Editorial: Unfortunate opposition to ‘action’ in Bara
The PMLN and the JUI(S) have opposed the Bara Operation — or ‘action’ as the government would have us believe — because they were not “consulted” before the operation was undertaken. The third coalition partner, the ruling ANP in the NWFP, says it was consulted in two meetings that took place in Peshawar but insists that Peshawar is not “under siege” from the Bara warlord, Mangal Bagh. It apparently has no opinion on the Bara Operation because “Khyber is outside the jurisdiction of the NWFP government”.
The PMLN view was expressed by an outraged Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in the National Assembly. It was elaborated by its leader from Peshawar, Mr Iqbal Zafar Jhagra, on TV when he said that apart from the fact that his party was kept out of the loop it had always opposed military operation against Pakistan’s “own people”. He insisted that the only way to deal with the situation in the Tribal Areas was through the “political process” (whatever that means), negotiation and peace agreements.
As for the position of the JUI(S), it has always been well known. It represents not so much Islam as the Pakhtun population living in the Tribal Areas and Balochistan. Its leader Maulana Ghafur Haideri has repeated the plaint that his party was not consulted. He went on to say that military action would be counter-productive and his party would not support it. But will the JUI(S) leave the coalition on this issue? No. Much the same response can be expected from the PMLN. Mr Jhagra made it clear that his party would not abandon the coalition. He must however be conscious of the fact that his party’s status in the coalition is different from that of the other partners who are also a part of the government. By getting out of the government, however, the PMLN has obtained the freedom to openly disagree with decisions taken by the prime minister and his cabinet.
The ANP and the JUI(S) have taken positions that are likely to encourage the building up of opposition to the operation among the Pakhtun. Indirectly, the ANP has opted out of the Islamabad policy on the Taliban, by defending its “peace deals” and by denying that the settled areas are under threat or that Peshawar is under siege from the terrorists. This ambivalence can only be understood in light of the ANP’s restricted electorate among the Pakhtun. As opposed to the policy of moulding Pakhtun opinion, it has unfortunately preferred to defer to a collective mind already formed by the religious parties and the Taliban propaganda on the real “intention” of the operation.
The result is that the PPP will have to face up to the backlash that is going to come from the general public who support the views of the PMLN, and from the Pakhtun hinterland. In the coming days, we may expect the TV channels to reflect this “consensus” with the kind of emphasis expected from the “process of repetition” inherent in competition. But the objective fact is that the operation had become unavoidable. And it is no excuse that it should not have been undertaken because it was not thought of three years ago when the warlords of Khyber first came on the scene.
Pakistan’s best known modern physicist Dr Pervez Hoodbhoy has reflected on the “confusion” in Pakistan over the violent events taking place these days. He marvels at the way we ignore Pakistanis kidnapped and killed by the warlords and our violent reaction to the NATO-ISAF forces on the Mohmand border with Afghanistan: “Had the killers been the Taliban, this would have been a non-event...Compare the response to Gora Prai with the near silence about the recent kidnapping and slaughter by Baitullah Mehsud’s fighters of 28 men near Tank, some of whom were shot and others had their throats cut. Even this pales before the hundred or more attacks by suicide bombers over the last year that made bloody carnage of soldiers and officers, devastated peace jirgas and public rallies, and killed hundreds praying in mosques and at funerals”.
Pakistan is in deeper trouble than it thinks. Considering that the top popular concern is the “judges’ restoration”, over which there is no solution in sight, it is unfortunate that we continue to ignore the fact that our economy can only survive if the world helps us. Eminent Pakistani economist Mr Shahid Javed Burki thinks that Pakistan should not return to the IMF because the Fund will impose “stabilisation” and ignore growth pledges because it doesn’t believe that Pakistan can pull it off. He recommends approaching the “donors” for help. The problem is that all the “donors” want Pakistan to take action against the warlords. *
Editorial: Unfortunate opposition to ‘action’ in Bara
Talking to journalists in Lahore, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani stated that “foreign elements hailing from Central Asian Republics (CAR) are disturbing peace in the Tribal Areas and they are behind the current unrest and spike in violence in the tribal belt”. He was referring to around 2,000 Uzbek warriors belonging to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) who are allegedly spread around in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. They moved into Pakistan from Afghanistan after the US bombardment of 2001 and formed a part of the “multinational” force that accompanied Al Qaeda as it fled across the Tora Bora mountain range into the tribal areas of Pakistan.
