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Deeply Implicated in Pakistan

The overwhelming emphasis on Pakistan in the "war on terror" is disingenuous. What is called "global terrorism" is not a phenomenon that exists in thin air, it is fuelled by the imperial hubris of Washington and its allies; it cannot be defeated by the use of unbridled force. It is an exercise in deception to suggest that the spread of the Taliban (or Al Qaida, for that matter) has nothing to do with the "war on terror".

COMMENTARY
Deeply Implicated in Pakistan Aasim Sajjad Akhtar that the Pakistani state needs to take a stand, and break with its jihadi protégés. Failed Paradigm Indeed, recently considerable alarm has

The overwhelming emphasis on Pakistan in the “war on terror” is disingenuous. What is called “global terrorism” is not a phenomenon that exists in thin air, it is fuelled by the imperial hubris of Washington and its allies; it cannot be defeated by the use of unbridled force. It is an exercise in deception to suggest that the spread of the Taliban (or Al Qaida, for that matter) has nothing to do with the “war on terror”.

Aasim Sajjad Akhtar (amajid@comsats.net.pk) is affiliated with the People’s Rights Movement in Pakistan and is also with the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

O
n 14 April, a prominent English daily headquartered in Rawalpindi – the home of the Pakistani army – published an open letter written by a retired Indian army officer addressed to the Pakistani chief of army staff, urging the latter to take urgent action against the “Taliban”, described by the author of the letter as a common enemy of the Indian and Pakistani people.

The theme is not new: for the best part of the past decade, statesmen, mediapersons and academics have asserted the need for unity in the face of the (rather nebulous) “terrorist threat”. For a long time terror was depicted as a somewhat decentered force, but now the mainstream consensus appears to be that Pakistan is very much the epicentre of the phenomenon that is global terrorism.

The letter mentioned above simply reiterates the point made by many others: that the Pakistani state needs to make a clear commitment to take on, rather than aid and abet, the “terrorists”. In a different time and place, Indians might have perceived the openness of the demand to constitute a moral victory in itself; until quite recently the Pakistani state refused to admit its patronage of what New Delhi consistently called “cross-border terrorism” in Kashmir. But then the Mumbai attacks took place and the enormity of the problem at hand – and the meaninglessness of moral and diplomatic victories – dawned upon one and all.

Despite the contradictions that the s o-called “war on terror” has produced, the mainstream Pakistani media has e nsured that it is still considered heresy to call out the long history of collusion b etween the security establishment and “jihadi” militants. There is still tremendous resistance within the establishment to reconsidering its obsolete India-centric security paradigm which has mandated proxy war in Kashmir and Afghanistan for decades. Yet a good number of Pakistanis agree with the international consensus

may 9, 2009

been raised both in and outside of Pakistan vis-a-vis the advance of the Taliban. On the back of yet another “peace deal” between militants and security forces in Swat – many such deals having failed in the recent past – a number of liberal commentators have suggested that Pakistan faces an existential threat. Such alarmism serves only to reinforce a failed paradigm of “counter-terrorism” that relies primarily on the use of force. Even if Pakistan’s security establishment was not thoroughly compromised, the wars in Iraq and Afgha nistan have proven that military might only creates conditions conducive for “terrorism”.

And this is why the overwhelming emphasis on Pakistan in the present conjuncture is disingenuous at best. The citizens of the western democracies have noted time and again, sometimes on the streets, and sometimes through the ballot box, that what is called “global terrorism” is not a phenomenon that exists in thin air, that it is fuelled by the imperial hubris of Washington and its allies, and that it cannot be defeated by the use of unbridled force. It is an exercise in deception to suggest that the spread of the Taliban (or Al Qaida, for that matter) has nothing to do with the “war on terror”. In fact, the “war on terror” has made ordinary people less, rather than more, secure.

Support for Insurgency

In India progressive forces have spoken out against Washington’s attempts to dominate the world. As, if not more, i mportant are the voices that continue to demand an end to state repression in Kashmir and the north-east, because they indicate how foolish it is to pretend that “terrorists” are all conspirators backed by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Even if it were the case that the ISI has a hand in all the insurgencies in India, this does not equate to suggesting that there are no o bjective causes of insurgency. The same of course applies to Baloch insurgents in Paki stan who have long been a ccused of conspiring with the

vol xliv no 19

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Economic & Political Weekly

COMMENTARY

Research and A nalysis Wing (RAW) to undermine Pakistan.

