knows anything about Waziristan will tell you that looking for Baitullah or Osama bin Laden in the rugged mountains is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Baitullah, the central focus of the current American and Pakistani military operation in Waziristan, is not the first warrior to confront the administration in the mountains of Waziristan. The Faqir of Ipi led a similar revolt against the British in Waziristan in 1936. It set Waziristan on fire, and this lasted until after 1947. The British failed to capture Ipi and the operation had to be called off.

In the early years after Waziristan’s annexation, the British maintained only a skeleton administration in the agencies. All this changed in 1919 when they decided to build regular garrisons in Waziristan. Consequently, troop movements became routine, which caused resentment among the tribes. Then came the fateful decision to send troops into the Khaisora valley in November 1936, which transformed Ipi’s agitation into a full-scale uprising almost overnight.

The judgment displayed by the British and the poor intelligence upon which they based their decisions were chiefly to blame for the disasters that followed. This was the last major rebellion in Waziristan which stemmed from an abrupt change of policy. The tribesmen’s unrivalled fighting record, their ability to intervene in Afghan affairs and to involve Afghans in their own affairs, were factors ignored by the British that made Waziristan different from other Frontier areas. This disastrous attempt to “pacify” Waziristan was the last of several major incursions into tribal territory during the hundred years of Britain’s presence in north-west India.

When the British left, Pakistan had reason to be glad that it had inherited a secure North-West Frontier. In September 1947 Mr Jinnah took a bold decision to reverse the “pacification” policy, withdrew regular troops from Waziristan and entered into new agreements with the tribes. Cunningham, the new governor of the NWFP appointed by Mr Jinnah was a Frontier expert. His disillusion with the “pacification” policy was complete. “I think that we must now face a complete change of policy. Razmak has been occupied by regular troops for nearly 25 years. Wana for a few years less. The occupation of Waziristan has been a failure. It has not achieved peace or any appreciable economic development. It ties up an unreasonably large number of troops, and for the last 10 years there have been frequent major and minor offences against the troops.” The change in policy produced dramatic results and paid rich dividends.

All this has now changed. Mr Jinnah’s Waziristan policy, which had stood the test of time, has been reversed under American pressure. Our troops are back in Waziristan in aid of American troops looking for Baitullah Mehsud and bin Laden! The result is a totally unnecessary and avoidable state of armed confrontation between the Army and the tribesmen. Those who know the Frontier are deeply concerned. Our civil and military leadership is playing with fire. By reversing Mr Jinnah’s Waziristan policy, at the behest of the Americans, they have alienated powerful tribes in Waziristan and unsettled our western border which had remained peaceful since the birth of Pakistan. Pakistan would be well advised to profit from the mistakes of its forerunners in Waziristan and to avoid any shift of policy which cares only for immediate advantage and takes no account of the ultimate effects.

It all started when Gen Musharraf succumbed to a telephone “ultimatum” from Washington and promised “unstinted” cooperation to the Americans in the so-called war on terror. The Afghans never stabbed us in the back when we were in trouble and at war with India. No Afghan government was as friendly to Pakistan as the Taliban government. By allowing Americans to use our territory as a platform for bombing Afghanistan, we antagonised the Afghans, especially the majority Pakhtun tribes who live in the Pakhtun belt along our border. For the first time in the history of Pakistan, a military government laid the foundation of permanent enmity with the Pakhtuns across the border. A civilian government has now compounded the problem by taking on our own tribesmen in Waziristan.

Said Voltaire: “I fear that in this world one must be either hammer or anvil, for it is indeed a lucky man who escapes the alternatives.” Waziristan has been on the anvil for centuries. The Mehsud and Wazir tribes living there are no strangers to foreign military interventions in their country. On each occasion the tribes and the mountains won a strategic victory, the troops were forced to withdraw back into the plains of the Indus Valley. The British soon learned that you can annex land but not people.

As they say, “it is a wide road that leads to war and only a narrow path that leads home again.” In the early 1900s, a crusty British general, Andrew Skeen, wrote a guide to military operations in the Pakhtun tribal belt. His first piece of advice: “When planning a military expedition into Pashtun Tribal areas, the first thing you must plan is your retreat. All expeditions into this area sooner or later end in retreat under fire.” Let us hope the current expedition ends differently.

Decision-making in today’s Pakistan is bizarre. Many questions swirl. Were other options available, only to be peremptorily rejected? Who decided to plunge Pakistan into a guerrilla war raising the spectre of a war on two fronts dreaded by military strategists and the general public alike? Who took the final decision to open a second front in Waziristan? The president? The prime minister? The cabinet? The Parliament? The Army? Who decides questions of war and peace in this country? In public perception, everything points to one inescapable conclusion: that the decision to open a second front in Waziristan was not an internal decision. It was taken in response to irresistible pressure from the United States.

Today we are experiencing a failure of leadership that bodes ill for the country. Nobody knows who is in command. The result is the mess that we are in today. How will it turn out to be tomorrow? “The morrow, as always, is with the Fates.” One is reminded of Stalin’s angry expletive which he uttered when the German army was only a few miles from Moscow and the very survival of the Soviet Union hung in the balance. “The great Lenin left us a great country,” Stalin told Mikoyan, “and we, his successors, have … up.” This is precisely what we have done to the great country left behind by Jinnah.

The writer is a former federal secretary. Email: roedad@comsats.net.pk, http://www.roedadkhan.com

About these ads