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War of Deception in Name of War on Terror

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President of Pakistan General Pervez Musharraf during an address to a public meeting said that all those killed in the Bajaur operation were between 20 to 35 years old, who were getting military training there. He said he himself watched the film, showing this military training two minutes before the attack.

He said the Pakistan Army had been monitoring them receiving training at the Madrassa for the last one year, but earlier they were not attacked because the lives of innocent citizens could be at risk. "We have been waiting for the right time to attack," he said and added it was a lie to say that Pakistani forces killed children. Musharraf said those who supported these extremist elements could not see Pakistan progressing, therefore, they were creating chaos. "Everyone is lacking in vision and speaks without thinking," he said and added the people should not pay attention to the extremists.

There is a lot of contradiction in the statement of the president. The president said that the religious seminary is being used for imparting training to the terrorists. If it is true then why a peace accord was signed with these people by the political agent, who is direct appointee of the NWFP governor for running the affairs of Bajaur Agency. It is interesting to note that on whose the president has been trowing the blame of terrorism was actually released from prison just a week ago of air attack. The president said that the army has been observing the activities of the Taliban. But the question, which is disturbing the mind of tribesmen these people were in the prison of Pakistan and they were just released before a week. They were allowed to start their activities.

A defence writer Dr Hasan Rizvi Askari also raised questions about the methods being amplied in the war on terrorism. He said the government should recognise that it cannot effectively manage its counter-terrorism policy without opening up the political system to mainstream liberal and centralist political forces subscribing to the view that Pakistan's national interests are served by containing extremism and militancy

The November 8 suicide bomb attack on army troops at a training camp in Dargai is yet more evidence of the growing threat of religious extremism and militancy to Pakistan's internal security and harmony. A day earlier, rockets were fired while NWFP Governor, a retied Lt.-General, was addressing a tribal jirga in Wana. These two incidents took place within nine days of the attack by the military in the Bajaur area, and which prompted some militant Islamic groups in the region threaten revenge.

Despite official claims that Islamic extremism and militancy has been contained, the tribal areas and the adjoining territories have become strongholds of Taliban-like elements. In some areas, young and defiant mullahs exercise more sway over the hearts and minds of the people than the tribal chiefs or the civil and military authorities.

These elements enjoy the sympathy of the Mutahidda Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) and other Islamic elements, including Islamic seminaries elsewhere in Pakistan, especially in the NWFP and Pashtun areas of Balochistan. The MMA has often used its political clout to soften the Musharraf government's tough policies to counter Islamic extremism and militancy.

The government decided towards the end of 2000 and in early 2001 to deal sternly with the Islamic groups that engaged in sectarian violence and killings. It also sought the cooperation of the Taliban government in Kabul to deny sanctuary to Pakistan's sectarian activists in Afghanistan. The Taliban government rejected Pakistan's demand. This annoyed Pakistani policy-makers but they continued to support the Taliban government at the bilateral and global level.

In August 2001, almost a month before the terrorist attacks in the United States, the government banned some Islamic-sectarian groups in Pakistan. However, a major shift in Pakistan's policy towards Islamic extremism and militancy took place two days after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Pakistan abandoned the Taliban government and joined the US-led global effort to control trans-national terrorism. This policy shift reflected a realistic assessment of the regional and global situation on the part of President Pervez Musharraf and his senior military commanders.

Pakistan's counter-terrorism policy was fully articulated by Musharraf in his address to the nation on January 12, 2002. Some Islamic militant groups were banned in January 2002 and similar action was taken in 2003. The government reaffirmed its determination to root out extremism and militancy from Pakistan and arrested over 600 Islamic-extremists during 2002-2005, most with Al Qaeda linkages. In the summer of 2003, the government inducted troops in the tribal areas to uproot from the area foreign militant elements and their Pakistani supporters. Some initial successes aside, the operations ran into problems because the militants took advantage of the difficult terrain and local support.

Despite Pakistan's commitment to counter-terrorism and President Musharraf's talk of enlightened moderation, Pakistan continues to face the challenge of Islamic extremism and militancy. This challenge has become more lethal because some of the militant groups are now targeting the state and its officials.

The problems of counter-terrorism policy can be attributed to the lack of unanimity in the official circles about the direction and pace of counter-terrorism, reservations in the official circles about the total abandonment of militancy as a foreign-policy tool, the power imperatives of the Musharraf government and a refusal to open up the political system by allowing mainstream, liberal and centralist political elements to mobilise. Pakistan has been pursuing a top-down counter-terrorism policy with a heavy reliance on state apparatus and executive orders to contain extremism and militancy rather than working towards building a popular base by allowing non-official liberal political discourse and mobilisation.

Right from 9/11, some elements in the official circles have remained sceptical about changing course - i.e., Pakistan abandoning the Taliban and joining hands with the US. These differences were partly responsible for change in the top personnel of the army the day the US launched air attacks on Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. A less publicised incident on that day was the outbreak of fire in a section of the army headquarters; the fire destroyed some records.