But it is all too convenient for those in power to make “terrorism” an ahistorical phenomenon. If the saner voices in the United States, India, Pakistan and other parts of the world were to be heeded, much more substantial political changes would have to undertaken – both in the domestic sphere and internationally – than the “coalition of the willing” would be willing to commit to.

America’s Destructive Role

The late Pakistani thinker Eqbal Ahmad once controversially questioned the term terrorism, and distinguished between “theirs” and “ours”. Of course Eqbal Ahmad wrote before the onset of the “war on terror” and many people will argue that it is no longer possible to claim any kind of terrorism as “ours”. I believe that, to a significant extent, Eqbal Ahmad’s dichotomy is still worth thinking about; the much used cliché “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” comes to mind. However, if there is a growing consensus that all forms of “terrorism” are unacceptable, then there is an urgent need to hold sovereign powers – states and international agencies such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – to the same standards as the “Taliban” and all other renegade forces that are said to be the enemies of civilisation. The carnage being perpetrated against Tamils by the Sri Lankan government at the present time speaks volumes about the double standards within the international community vis-a-vis “terrorism”. And no one can deny that the US is the primary force behind this international “consensus”. The radicalisation of large populations in the Muslim world is owed in large part to the destructive role of modern American imperialism.

In Pakistan the alarmists seem to be invoking imperialism to do away with the Taliban, a demand that is short-sighted at best and downright hypocritical at worst. The infamous Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi has been proclaiming itself to be the carrier of enlightenment values and the last hope against the Taliban. In essence it is trying to win over the liberal elite – which it is horrifying managing to do – and to signal to Washington that it is ready and willing to play the role of loyal client. It is worth noting that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has recently exhorted Pakistanis to openly denounce “terrorism”; the MQM clearly wants to be considered the vanguard in this heroic battle. In practice the MQM is fanning ethic hatred in Karachi – which contains the world’s single population of ethnic Pakhtuns – by equating all Pakhtuns to the Taliban. The similarity between the exclusi vist discourse of the MQM and that of the Raj vis-a-vis the “lawless” Pakhtuns is chilling.

Contradictions in ‘War on Terror’

The contradictions that have been spouted by the “war on terror” are growing by the day. And while the Pakistani state arguably has a major role in determining the future trajectory of this bloody battle, there are other protagonists who must be held to account.

More than anyone else, ordinary P akistanis want their own state to sever its links with jihadis and also to address the deep structural reasons that draw young men and women to jihadi ideo logies. But they also wonder how serious Washington is in its claims to be com mitted to the same goals given its long-standing and continuing patronage of the Pakistani army and its refusal to countenance sovereignty of nations that refuse to do its bidding. And where many Pakistanis do not subscribe to the security establishment’s hate-mongering against India, they w onder whether I ndians are willing to take on their own security establishment which is just as o ppo sed to peace as its Pakistani counterpart.

The rest of the world needs to realise – as do the alarmists within Pakistan – that the Taliban cannot be wiped out by force. The American occupation of Afghanistan is their life-force, and the hordes of young men suffering exclusion from the dominant social and political order their cannon fodder. There is of course the ethnic dimension that remains underspecified in most accounts of what is happening in the region. It is insufficient to attribute “terrorism” in the region to some vague concept of international jihad. While the ideational power of Islam is important in explaining what is happening, the ethnic bond between Pakhtuns on either side of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border must also be adequately considered.

Instead of deep analysis about the complex situation on the ground, rhetoric abounds about the safety of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal given the impending “Taliban” takeover. Such knee-jerk reactions serve only to reinforce the problem; the Bush years proved this beyond doubt. The Indian colonel who wrote the open letter mentioned at the outset is absolutely right that “terrorism” is our collective problem. And this is why those forces who are implicated alongside the deeply implicated Pakistani state must also be held accountable.

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