Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Blaming Pakistan instead of rethinking Afghanistan, December 18, 2006.

When Pervez Musharraf visited Canada in September, CBC reporter Terry Milewski interviewed him and took advantage of the opportunity to pass along the pervasive accusation that Pakistan was endangering lives of Canadians and other NATO troops because it was soft on terrorist strongholds on the Pakistan side of the border with Afghanistan.

The feeling was crystallized a few weeks later when an Australian journalist quoted two nameless military sources (Oct 9 06).

'I feel real vitriol seeing our boys dying because of Pakistan,' said one British officer.

A senior US commander added: 'We just can't ignore it any more. Musharraf's got to prove which side he is on.'

Musharraf responded to Milewski by pointing out that his country had deployed some 80,000 troops along the border with Afghanistan.

"We have suffered 500 dead," Musharraf said. "Canadians suffer two and they get upset."

Regular viewers may have noticed that Milewski changed colour at that point, started puffing and used his most indignant tone to emphasize what for him was evidently the salient detail: Musharraf had his facts wrong; Canada had more than 40 casualties.

Last week, the International Crisis Group in Belgium confirmed that Pakistan had deployed 80,000 regular army and paramilitary troops in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas as early as 2002.

In an article for Britain's openDemocracy, Irfan Husain, a columnist with the Dawn newspaper in Pakistan, estimates that the army has suffered over 600 dead in clashes in the tribal belt over the last two years alone (Husain Nov 6 06). Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan's Intelligence Services estimates close to a thousand over the period of America's war on terror. Musharraf had not been speaking about exact numbers.

The International Crisis Group provides this analysis of Pakistan's military situation along the Afghanistan border in a report dated December 11, 2006.

In June 2002, the Pakistani army moved a division of [approximately 80,000] troops into the Federally Administered Tribal Areas to prevent fleeing al-Qaeda operatives and sympathisers from entering the country in the wake of Coalition operations across the border.

In March 2004, the military launched a major search-and-destroy drive in South Waziristan in the misguided belief that a quick, surgical strike against foreign terrorists and their local allies would succeed. Officials claimed that the decision was taken when tribal elders failed to deliver tribesmen harbouring militants. Off-the-record, however, ICG notes there is serious disagreement.

According to a retired army general, "As [U.S.] pressure on Pakistan mounted, the military rushed headlong into an ill-conceived military operation before regular political channels could be exhausted." While the political administration was negotiating, the army deployed troops in areas that are transit points for militants crossing into Afghanistan.

"We were stabbed in the back," a tribal elder claimed. "We were promised dialogue and developmental funds, while plans for military operations against our tribes were well underway."

The March 2004 operation concentrated on South Waziristan’s district headquarters, where five Islamist militants were suspected of harbouring foreign terrorists and having links with the Afghan Taliban. The operation backfired. Local and foreign militants ambushed troops, inflicting heavy losses and taking officials hostage.

According to the former director general of Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Lt. General Asad Durrani, "Military action was taken in haste. Regular channels of conflict resolution and dialogue should have taken precedence over the use of military force, which undermined the capacity of the administration and local tribesman to neutralise, contain and de-weaponise the militants through non-military means."

The International Crisis Group believes that lack of coordination between multiple security agencies, including regular army units, the paramilitary Frontier Corps, and military intelligence agencies also undermined the operation.

Retired Brigadier AR Siddiqi said "It seems like every agency is running its own shop with constant back and forth from the corps commander to the governor and back."

Among the civilian costs, the ICG found that The use of indiscriminate and excessive force undermined the military’s local standing. Retaliating against militant attacks, the army used heavy artillery and helicopter gunships. These strikes resulted in civilian deaths which, combined with arbitrary arrests and indiscriminate search operations, alienated locals.

A former federal law minister, Iftikhar Gillani, whose home constituency is adjacent to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, said, "There is seething anger amongst the locals which might well be fuelling support for the militants amongst even those who were otherwise indifferent and whose support could have been critical to the success of the anti-terrorist campaign."

Locals also charged that the military failed consult them. One official complained that “the military arrived armed with helicopter gunships when negotiations were underway…a step that undermined whatever little local trust could be harnessed”.

