Pakistan: Now or Never?
Perspectives on Pakistan
In openDemocracy, Paul Rogers writes that one of the great mistakes of the media is that it tends to assume the only actors in the campaign against Islamist militants are governments, with al Qaeda and the Taliban merely passive players.
“Beyond the details of what the Taliban and its allies decide, it is important to note that most analysis of Barack Obama’s strategy published in the western media is severely constrained by its selective perspective. There is a pervasive assumption – even now, after eight years of war – that the insurgents are mere “recipients” of external policy changes: reactive but not themselves proactive,” he writes.
“This is nonsense – and dangerous nonsense. It would be far wiser to assume that these militias have people who are every bit as intelligent and professional in their thinking and planning as their western counterparts. They have had three months to think through the Obama leadership’s policy-development process; and much of this thinking will be about how the US changes affect their own plans – not how they will respond to the United States. Thus they may have very clear intentions for the next three to five years that are embedded in detailed military planning; and what is now happening on their side will involve adjustment of these plans in the light of the great rethink across the Atlantic.”
So how will al Qaeda, the Taliban and other Islamist groups respond?
As discussed before in openDemocracy, and highlighted on this blog more than a year ago, the Taliban has been pretty good at studying the lessons of history, including taking inspiration from the Vietnamese war commander General Vo Nguyen Giap, who successfully employed guerrilla tactics against the French before crushing them in the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.
A narrow majority of Pakistanis support the army’s offensive in South Waziristan, but many still believe Pakistan is fighting “America’s war”, according to a Gilani Research Foundation poll conducted by Gallup Pakistan.
In the poll, conducted in the last week of October, 51 percent supported the offensive, 13 percent opposed it and 36 percent were unsure. A majority held the United States and Pakistan’s own government –rather than the Taliban – responsible for the situation which required the offensive in the first place.
When Northern Ireland’s Omagh bomb exploded, killing 29 people, I was in England, by cruel coincidence attending the wedding of a young man who had been badly injured in another attack in the town of Enniskillen more than a decade earlier.
I had just switched my phone on after leaving the church on a glorious, sunny Saturday afternoon when my news editor called. “There’s been a bomb. It sounds bad. We’re trying to get you on a flight.”
Pakistan’s militants have unleashed a guerrilla war in cities across the country in retaliation for a military offensive against them in their South Waziristan stronghold. But while they have seized all the attention with their massive bomb and gun attacks, what about the offensive itself in their mountain redoubt ?
Nearly two weeks into Operation Rah-e-Nijat, or Path of Salvation, it is hard to make a firm assessment of which way the war is going, given that information is hard to come by and this may yet be still the opening stages of a long and difficult campaign.
The militants have carried out four attacks and killed at least a dozen people since the army launched an assault on their South Waziristan stronghold, while more than 150 people were killed in a deadly spree preceding the offensive – including a brazen raid on army headquarters in Rawalpindi.
The Jihadica website has just posted an item about an apparent rift between al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in the so-called Quetta shura led by Mullah Omar.
“Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban and al-Qa’ida’s senior leaders have been issuing some very mixed messages of late, and the online jihadi community is in an uproar, with some calling these developments ‘the beginning of the end of relations’ between the two movements,” it says.
Regular readers of this blog will know that I have questioned before the value of the “AfPak” label, which implies that an incredibly complicated situation involving many different countries can be reduced to a five-letter word.
Having spent the last couple of days trying to make sense of the suicide bomb attack in Iran which Tehran blamed on Jundollah, an ethnic Baluchi, Sunni insurgent group it says has bases in Pakistan, I’m more inclined than ever to believe the “AfPak” label blinds us to the broader regional context. Analysts argue that Jundollah has been heavily influenced by hardline Sunni sectarian Islamist thinking within Pakistan which is itself the product of 30 years of proxy wars in the region dating back to the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan towards the end of the same year.
A week after suspected Sunni Islamist insurgents attacked the headquarters of the Pakistan Army, a suicide bomber killed six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders and 25 other people in Shi’ite Iran in one of the deadliest attacks in years on the country’s most powerful military institution.
Were these two events connected only by the loose network of Sunni insurgent groups based in and around Pakistan? Or are there other common threads that link the two?
After last weekend’s attack on the headquarters of the Pakistan Army in Rawalpindi, one of the questions being asked with a rather troubling air of inevitability was: where next? That question was answered on Thursday with a string of attacks across the country, including three in Lahore.
So now, what next?
Many expect the attacks to continue, as militants based in the country’s heartland Punjab province unleash a wave of violence ahead of a planned military offensive against the Pakistani Taliban in their stronghold in South Waziristan. Few are prepared to predict either how much worse they could get, nor exactly how Pakistan will respond.
from Global News Journal:
An atmosphere of stale defensiveness has sunk over Kabul. The mood has been lowered by the protracted saga of the Afghan election count, almost two months on from the first round August 20 vote. It's a drama veering towards farce more often than post-modern play, as we wait endlessly for a result, that like Godot, does not want to come.
Winter has not yet arrived in Kabul, though the evenings are cold, quickly taking the heat of the sun out of the day. Afghan politicians are frustrated and twitchy, second-guessing the reasons for the U.N.-backed election watchdog's plodding. We are being solidly methodological to retain the confidence of all, says the Electoral Complaints Commission, as it examines thousands of dodgy votes. A thankless task, most likely. The ECC officials will be puzzling over whether a box of votes has been mass-endorsed for one candidate, and should not stand, or if the suspiciously similar ticks on the ballot paper are attributable to only one man in the village knowing how to write. Many of the rural voters will never have held a pen in their hand, argued one official. It is natural in such a tribal society for the village to establish a consensus on who to support. Do such ballot papers count? Remember Florida, and how 'hanging chads' and the U.S. Supreme Court gave George W. Bush the presidency over Al Gore? It's that kind of agony.