Friday, May 15, 2009

For god and US

With Taliban gaining a strong foothold in the country's north and northwest, Pakistan faces balkanisation

By Ahmede Hussain

With half of the country about 1000 miles apart, Pakistan, at its very birth, has been a deformed baby. Its founding fathers tried, however unsuccessfully, to unite the nation on the basis of religion, which soon turned out to be futile for the nascent 'Islamic Republic'. Bengalis, which formed the majority of the country, found themselves culturally alienated from the Punjabi-dominated culture that the establishment tried to impose on them in the name of Islam. It gave birth to the Language Movement, which saw disenchanted Bengalis, once one of the driving forces behind the anti-British Pro-Pakistan movement, take to the streets to make Bengali, not Urdu the state language.

The logic behind making Urdu the national language of Pakistan was a warped one--it was seen as the mother tongue of the Muslims, contrary to the 'Sanskritised Bengali', which the Punjabi elite considered the language of the Hindus. They ignored the fact that Urdu had never been the mother tongue of anyone in Pakistan; all the major ethnicities--Bengalis, Punjabis, Sindhis, Pakhtuns, Seraikis and Balochs had their own languages; Urdu, on the other hand, was the language of the gentry in Hindu-dominated Uttar Pradesh. The Bengalis eventually broke away from the brutal, oppressive Pakistani regime through a bloody war of independence.

During Bangladesh's Liberation War, because of the struggle's Left lenience, the US helped the marauding Pakistan army with arms and military hardware. At the fag end of the war, the US sent its Seventh Fleet to the Bay of Bengal to stop the war, prompting the Soviet Union to turn up with a nuclear submarine. In fact, Bangladesh's birth has been a major blow to the US foreign policy in the region. To make matters worse, the Saur Revolution in 1978 brought Marxist People's Democratic Party to power in Afghanistan; the overthrow of friendly Shah regime in Iran had added to the increasing anxiety of the US; the war in Vietnam the US feared that the entire South Asia and Far East might turn Red.

So when some of the Afghans took up arms to fight the invading Soviet Red Army, the US poured millions on the Mujahideen cause, arming the Afghan guerrillas FIM-92 Stingers, personal portable infrared homing surface-to-air missiles, which made life difficult for the communists. The Afghan freedom fighters, as the western media portrayed them, underwent armed training in Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan was one of the biggest front states in the Cold War. The country later also became biggest casualty of the proxy war between the US and USSR. Dissemination of Jihadist ideology spread in the country fast and it refused to stop even when after the Afghan War I stopped with the brutal execution of Mohammad Najibullah, the last Soviet-backed President of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the Talibans, Afghan students who took lessons in different madrasas across Pakistan, suddenly overpowered the US-backed Northern Alliance; the latter became extremely unpopular among the masses for the rapes, extortions and arsons that its members had perpetrated during its short rule. The first military offensive that the Talibans launched was in October 1994 in Maiwand, Kandahar. Within a year, the group was in control of half the country.

For the next seven years, Afghanistan never made it into the headline of any international newspaper. The terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001prompted the US to go to Afghanistan again to slay the monster it had so diligently created. Even though the US-led Afghan War II has ousted the Talibans from power, it has failed to neutralise most of them. Most of the Talibans went into hiding, even though the US won the war, there was no casualty on the Taliban side.
Over the last eight years when the world's attention has been focused on Iraq, the Talibans have regrouped, making a safe heaven in the North-west Pakistan, especially in the picturesque Swat valley. Their ideology knows no boundary and the Afghan and Pakistani Talibans have joined hands in their war against Pakistan, Afghan and the US armies in the region.

Encouraged by the Obama administration's policy of holding dialogues with the so-called 'moderate Talibans', the Pakistan government has held several round of talks with Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, the Taliban umbrella group in the country. According to the deal that has been struck at that time, the Pakistan government will enforce Sharia law in the Swat valley, in lieu of which the Talibans will lay down arms. The law has been enforced in the valley, once famous for its diamond mines, but the Taliban promise of cessation of hostility has never materialised. Instead the Talibans strengthened their position in the northwest, and last week they, led by its area commander Maulana Fazlullah, ran over Buner, which is only 60 miles away from the capital Islamabad.

The group has eventually withdrawn from the area, but what the head of police of the country's Northwest Frontier Province has said last week is even more alarming: The Talibans have infiltrated deep into the country; their presence can be felt as far away as the Punjab, and they may have chemical weapons under their belt.

What is alarming about Pakistan is that because of years of militarisation and corruption all its democratic institutions have fallen apart. Pakistan is now a failed state, tittering on the verge of disintegration. Some recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan have shown that its civil and military administrations are gradually loosing control over the country, an ominous sign for the reason as in its armoury include nuclear weapons. The Pakistan army's handling of the Swat crisis has raised questions about its ability to launch a war on the Talibans.

Demographically speaking, Pakistan is now dangerously divided. In the last elections, the Muslim League (ML), which is centre of the right, has won most seats in Pakistan; the People's Party, ML's secular counterpart, won in Sindh; the Northeast Frontier Province, the hotbed of Taliban activities, has surprisingly elected the Left-leaning National Awami Party.

The US, Pakistan's long time ally, has so far limited its presence into a string of missile attacks on the country's Taliban prone areas. The policy no doubt has failed; more US intervention in the country cannot be ruled out, and it may include direct military presence. Pakistan's fate now hangs in balance--it can be Talibanisation or Balkanisation, or, worse still, both. Only a united effort by the democratic forces in Pakistan can avert the catastrophe that is literary 60 miles away.

Star Weekend Magazine, Dhaka

No comments: