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Time To Rethink The War Against Terror
Written By Shaheen Buneri
With Pakistan, Afghanistan and the United States embroiled in a war of words and U.S. drones come under artillery fire from Pakistan, Taliban, Al-Qa'ida and tribal fighters appear to be no weaker that before the ‘war on terror'. The Media Line's Shaheen Buneri reports from the heart of Taliban country.
Peshawar , Pakistan , October 2, 2008 – After seven years of the United States ' War against Terror, the situation in Pakistan 's Pashtun-dominated North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Pakistan 's seven tribal regions along the Pakistani-Afghan border has reached the point of no return.
The social and cultural basis of Pashtun society has been completely shattered by intensified Taliban insurgency. Utter confusion, uncertainty and loss of trust in the government machinery are leading the conflict-ridden society to a state akin to civil war.
Taliban insurgents who fled Afghanistan in the wake of U.S. attacks on the Taliban regime in 2001 found sanctuaries on the lawless tribal border. The region, which has been badly neglected in terms of socio-economic development by successive governments, proved an ideal place for different Taliban groups to recruit unemployed and poverty-stricken youth to their folds and strengthen their position by promoting an extremist version of Islam.
The first thing the Taliban did was to challenge the traditional tribal structure by killing about 600 tribal elders, commonly known as Maliks, in different parts of the tribal region.
The Maliks were experts in day-to-day tribal affairs and were instrumental in resolving feuds through tribal councils (Jirgas). They were an integral part of the political administration introduced by the former British rulers of the Indian sub-continent.
“By killing the tribal elders, the Taliban destroyed the social basis on which Pakistan 's central government was administering the region,” says Rifat Orakzai, a Peshawar-based tribal analyst, who added that it would take considerable time and energy for the Pakistan government to re-establish its authority in the region now controlled by Taliban groups.
“Once the tribal structure was eliminated, the whole administrative system was dashed to the ground,” Orakzai says.
The administrative vacuum was soon filled by Taliban commanders such as Baituallah Mehsud in South Waziristan Agency, Mangal Bagh Afridi in Khyber Agency, Faqir Muhammad in Bajaur Agency, Omer Khalid in Mohmand Agency, and Maulana Fazlullah in Swat district of the Frontier Province .
The Taliban exploited the U.S. presence in neighboring Afghanistan and the sense of economic deprivation among the tribal people to promote a version of Islam that was totally contrary to the social traditions and cultural values of the people of the unfortunate region.
This extremist approach towards religion is the legacy of the Cold War when the American CIA and the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) established hundreds of religious seminaries with generous funding from the Saudi government and encouraged “jihad” by the tribal people against the USSR .
“The region has always been a laboratory for different imperialist powers through the ages,” says Malik Shah Dauran of Khyber Tribal Agency. “Different powers ruthlessly used the region and its people for their geo-strategic interests and imperialist designs and then left them in the lurch.
“Now, when the Bush administration complains it has become a safe haven for terrorists, no one asks who is responsible for this,” he adds.
The military and political establishment of Pakistan incorrectly thought that Taliban activity would only be restricted to the tribal belt and the rest of Pakistan would continue going about its usual business. But the reality on the ground resulted in a completely different scenario.
Using established terror techniques, the Taliban has now spread its influence to the settled districts of NWFP and parts of the Punjab province.
Under pressure from the Bush administration Pakistan 's then military regime used both excessive military might and negotiations with militant commanders to halt the rising tide of militancy, but failed to achieve the desired results.
The conflict between Pakistan security forces and Taliban fighters displaced millions of people from the tribal areas and the Swat Valley and rendered thousands jobless.
Political squabbling between Pakistan two major political parties, coupled with the deteriorating law-and-order situation resulted in more poverty, a power crisis, price-hikes and poor economic performance.
“ Pakistan is faced with a real dilemma. On the one hand it has to honor its international commitment in the war against terror, and on the other it has to manage an ever-increasing anti-American sentiment,” observes Syed Irfan Ashraf, a Peshawar-based political analyst.
He adds that U.S. drone attacks inside Pakistan and strained relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan is threatening the alliance against terror as well as maximizing opportunities for the Taliban to regroup on both sides of the border and intensify its attacks on U.S. and NATO forces inside Afghanistan.
“If the three important countries in the war against terror don't take immediate steps to remove misconceptions and build trust, there is every possibility that the Taliban will emerge as a formidable force and defeat the heavily funded campaign against terror,” Ashraf maintains.
A well-thought-out reform process in the administrative system of the tribal areas and initiating socio-economic development projects could play a major role in discouraging the menace of terrorism.
It is also an encouraging development that the newly elected Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led government considers the war against terror as its own war and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani repeatedly says that his government will never talk to Taliban militants and will continue with the war against terror.
While it is true that officials of the Bush administration have expressed their frustration with the discouraging results of the seven-year-war against Al-Qa'ida and the Taliban and are facing a 40 percent rise in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan, the reality is that no effort has been made to win the hearts and minds of the millions of people who are the direct victims of this war.
Increasing numbers of civilian casualties in U.S. air attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan are drastically changing people's perception of the war, and different religious groups are garnering support to threaten the recently formed civilian government in Pakistan with country-wide protest demonstrations.
Military operations over the past three months against Taliban militants in Bajaur Tribal Agency and Swat Valley of the Frontier Province have displaced more than 600,000 people from their homes. Local media have reported that a number of religious groups with Jihadi credentials arranged relief camps and collected donations for these people in order to win their loyalty.
“The Taliban is killing our elders for not supporting them; the military is bombing our homes for nothing. We are in the midst of a humanitarian tragedy with no way out,” Farid Khan, a 27-year-old primary school teacher, who along with his family was forced by the military operation in Bajaur Tribal Agency to flee to Peshawar , the capital of NWFP, told The Media Line.
A private TV channel telecast interviews of the displaced people who were talking of revenge against the U.S. and the Pakistani governments for the atrocities committed against them in the name of military action against the Taliban.
The question is, is militancy being eliminated or is it being further strengthened?
There are reports that some of the banned Jihadi groups that went underground are resurrecting and forging alliances with fellow militant organizations on both sides of the border.
The U.S. should work with the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan to devise a comprehensive strategy to find long-term solutions to the menace of terrorism.
A grand Jirga between the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan for comprehensive discussions on the evolving situation in the region, relaxing tensions between Pakistan and India on the issue of Kashmir, and a vigorous media campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of militancy for the region and its people could halt the rising tide of militancy and create an environment where defeating Talibanization would become a relatively easier task.
Indiscriminate use of military might could breed nothing but more violence, more uncertainty and more chaos for millions of people on both sides of the Pakistani-Afghan border and might jeopardize the much-touted reconstruction process in Afghanistan .
Source: The Media Line