Afghanistan does not have any economic base to survive
The Pakistan government on many occasions has stated that it would talk to the extremists only after they lay down their arms. After a long in-camera presentation, debate, and arguments in the Parliament, it seems that the Pakistan government intends to take a firm line against the extremists in FATA.
However, the PPP government has still not been able to convince a good number of politicians, intellectuals, and general public that a strong action in FATA is the best way to go.
A healthy but emotions packed debate of the Law Makers in the parliament as well as the Opinion Makers in the media is a tremendously welcome sign for the democracy. Pakistan has been trying to shed the stigma of secretive closed door decisions of a few, for the last many years. This debate would enormously help build confidence in democracy. The patience shown by the ruling party on this issue is commendable and the extensive input of the Pakistanis at home or abroad through the media has given people a strong sense of participation in the national affairs.
There is an elementary principle of reasoning: it’s known as making distinctions. The Government is facing a rough and highly charged resistance on this issue because the ruling party has not been able to frame the issue in the right context. Majority of Pakistanis absolutely would not connect with the global war on terror and the trepidations are not unreasonable. The issue really is not whether this is Pakistan’s war or it is being forced on Pakistan. The subject of the discussion should be: what our national interests’ demand? As long as the government persists with framing the issue in the context of the global war on terror, the issue would remain divisive. People all over the world are distancing from the GWOT. The current US administration’s abuse of the term GWOT has made it synonymous with the cultural war against the Muslims. The repeated mention of the clash of civilization, the crude invocation of the crusades, calling Iraqi resistance–terrorism, and the hounding and bullying of the Muslims in the Western media over the last seven years has toughened resistance to the idea of participating in a cause that is so heavily tied with the US aggression in Iraq and Afghanistan. The decline of U.S. credibility is hampering the progress on the FATA issue in Pakistan.
The government would have a hard time overcoming both emotional or realist objections, unless it is able to effectively demonstrate to the people that there are many distinctions between the situation in FATA and some other places.
Making this case is not all that hard. The Pakistanis have learned many things over the last several years. They have seen the humiliations of the nation, they have seen the falling opinions about Pakistan throughout the world and they are now more conscious of the enormous mistakes made in the past. The previous regime and the way it operated have given people a strong sense of right and wrong. The reaction to the dismissal of the Chief Justice finally proved once and for all that Pakistanis are looking for justice and are ready to stand up for the truth. While the PPP government vacillated on the Chief Justice issue, transparency on FATA is vital. Rationalizing and leveling with the people are the keys to garner support.
There is no ambiguity now about the fact that the Pakistani decision to interfere in Afghanistan after the leftists’ takeover in 1978 deeply impacted subsequent events in the area. The ideology and the influx of the refugees in Pakistan were the prime reasons. However, what aced all other reasons was the doctrine of Strategic Depth. The doctrine placed against the ground realities in Pakistan, appears to have more holes than Swiss cheese. A good faith discussion on the doctrine would benefit the people. An unconfirmed availability of fissionable material in Afghanistan might also be a factor in the decision. The implausible shortsightedness at the top in 1978 to a great deal hurt Pakistani national interests. A course correction was needed after the Soviets left Afghanistan but the involvement intensified even further. However, there is more in the history then just the Pakistani mistakes.
Afghanistan never in the history had and still does not have any economic base to survive on its own. As long as the Achaemenids and the Greeks controlled large areas, the Ghaznavids, the Ghorids, and the Durranis kept on plundering and conquering the neighboring territories, the current Afghanistan survived economically and was relatively peaceful.
From the Mid 19th century on, the Afghan State was kept afloat by the British subsidies.
When the Indian independence struggle intensified, Afghanistan stepped up efforts to reclaim NWFP, FATA and parts of Balochistan lost to the Sikhs and the British in the 19th century principally for the economic survival. The relatively well off, fertile, and arable NWFP offered a hope to replace the British subsidies for the economic survival of the Afghan state. Afghanistan actively supported Faqir Ipi in FATA and political groups in both NWFP and Balochistan to position itself favorably with the Pushtoons. The persistent refusal by the successive afghan governments to accept Durand Line as the permanent borders should be looked at in the right background. Ignore these facts at your own peril. Analysts would fail to highlight Pakistan’s national interests, if they do not account for these realities.
In the recent history, the drought and the famine in 1972-73 brought King Zahir Shah down. The drought in 1997-2001 forced the Taliban to ignore the poppy crop and when they tried to control it, they lost support–one of the main reasons of fast retreat in 2001.
The dwindling support of Karzai and the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan now are directly related with the international pressure to curtail the poppy crop. The poppy crop is a major source of reliable income for the Afghanistan peasantry. Any afghan government that would attempt to curtail that would lose support instantly.
The constant changes in the strategies, the rivalries between the players in the Capital, and the domestic politics exigencies make the US policies in Afghanistan perceptibly overweening. However, a deep analysis would reveal and reinforce the American Vertigo scenarios. Still, the elephant in the room has to be accounted for. US may be weary of fighting in Afghanistan but it would continue to maintain its presence in the area by forging new alliances with different groups. Its new ally could very well be some breakaway Taliban group.
The continued insurgency in FATA, now extended to parts of NWFP creates conditions that would allow some groups to strengthen their positions for a future unification of the Pushtoon speaking areas. With NWFP and FATA joining in, the chances of economic viability of any such area would increase manifold. That is where the Taliban role in the area is of prime concern.
FATA has been in a state of semi-war for the last thirty years. Especially the last seven years of intense war like conditions in the area have contributed to the collapse the traditional cultural, tribal, and familial relations. The tribal areas lack any infrastructure for remedies. Residents have abandoned their fields; number of jobless is on the rise. Many villages have already been abandoned by its residents; some residents are in the process of moving from the vulnerable areas. The increasing numbers of jobless youth provide perfect environments for the Taliban recruitment. This is a replica of South American guerrilla movements where uneducated and unemployed youth from the countryside joined the insurgencies for obscure reasons they did not understand. The Taliban make the religious pitch; provide opportunities to youth to assert power, and promise financial rewards to help out the already strapped parents, brothers and sisters. In a collapsing social structure militants’ numbers swell up fast.
The Pakistani Taliban is not an ideological but an opportunistic anarchic group. Unlike the afghan Taliban, Pakistani Taliban do not have a country to fight for nor do they have deep ideological roots and a history of struggle to qualify as legitimate holy warriors. The farrago of Sharia is just a cover to step up recruitment to create anarchy in FATA and NWFP. The FATA is already conservative and deeply religious. The Taliban Sharia just means removal of all schools and entertainment outlets in favor of Madrassah and Jihad.
The Taliban like groups can be easily manipulated by many interested parties. The most likely manipulators could be the Afghan Taliban and some foreign groups. They encourage insurgency in Pakistan to loosen the state structure by spreading lawlessness. With the anarchy spreading to the settled areas, state would lose the apparatus to maintain the physical integrity of the country. The Taliban appears to be a classical separatist group!
With international forces on Pakistani borders, Pakistan needs to manage the area to safeguard its legitimate borders. The Taliban has become a vehicle for the disruptive forces that intend to break up the country. How is it not in our National Interest to deal with the Taliban effectively?