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Find Your War, Or Risk Losing It

Pakistan can still win the war against 'jihadi' militancy without having prior political consensus, which is proving elusive, if its security forces function coherently. Victory will be surer, swifter, and achieved on terms more favourable to state sovereignty and democracy if there were agreement among the main political forces in the country.

LETTER FROM SOUTH ASIAoctober 11, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly8Haris Gazdar (gasht@yahoo.com) is a political economist who works with the Karachi-based Collective for Social Science Research.Find Your War, Or Risk Losing ItHaris GazdarPakistan can still win the war against ‘jihadi’ militancy without having prior political consensus, which is proving elusive, if its security forces function coherently. Victory will be surer, swifter, and achieved on terms more favourable to state sovereignty and democracy if there were agreement among the main political forces in the country.The war against ‘jihadi’ militancy is politically divisive in Pakistan even though, or perhaps because, it was always going to be the most important issue facing the state and society. A suicide attack on Islamabad’s posh Marriott Hotel killed over 50 people a few hours after the newly-elected president, Asif Ali Zardari delivered his inaugural address to parlia-ment. It was suspected that the intended target was the parliament where the en-tire political and military leadership of the country was assembled. Then, on the third day of the Eid festivities, the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party (ANP) chief Asfandyar Wali Khan survived an assassination attempt in Charsadda. Instead of uniting political opinion, these attacks further exposed the fissures.In the meanwhile, pressure mounted along the Afghanistan frontier as the United States (US) troops carried out cross-border missile attacks on suspected mili-tant hideouts killing dozens of civilians including women and children. The US upped the ante by acknowledging for the first time that troops had actually landed on Pakistani soil and killed a number of people including civilians and suspected combatants. The military drive in the Bajaur tribal territory and in Swat district in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) continued. It was reported that militants had been forced to retreat in both these areas, and that Bajaur had become a test-ing ground for the nerve and stamina of the army. Estimates of people displaced from these areas now run into hundreds of thousands, and the International Com-mittee of the Red Cross (ICRC) officially declared Pakistan a war zone. Tribal mili-tias were reported to have risen against the Taliban and Al Qaida in a number of regions including Dir, Kurram, Buner, and Salarzai. This was seen as a major new development in the war through much of which the tribes had acquiesced to Taliban incursions and takeovers.Just as the war intensified so, paradoxi-cally, did the debate over whose war it was anyway – America’s or ours. This debate was made all the more sharper with the exit of Pervez Musharraf. Opposition to him had obscured the major divisions between his opponents on the war against jihadi militancy. In particular the two main protagonists – the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) – had been able to blur over the gap between their respective positions. The PPP had denounced Mush-arraf for not fighting hard or consistently, while the PML-N had accused him of adopting a needlessly aggressive approach at the behest of the Americans. In the political spectrum the ANP and the Mutta-hida Quami Movement (MQM) – both avowedly secular – stand with the PPP. The PML-N position is supported by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), Imran Khan and what seems like a majority of opinion-makers in newspaper columns and televi-sion talk shows.Outrageous and OutlandishThe “right-wing” argument – for want of better shorthand – is that Pakistan should stop fighting America’s war against jihadi militancy. Instead, there should be posi-tive political engagement with the mili-tants and a negotiated settlement. Some variants of this argument stretch to actu-ally confronting the US and Kabul. It is assumed that once Pakistan stops support-ing the US the militants will end their attacks against targets in Pakistan, and will withdraw to a peaceful life. There seems to be an unshakeable belief, per-haps born out of desperation, that jihadi militants do not nurture political ambi-tions within Pakistan.This discourse tries to rationalise all glaring evidence of jihadi stridency as de-fensive actions. When rationalisation runs out of steam there is always the option of blaming someone else: it is not the jihadis, but miscreants, trying to defame jihad (including Indian and Israeli agents!), that have been blowing up girls’ schools and publicly beheading lowly public officials and local residents who do not fall in line. There seems to be only one rule in the

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