Dr. Umar Khan
Dr. Khan heads a Lahore based Think Tank. 9-09-07
Our fight against terrorism
Six years is more than enough time to reassess national policies. We joined the war against terrorism led by the neo-con dominated US government 6 years back which is now showing very definite results and trends further necessitating the urgent need to reexamine our policies and tactics. Our achievements in these 6 years can be summarized as follows; lost over 1000 soldiers, killed hundreds mostly civilians, arrested and sold at a handsome price many wanted suspects (no one knows who pocketed the prize money}, imported dreadful concepts like suicide bombings in the heart of our capital, surrendered most of our claims about Kashmir and earned a few billion dollars in the process. In short we could not achieve our prime stated objective to control terrorism we are fighting for the last six years as it is increasing and that also by leaps and bounds.
Terrorism, use of violence for political ends is a strategy and not a state or entity that can be identified and destroyed. Terrorists look like ordinary people and live among them. Using violence and bombs against a policy can never work nor is it working here. Bombs dropped from the B52s or Cobra helicopters cannot distinguish between terrorists or innocent civilians (collateral damage) who are routinely harmed creating anger against the government and this fight. The dominant powers of the world have devised strange techniques using semantics callously trying to diffuse the reactions some of its brutal actions can elicit. Soft and benign terms like “collateral damage” or “softening up” are used to describe great human calamities which can not reduce the pain of the victims nor can it change the violent response such tragedies can elicit. A human death is a death whether by the terrorists or regular armies. Israel with its most well trained and equipped army could not be successful using these tactics against Palestinians for 40 years and our efforts also appear to be doomed. Terrorism is wrong and cannot be condoned, there are no two rational opinions about it but we will have to accept that killing innocent civilians in the name of fight against terrorism is equally evil.
If this war is not winnable then why is US the world’s strongest and most advanced nation fighting it? It comes out that most wars are not fought for the reasons stated by the governments as in the First World War the US gave its reasons for fighting the war years after the war ended. On close scrutiny it comes out that US as a nation and specially the ruling elite and the power brokers might be benefiting hugely from this war. These can be enumerated as follows,
Historically no war president ever lost elections, as the voters seem to be more accommodating towards them in emergencies. George Bush found it very convenient to start this war declaring himself a war president getting reelected easily.
This war gave a very suitable opportunity to the US to encircle China, its potential rival in the world politics. Now US has military bases surrounding China in Afghanistan and many central Asian states.
US has ended up with armies in most of the oil rich areas in the world, all with the excuse of fight against terrorism.
And then the military industrial complex we were warned against by Eisenhower, seems to be the biggest beneficiary of this war by making hundreds of billions with this apparently futile exercise. This group was an active backer of President Bush and now it is benefiting.
All this makes sense for the US government to fight this war. Despite apparent interests connected with this war, 6 years of setbacks have forced the US to reconsider its policy as the price turned out to be much more than what they had envisioned.
While the US is reaping benefits Pakistan is paying the price as usual. There is a strange irony about Pakistan’s role in this war against terror. While the US and Israel are fighting this war in foreign lands killing (collaterally) mostly Palestinians or Iraqis, we are carrying all the fighting in our own country killing our own people. A single innocent person killed in this fight whether intentionally or collaterally, serves as a recruiting bonanza for the labeled terrorists while making the fighting forces unpopular. We in Pakistan cannot afford to risk the popularity of our armed forces by putting them in a no win situation like this by making them fire at their own people where collateral damage is bound to far exceed the intended target. Hundreds of soldiers taken as hostages, bombings of security agencies busses and other suicide bombings in a single week are a clear proof that we are not winning and with our actions we might be further fuelling terrorism. During this process we have made all of Pakistan unsafe while damaging the basic fabric of our society. Whatever we are doing is not working and this calls for urgent need for reassessment of our strategies and policies and take corrective measures.
It must be realized that because it is impossible to identify the terrorist from others, it is not possible to win this war with brute force alone. The most effective weapon in this fight would be human intelligence, which needs good public relationing and support. Big bombs or missiles dropped from air killing indiscriminatingly do not help public relationing and can harm the cause immensely. A single bomb dropped on a school in Bajaur killing many young students put us back a great distance. Local support must be protected rather built and we cannot afford such tragedies if we are serious about winning this war. Force must only be used as the last resort and that also with utmost care.
To understand our current situation it might be helpful to figure out how we got into this mess. Why is it that roots of every terrorist incidence anywhere in the world can be traced to Pakistan? This has seriously damaged Pakistan’s image the world over. We got in this mess because we happily fought other nations wars for a few dollars. 25 years ago we fought a war against Soviet Union that was named Jihad and now we have labeled it war against terrorism fighting people we earlier supported and trained. We risked our country and its people then for peanuts without protecting our interests. And now we are doing the same folly repeating the past mistakes fighting other’s war in our country with our people. Pakistanis are dying on both sides. We have lost more soldiers in NWFP than NATO or US in Afghanistan.
All this happened during the tenures of unelected governments not answerable to the Pakistani public. Governments that could not standup to the foreign powers due to their lack of legitimacy and public support. Once started, jihad and now this war became an industry creating its own momentum. A whole class of influential beneficiaries came up locally and internationally, whose enormous interests are related to this war. This created a whole set of dynamics in operation supporting the war as the beneficiaries leave no stone unturned to prolong it irrespective of the cost. In short it happens basically due to the complacency of our people allowing unrepresentative governments take them for a ride serving other governments at the cost of Pakistanis. This has harmed Pakistan tremendously and this unhealthy practice must be stopped immediately because Pakistan cannot afford more blunders of this scale.
We must accept that terrorism is a problem gifted to us by foreign powers and must be fought against but it should not be with force alone. Our strategy must be scrutinized and for this we must ensure that individuals do not take important decisions. Issues should be thoroughly deliberated in the elected assemblies and all options considered. We must empower our elected assemblies providing them the powers and sovereignty they deserve and enjoy everywhere in the world. The civil society should never allow anyone to desecrate our elected bodies ever for any reason as this always damages the country harming the Pakistanis. The elected assemblies, which represent the power and wisdom of millions, must have the final say in determining our policies and no individual irrespective of his stated noble aims. Lets say final good-bye to the Bonapartists as we have had more than enough of them.
If we fail to fulfill our obligations towards our country and the future generations we would keep on suffering. The civil society must rise to protect its rights and privileges. It should not be pliable enough to be used or abused by foreign powers with the help of their local collaborators. If we fail in this responsibility of ours we might face the fate predicted by the American scholar who visited Pakistan in 1987, after 10 years of Zia’s rule commenting “a nation that tolerates 10 years of martial law and that also Islamic martial law, deserves no clemency.”