Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
The Pakistan Army may have driven the Taliban out of Swat but the refugees who fled to escape the military offensive are still in limbo.
Aid agencies are calling on the government to make sure that basic services are restored for people trying to return home after the offensive. They are also saying that landmines and other unexploded weapons pose an additional risk and say public areas – especially around schools, hospitals and markets – must be cleared of ordnance immediately.
Dawn newspaper quoted a military spokesman as saying that the army was ready to remain in Swat indefinitely to provide security for the people in Swat, which had been overrun by Taliban militants before the offensive.
‘The army will stay in the area till a sense of security among the people is revived, a credible defence system by law enforcement agencies put in place and the possibility of terrorists hiding in the mountains coming back to launch a second phase of insurgency is obviated. This will not take less than a year,’ it quoted the spokesman as saying.
Ahmed Rashid’s article on Pakistan in the New York Review of Books makes for an alarming read. Excerpts do not do justice to it, as you have to read the whole thing to understand why he thinks Pakistan really is on the brink, but here are a few:
“American officials are in a concealed state of panic, as I observed during a recent visit to Washington at the time when 17,000 additional troops were being dispatched to Afghanistan. The Obama administration unveiled its new Afghan strategy on March 27, only to discover that Pakistan is the much larger security challenge, while US options there are far more limited.”
With Pakistan facing a refugee crisis, and its army engaged in intense fighting in the Swat valley, the question of who makes decisions in the country and how these are taken may not seem like the top priority.
But Shuja Nawaz at the Atlantic Council makes a strong argument in favour of deepening institutional mechanisms for decision-making. While President Asif Ali Zardari, who has retained the sweeping presidential powers of his predecessor Pervez Musharraf, made many decisions himself and also personally represented Pakistan diplomatically on trips overseas, the institutional process of decision-making that would allow coordination between the different branches of the country’s government is lacking, he writes. As a result the government seemed unprepared to deal with the million refugees created by Pakistan’s military offensive against the Taliban.
With Pakistan launching what the country’s Daily Times calls an “all-out war” against the Taliban, more than 500,000 people have fled the fighting in the northwest, bringing to more than a million those displaced since August, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.After apparently giving the Taliban enough rope to hang themselves, by offering a peace deal in the Swat valley which the government said they then reneged upon, the government for now seems to have won enough popular backing to launch its offensive.But to succeed in defeating the Taliban, the government must also be ready with a strategy to rebuild shattered lives if the mood in the northwest is not to turn sour, Dawn newspaper says. It quotes defence analyst Ikram Sehgal as estimating the military could take up to two months to conclude its campaign, and that dealing with the impact on civilians will require more than 10 times the one billion rupees (12 million dollars) the government has so far announced.In a separate article, it says that refugees are already upset about the behaviour of both the Taliban and the military. ’We are frightened of the Taliban and the army. If they want to fight, they should kill each other, they should not take refuge in our homes,” it quotes an 18-year-old girl as saying.Both Pakistan’s The News International newspaper and the blog Changing up Pakistan warn against the onset of compassion fatigue, both for the sake of the people affected and to make sure refugee camps do not turn into recruiting grounds for the Taliban.”If the militants can provide services and offer more viable options for IDPs than the state, that is a dangerous phenomenon. The government and international agencies must therefore do more to relieve the plight of the ever-increasing number of displaced persons in Pakistan, not just for humanitarian purposes, but because we cannot afford to let the Taliban win any more,” Changing up Pakistan says.In the meantime, more questions are being raised about the U.S. administration’s policy of using unmanned drone aircraft to fire missiles on Pakistan’s tribal areas. The missile attacks, meant to target militant leaders and disrupt al Qaeda’s capabilities, cause civilian casualties, alienate Pakistanis who see them as an invasion of sovereignty and add to a perception that Pakistan is fighting “America’s war” in one place, while being bombed by American planes in another.Foreign Policy Journal quotes U.S. Congressman Ron Paul as criticising the Obama administration for continuing the drone missile attacks first started under President George W. Bush. “We are bombing a sovereign country,” it quotes him as saying. “Where do we get the authority to do that? Did the Pakistani government give us written permission? Did the Congress give us written permission to expand the war and start bombing in Pakistan?” he asked.
It adds that he said there are “many, many thousands of Pashtuns that are right smack in the middle, getting killed by our bombs, and then we wonder why they object to our policies over there. How do you win the hearts and minds of these people if we’re seen as invaders and occupies?”
Dawn newspaper also urges an end to the drone attacks in a passionately worded editorial.
While Pakistan and indeed much of the world has been transfixed by the political power play that has seen President Pervez Muaharraf go, a refugee crisis is unfolding in its troubled northwest.
The numbers fleeing escalating fighting between the Pakistan Army and militants holed up in Bajaur on the border with Afghanistan vary but they are all huge. The Daily Times said that the provincial government had set up relief camps for 219,000 people displaced in the latest wave of fighting.