So even leaving aside the MMA and other Islamic elements, many in the civil and army establishment are not convinced that Pakistan should be so closely linked with the US policy in Afghanistan. There is a noticeable sympathy for Taliban-like elements in the lower echelons of the administration, including the army, that enables them to carry on with their activities in NWFP, the Balochistan areas adjacent to Afghanistan and the tribal areas. They can easily link up with the anti-Karzai and anti-US/NATO insurgents in Afghanistan.

Most Islamists and their sympathisers in the official circles are of the view that Pakistan should not completely abandon militant groups as long as the Kashmir problem is not settled. They are also perturbed by the domination of the Karzai government by the Northern Alliance, which is known for anti-Pakistan and pro-India leanings. Another complaint against the Karzai government pertains to the alleged anti-Pakistan activities by Indian consulates staff (which includes under-cover appointments of Indian intelligence personnel) in the Afghan cities bordering the Durand Line. Unless the Karzai government addresses Pakistan's concerns adequately, the situation may not improve.

The Musharraf government's counter-terrorism strides face another dilemma. It moderates its tough policies in order to maintain working relations with the MMA, which supports the Taliban and sympathises with Al Qaeda. Consequently, the counter-terrorism policy is event-driven and lacks consistency. When some serious incident takes place, the government rounds up some Islamic activists but moderates its tough approach incrementally over time.

The Musharraf government's top-down counter-terrorism policy does not allow mainstream and liberal political forces which, share its agenda, to engage in political mobilisation because they question Musharraf's political legitimacy. Consequently, only two political discourses are available for popular mobilisation: the official and the MMA's. In the case of official circles, President Musharraf and some cabinet members (Foreign and Interior Ministers) speak on terrorism-related issues. The ruling PML hardly engages in mobilisation for containment of Islamic extremism and militancy and promotion of enlightenment and moderation.

The MMA and other religious elements get a wide space for mobilising people against Pakistan's counter-terrorism policy. The politically conscious people in the middle and lower classes are constantly exposed to the political discourses of the Islamic elements, especially the MMA's. Their most common themes are: the 'Yahud and Nasara' (Jews and Christians) cannot be friend of the Muslims; Pakistan's western borders have become insecure since Pakistan joined the US-sponsored war on terrorism; the Taliban are against the US and Karzai but they are friends of Pakistan; the government of Pakistan is serving American agenda at the expense of Islam; and the West wants to destroy Islam and the Muslims.

How can the government's counter-terrorism policy win popular support when the political space has been left open only to the Islamists?

No credible alternative political discourse is available that emphasises moderation and tolerance in societal and state affairs. The government should recognise that it cannot effectively manage its counter-terrorism policy without opening up the political system to mainstream liberal and centralist political forces subscribing to the view that Pakistan's national interests are served by containing extremism and militancy.

According to another newspaper published from Islamabad, the country's terrorism and counter terrorism scenario presents a grim picture of confrontation and disharmony in the nation's ranks posing serious threat to the national cohesion and unity. A review of the government's anti-terror strategy is, therefore, overdue. The Bajaur and Dargai incidents have jolted the nation with their serious implications for Pakistan and its institutions. Divergent speculations and perceptions are being focused due to the militants' unabated activities targeting the Pak Army. True that terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon, but Pakistan is seemingly caught up in its whirlpool primarily due to its geographical contiguity with Afghanistan, which has been the hotbed of terrorism. And the Bush administration's unjust and unwarranted post 9/11adventures against the Muslim world coupled with continued bleeding of Palestine has led to what the world has witnessed over the past five years owing to the imprudent and impulsive conduct of President Bush and his neocons conglomerate at the Capitol Hill. As for Pakistan, it had initiated measures to tackle the extremist outfits before the 9/11, which had also produced desired results. It, however, became synonymous with the anti-terror war launched by the US following the attack on World Trade Centre and Pentagon. Pakistan was unfortunately being looked at as a mercenary state in the anti-terror war because of its over exuberance in capturing and handing over the al-Qaeda and Taliban militants to the United States, as the Pakistani people noted its dangerous contours for the country. It has now turned into a tight rope walking for the government with all its pitfalls and ramifications. Pakistan has conducted itself with commitment on the basis of the principled position. The domestic scenario has, however, changed now with multifarious and multidimensional developments as a result of the outcome of the midterm US polls.

The government needs to do some brain storming on the issue. We strongly feel that it's time for it to wriggle out of the quagmire of the so-called anti terror war by pursuing the pattern of the North Waziristan accord, which certainly had the support of the people of Pakistan.
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Muhammad Khurshid, a resident of Bajaur District, tribal areas situated on Pak-Afghan border is journalist by profession. He contributes articles and news stories to various online and print newspapers. His subject matter is terrorism. He is (more...)

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