ICG found that military activity also undermined the authority and capacity of the local civilian administration. The military’s control even of development projects raised questions of political and constitutional legitimacy.

A former interior minister said, "Even though Pakistan is under military rule, it is still baffling that the corps commander is calling the shots in the tribal areas," exercising power with "no precedent or basis in the constitution."

(ICG Dec 11 06 pp 18-19).

This analysis of Pakistan's military "failure" confirms Musharraf's allegation that some 80,000 Pakistani army and paramilitary troops were deployed in the Tribal Areas as early as 2002. It sounds strangely like criticisms that have been made of the US in Iraq and Afghanistan: the use of military force before regular political channels could be exhausted; the "search-and-destroy" and "surgical strike" tactics which are more appropriate to 3GW than to 4GW; the lack of coordination among multiple military organizations. The promise of dialogue and development funds, while plans for military operations are underway giving rise to the perception of being "stabbed in the back;" the underming of the military's local standing by the use of indiscriminate and excessive force; the civilian casualties.

It appears easy enough to discern that such activities undermine the authority and capacity of the local civilian administration when the army in question belongs to Pakistan. Not so when the army is American or British or Canadian.

Similarly, the ICG has no problem understanding how the military control of development projects raises questions of legitimacy and neutrality. Yet the US-led Coalition has managed to drive agencies like MSF right out of Afghanistan while Canadian Forces continue to operate in Kandahar as a one-stop military-reconstruction-humaintarian aid white knight for anyone who is desperate enough to believe the cure might not be worse than the disease.

It will come as a surprise to practically no one that this familiar pattern inspires more "terrorism" than it prevents.

Both Musharraf in particular and Pakistan in general are sources of powerful ambivalence, not only in the west, but also within the South Asian region. A recent event that embodies many of the conflicting emotions in play is the bombing on October 30 of a madrassa, or religious school, in the village of Chingai, within the tribal area of Bajaur.

According to early reports, the madrassa was levelled by Hellfire missiles fired from a CIA Predator drone. The charge, which both Washington and Islamabad deny, is impossible to verify. Reporters were denied travel permits for Chingai village. According to Dawn reporter Husain, locals insist the explosions occurred several minutes before the army helicopters arrived.

CBC's Bruce Edwards reports that the Pakistan Army bombed the school "after receiving American intelligence reports describing the site as a training ground for Taliban insurgents."

Pakistan television broadcast an aerial surveillance video
that the government claims showed dozens of men receiving militant training before the attack.

The footage showed people jogging in a circle and doing calisthenics.

No weapons were visible in the video. The government claims they were removed after the air strike.

According to a list produced by one of the local political parties, of the 80 dead, nearly all were students. Most were teenagers, a dozen were under the age of 12, and one was seven years old.

Two days after the video aired, 10,000 local tribesmen protested in the remote town of Salazai chanting "God is great!" and "Down with America!"

Government critics, including all the Islamic parties, accuse the army of using disproportionate force. Had there been any evidence of armed militants in the building critics say, they should have been arrested and tried. Major-General Shaukat Sultan, head of the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) department, replied that had the madrassa been approached by road, many of the militants would have escaped. There would have been plenty of casualties too.

Hamid Gul a former head of Pakistan's intelligence agency, who was trained by the CIA, is sharply aware that no other country has suffered as many casualties as Pakistan fighting America's war on terror.

"But then the Pakistan army came against a stone wall. [he says] I don't want to use the word defeated but in reality this was the end of the road. What choice did they have? What more can Pakistan do?"

Gul believes that the so-called holy wars being played out in Iraq and Afghanistan will not be won with military might and that that policy makers from the West should start considering political solutions.

"There is nothing more that the NATO or the ISAF or the Americans can do in Afghanistan. NATO will be defeated," he says "The time has come to cut a deal."

Gul says Musharaff is quote "absolutely right when he says look we have been defeated, we can't do anything more." Just like the Russians who used 120,000 troops during a decade in Afghanistan, Pakistan has now deployed 80,000 troops while the Western countries have contributed 31,000 (including Canada's 2,500).

"So how do you assume that with 31,000 you can win?" he asks.

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