February 13, 2008

Pakistan editorial about destabilization

Unbroken cycle of violence and state myopia
By Shireen M Mazari
The extent of the lawlessness prevalent in the country today had never been so stridently evident before May 12 last year with the carnage in Karachi. Since then, violence on all sides has become the hallmark of our state and society. First there has been the US-led war on terror, in which Pakistan has become a frontline state. Unfortunately, that has meant accepting a US-formulated military-centric strategy which has brought disaster for the US in Iraq and Afghanistan; and has merely increased the violence and mayhem in Pakistan. Today, there is a near-anarchic situation that has moved beyond the tribal belt into the settled areas of the NWFP and is creeping into the rest of the country as well. The disappearance of our ambassador to Afghanistan on Monday, 11 February, as well as the kidnapping of two PAEC personnel, reflects the declining security in the NWFP.

Is it a mere coincidence that these incidents occurred after the wounding and capture of Dadullah, who was attempting to cross into Pakistan from Afghanistan after his dismissal from the Taliban movement of Afghanistan by Mullah Omar. With the denunciation of Baitullah Mehsud and Dadullah by the Afghan Taliban spokesperson, Zabihullah Mujahid (27 December, 2007) – who had said that there is a purely Afghan movement aimed at fighting a jihad against foreign occupation and that Pakistani extremists are irritants for them -- these extremists and their followers are on a weaker wicket within Pakistan.

The kidnapping incidents come in the wake of some seeming success the military has had in recent weeks against the militants in Pakistan. Whatever the US failures in its own war on terror, it has managed to successfully shift the centre of gravity of this war from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Given the various levels at which Pakistan is being targeted in the US, the aim is clearly to destabilise Pakistan, which is why one does need to ask the question: Is there some US linkage to certain acts of destabilisation, especially in terms of the kidnapping of PAEC personnel -- despite the fact that they are not linked to SPD -- given the numerous US personnel roaming around Pakistan in native dress and beards? After all, with the assertive and public manner in which we have countered the absurd allegations regarding safety and command and control of our nuclear assets, the US could become more desperate in its efforts to continue to raise the bogey of loose nukes -- even though they should now be the central concern in this context, given their B-52 incident of August 2007.

Of course, more pertinent is the question why we are falling prey to this nefarious US design of destabilisation of Pakistan? First, it is the sheer level of violence emanating from all sides. Targeting of political rallies through bombs and suicide attacks, kidnappings, political murders, and collateral damage of civilians in drone attacks in the tribal belt -- all these bode ill for the health of the Pakistani state and its civil society.

Worse still, instead of moving into the tribal belt and other parts of NWFP where there is unrest and violence, with a holistic policy of economic incentives, health and education initiatives and political mainstreaming, alongside law and order enforcement and a visible judicial redress set up, the state is seeming to offer controversial sops like the imposition of Qazi courts through a new Shariah Regulation 2008 -- which presently rests with the president -- which will create further cleavages between the troubled areas and the rest of the country. This regulation is for the Malakand division, which will be governed by a different legal system than the rest of the country. So, the message being sent out to civil society at large is if you can use enough violence to challenge the state's authority, you can have the legal system of your choice. Let us recall the strong links between the extremists of Malakand with the clerics of Lal Masjid especially in terms of snowballing effects.

For the people of Malakand division, the establishment of the Qazi courts will deprive them of any judicial redress at the highest level, since the Shariah Court at the division level will be the apex court for the people of the seven districts of Malakand division. So these poor people will not have the freedom to appeal against the decision of the Shariah Court in the Peshawar High Court or in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. How can we deny some of our citizens these fundamental rights which other citizens of Pakistan have?

Is this the way to build a cohesive and modern polity? Such short term controversial moves on the part of the state can, in the long run, negate social and political cohesion of the nation. After all, what did the earlier measures, similar in nature, do for Malakand except create more space for local extremists and criminals? One should recall that during 1994, the provincial government in Peshawar was terrorised into negotiating with radical mullah Sufi Mohammed and into conceding a Qazi system in Malakand which eventually led to the NWFP's Shar'i Nizam-e-Adl Regulation of 1999, for this division. Learning from history may be painful but not learning from even recent history is our national tragedy.

If the state is now committed to bringing the tribal areas into the mainstream than how can it deny some of its own people in the settled areas their fundamental right of access to the highest court of the land, simply because they happen to live in an area being terrorised by a minority of terrorising extremists?

We seem to have no clear long term policy direction in terms of the tribal belt and the trouble spots of the NWFP, which is why there is a growing sense of lawlessness, rendering the ordinary citizen insecure and overcome with fear, while the extremists and terrorists continue to be emboldened. Instead of overcoming the deficient state performance in the troubled areas by asserting the will of the state and providing basic amenities so that the ordinary citizen has a stake in the system, short term sops are being offered to the trouble makers at the expense of the innocent.

Also of interest is what one hears when one talks to people from areas such as Mohmand and Bajaur. There is a repetitive theme that outsiders are offering lucrative lures to the locals to get them to use violence and destabilise the state. Perhaps that is why one is seeing young teens offering themselves as suicide bombers in return for money for their poverty-stricken families. That is why, unlike in Palestine, we are not seeing the farewell videos or notes of bombers in which their religious and political commitment is frighteningly evident. But that is also why the state of Pakistan can, with a commitment to bringing in development at the economic, social and political levels, counter the suicide recruitment trend effectively.

The poverty and neglect of the people has created a human dignity deficit and its restoration requires the state to show itself as a responsive and positive entity. Putting in place discriminatory procedures of justice, and denying the people of some areas the rights available to other citizens is hardly the answer. In fact that will only ensure a continuing cycle of violence, radicalisation and hatred in the tribal belt and the surrounding settled areas.

The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies, Islamabad. Email: smnews80@hotmail.com

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