First reports about them and others like the Arabs and Chechens were dismissed as false by the MMA government in the NWFP at the time which said that the “foreigners” were actually the mujahideen who had come here to join the jihad against the Soviet Union and had remained here after marrying into the local Pakhtuns. Most observers in Pakistan agreed with this version and all news about the “foreigners” were labelled “plants” organised by an allegedly pro-US government. But the fact was that commanders in Waziristan like Nek Muhammad looked after the Uzbeks under the tutelage of Al Qaeda and deliberately spread the falsehood that there was no “foreign” presence in the Tribal Areas.
The IMU was led by Qari Tahir Yuldashev whose position about jihad was close to that of Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, Aiman Al Zawahiri. He believed that jihad should first target not the US but those “hypocrite Muslims” who support the US. The Uzbeks soon became known for their cruelty and disregard for local Pakhtun culture in Waziristan. This led last year to a cleavage within the Al Qaeda power in the region. One pro-Al Qaeda commander Maulvi Nazir fell out with the Uzbeks and mounted a bloody operation against them. Today his organisation is under attack from Baitullah Mehsud, which means that the Uzbeks are in the ascendant as followers of Al Qaeda.
The Uzbeks were seen by Pakistani journalists when they came to Swat as a part of the Taliban force in the wake of the storming of Lal Masjid in Islamabad in 2007. They stood out because of their savage conduct among the innocent people of Swat. They were a part of the faction that beheaded local people and placed their headless corpses in the streets. They were partly masked, seemed to look racially different and did not speak because they did not know the local language. Later, news trickled in about training camps established especially for the training of Uzbeks in the Tribal Areas.
The IMU targets Pakistan as compensation for Al Qaeda’s support to IMU’s activities in Uzbekistan. The training camps in Waziristan prepare terrorist squads that stage attacks in Tashkent against the ruling elite there. The Uzbekistan government has also formed its Afghan policy in response to Al Qaeda “plans” for Uzbekistan. Even as the Taliban were conducting their war around Mazar-e-Sharif in the late 1990s, Uzbekistan was in the process of strengthening what later became the Northern Alliance. Pakistan, at that time pursuing the doctrine of “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, was at cross-purposes with Uzbekistan, which was then also backed by Turkey.
Tashkent knows that Uzbek killers are being trained in Waziristan. Tahir Yuldashev is actually running two campaigns for Al Qaeda. One, to bring down the government of Pakistan and replace it with a caliphate supported by Al Qaeda; two, to bring down the government of President Karimov in Tashkent. The camps are thus training two sets of terrorists: Pakistanis from such organisations as Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and Uzbeks that keep trickling in from Uzbekistan who are meant to return and create trouble in their homeland. Their three routes are internationally known: they reach Waziristan by travelling through Kazakhstan, through Azerbaijan and through Iran.
There are Chechens in the Tribal Areas too. They came in with Al Qaeda but “fresh” Chechens from the Russian Federation also keep coming in. The troubled province there is Dagestan where the armed rebels, mostly Chechens, are not having much success against the government. With Uighurs of Chinese Sinkiang added to the number, Waziristan will therefore decide the international move against Pakistan in reaction to its “cross-border” raids into Afghanistan. As a reaction, then, we can be sure that intervention or pre-emptive strikes in the Tribal Areas, violating the sovereignty of Pakistan, will be supported by most of Afghanistan’s neighbours including Russia and India. The game is set for a blazing row across borders.