Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Pakistan's Growing Insurgency
In recent years, militant groups in the beautiful Swat valley, led by radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, have been attacking and killing civilians as well as security forces in scenic Swat. In some 60 villages, the militants have set up a de facto "parallel government" with Islamic courts imposing sharia law. The region is effectively under militant control despite the presence of 20,000 Pakistani troops. Local opponents of the militants have been harshly critical of Pakistani civil society for its lack of concern for their plight as well as critical of the military and provincial government for their ineffective measures for controlling the tide of militancy. It should be noted that in May, 2008, the NWFP government led by Pashtoon Nationalists attempted to appease the Swat militants by agreeing to allow their version of Shariah to be imposed in Swat valley.
Media reports indicate that the Taliban are enforcing a complete ban on female education in the Swat district. Some 400 private schools enrolling 40,000 girls have been shut down. At least 10 girls' schools that tried to open after the January 15, 2009 deadline by the Taliban were blown up by the militants in the town of Mingora, the headquarters of the Swat district. "More than 170 schools have been bombed or burned, along with other government-owned buildings."
There is widespread sorrow and outrage in Pakistan over the ongoing situation in Swat and other parts of Pakistan which are being threatened by a growing insurgency. Let us put these troubling events in perspective.
Throughout human history, there have been bloody insurgencies. The Ridda wars in the early days of Islam during the first Caliph Aboobakr's rule were fought to defeat an insurgency that threatened the existence of Islamic state soon after Prophet Muhammad's death.
For those of us living in US or UK, let’s not ignore the history of prolonged and extremely violent civil wars fought by these two nations in earlier times.
The situation today is no different in South Asia. Just look in Pakistan’s neighborhood for comparison. The beautiful island nation of Sri Lanka has had a long and bloody insurgency by a Tamil separatist group LTTE, initially created, trained and funded by Indian Intelligence agency RAW. Still very active, the Sri Lanka war marked the beginning of the suicide bombing as a tactic to rattle the government and population and it has claimed tens thousands of lives.
In India, a Maoist group calling themselves the “Naxalites” have exploited growing economic disparities in India to carve out a “red corridor” of activity that runs from the Nepalese border to the jungles of central India. Fighting in thirteen of India’s twenty-eight provinces and boasting between 10,000 and 20,000 dedicated followers, the Naxalites pose India’s biggest internal security threat. In contrast to the scattered actions of Kashmiris, the Naxalites are in every way a traditional communist insurgency. UC Berkeley Professor Chhibber has described the total absence of any legitimate civil authority in large parts of India that remind of the parts of Pakistan's FATA region. The Indian government relies on private militias to enter such Maoist-controlled areas for limited purpose and duration, when absolutely needed.
Since 1989 more than 80,000 have died in insurgencies in Kashmir and the northeastern states. Manmohan Singh himself has called the Maoist insurgency centered on the state of Chhattisgarh the biggest internal security threat to India since independence. The Maoists, however, are confined to rural areas; their bold tactics haven't rattled Indian middle-class confidence in recent years as much as the bomb attacks in major cities have, according to Indian writer Pankaj Mishra.
As the insurgencies intensify, the domestic and international critics of Pakistani military are growing louder. A large part of the criticism stems from the military's role in national affairs that has not always been in the best interest of the people. Many Pakistanis have significant grievances against the past actions of the military. But this harsh criticism is clearly not helpful in dealing with the current challenges. Among the various institutions in Pakistan, we must recognize that the military, backed by a comprehensive political strategy, is the only strong institution capable of dealing with both internal and external threats at this time in the nation's history. That is not to say that seek a purely military solution. The primary purpose of counterinsurgency operations should be to protect the ordinary citizens and neutralize the hard-core terrorists with the help of the population. It requires a strategy to win the support of the people rather than just to kill or capture the terrorists.
The best thing for Pakistanis is to have courage and patience and not give up hope in the face of extreme difficulty. Counterinsurgency is something very difficult for the conventional army of any nation, designed, equipped and trained mainly to fight conventional wars. But Pakistani military and civilian leadership are learning from their experience and they can and will eventually defeat the insurgents, if the people of Pakistan support their efforts by words and deeds. It is much easier to criticize and express dismay at these events than to actually deal with such events effectively. Despondency is our worst enemy. Let us ignore the prophets of doom and gloom and not allow ourselves to be demoralized.
Appeasement by Nationalists in Swat
Maoist Insurgency in India
Sri Lanka's Civil War
Obama's Kashmir Focus
Masters of Suicide Bombing
Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan
India's Research and Analysis Wing