Friday, December 26, 2014

Changing Titanic's Course

A very good and incisive article by one of the outstanding analysts of the country. Police officers will have to confront and fight the terrorism for a very long time to come and it is important that they understand the historical perspective of our present day woes. Reading the analysis by Mr. Abbas Nasir will help them to understand the context and the deep links of the terrorism in the society. A better understanding of this complex situation  will be of help to them in dealing with the menace professionally and more effectively.
Afzal A Shigri 

Changing Titanic's Course
December 27,2014
By Abbas Nasir
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

EVEN if the current resolve to finally tackle terrorism is military-led, is that reason enough to doubt it or, in a more extreme case, reject it? The answer has to be a resounding no.
No, because for long, many have believed that since this particular form of ‘jihad’ originated in a mostly Saudi-funded laboratory jointly run by CIA-ISI, the genie could only be put back in the bottle by one, or more, of the creators.The international partners who helped midwife this ideology don’t seem to be in a position to deal with it or lacking in desire because of their own narrow, regional interests. Therefore, the burden would remain squarely on ISI and its parent institution more so because it was fine-tuned by them to serve their own ‘strategic’ goals.When now, after seemingly an eternity, an army leadership has emerged which doesn’t appear plagued by what one former general calls ‘paralysis by analysis’ or a lacking in guts or worse still ideologically aligned to this form of toxic and eventually self-destructive ideology, scepticism was bound to follow.
After all, who hadn’t heard the ‘good Taliban, bad Taliban’ mantra for years. This scepticism was also in evidence at the meeting this week at the Prime Minister’s House where, according to a well-informed commentator: “The army chief on hearing the narrative from the civilian leadership about the past duality of approach reportedly said ‘bury the past, now it’s different’.”From most accounts of the meeting, it is clear that the participants were extended every assurance that each and every militant group will be dealt with even-handedly and the ban on outlawed groups be enforced and a mere name change won’t enable such entities to operate as before.
In recent years, the environment may have been hardly conducive to humour but many Pakistanis retain their cutting wit. The acronym of the National Action Plan (NAP), therefore, immediately generated jokes such as the suggestion that nothing had changed if the wise men/women of the nation had decided to counter terrorism with a ‘nap’.But on a serious note NAP seems like a sensible document. The only reservation I may have with it is that it calls for the setting up of military courts. For this, it was said, a constitutional amendment will need to be approved. Given the extraordinary security threat being faced by the country, if the Supreme Court finds this exercise acceptable, people like me might hold their peace too.
Under NAP, military courts will function for two years. If this time is used up to initiate and complete a root and branch reform in the judiciary; passing of laws that allow judges to hear evidence from behind screens in terrorism cases and video-link testimonies etc. then perhaps the respite won by speedy dispensation of justice via military courts would have been worth it.If the governing party and other signatories to NAP go back to doing nothing then they’ll have themselves to blame for the erosion of the civilian writ over the affairs of the state. Also, these two years need to see exceptional governance, including freeing the police from any political pressure.
The scale of the challenge is evident from just a couple of examples. Look at the published statement in court of the main accused (executed earlier this month) in the GHQ attack case: The arms for the GHQ attack were brought from Jhang. The huge truck-bomb that all but destroyed the Islamabad Marriot Hotel in 2008 was also driven in from Jhang. The threat comes as much from Fata-based militants as it does from groups harboured for long by the security establishment such as Jaish-e-Mohammad whose membership has always intertwined with Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan in southern Punjab.Southern Punjab is readily identified for elements who have bought into the takfiri ideology. Recent developments in Gujranwala suggest TTP is active in central Punjab too. If the number of Shia killings in Karachi is an indicator, sectarian killers are active and well-organised in the city like nowhere else.
Frankly, the scale of the challenge we are taking on can be gauged each Friday as semi-literate preachers spew hate from the pulpit across the country or from the fact that the spectrum is represented by outright adherents of the takfiri ideology to those seen as following a relatively softer approach but who still celebrated Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murderer or who call daily for the elimination of Ahmadis. That the civilian leadership and the military hierarchy finally say that the Peshawar school carnage was the red line for them, even if the mass murder of Hazara Shias or the lethal attack on praying Ahmadis in Lahore or the bombing of the church in the same city as the school mayhem may not have been, is good enough for me. If they mean it, that is.
In any case, it would be foolish to expect miracles and hope that Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the murderous assault on Mumbai civilians in 2009, would be dealt with in any significant way in the first phase. But for Pakistan’s anti-terror resolve to be credible, the trial of the Mumbai accused must proceed apace.All we see now is a major effort to ‘mainstream’ the group, even as it retains its capacity to wreak havoc on regional peace prospects. Who wouldn’t recall how it mourned for its Salafi brother-in-arms Osama bin Laden. It needs to be told any criminal misadventure like Mumbai won’t be tolerated. I suspect this is how far anyone will go for now.
Admittedly, my perspective is that of a beggar’s. As it is, the task before those at the helm, in the words of a Scottish journalist friend, is like changing the direction of the Titanic in the moments before it hit the iceberg. One lives in hope that the Sharif-Sharif combine will be able to do it.

Rearranging the Subcontinent

An interesting article that gives us the historical perspective of this region and also pinpoints the governance issues that need to be addressed and urgently with a bleak future for Pakistan and Afghanistan. The writer has however shown the grace and given some time to Pakistan to gradually become weak and ultimately become terminally sick. 
History of sub continent also tells us that if a major part is affected it also has a cascading effect and will certainly take down with it the entire region with far reaching impact internationally. With all its failings Pakistan is a stabilizing factor for the sub continent. 
Afzal A Shigri
Rearranging the Subcontinent
The division of the Indian subcontinent between two major states, India and Pakistan (as well as a minor one, Bangladesh), may not be history’s last word in political geography there. For, as I have previously observed, history is a record of many different spatial arrangements between the Central Asian plateau and the Burmese jungles.
For example, Pakistan can only be considered artificial if one is ignorant of the past in the region. Pakistan is merely the latest of various states and civilizations anchored either in the Indus River valley or in that of the Ganges. The chieftaincies of the late fourth to mid-second millennium B.C., comprising the Harappan civilization, stretched from Balochistan northeast up to Kashmir and southeast almost to Delhi and Mumbai — that is, greatly overlapping both present-day Pakistan and India. From the fourth to the second century B.C., large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India all fell under Mauryan rule. There was, too, the Kushan Empire, whose Indo-European rulers governed at times from what used to be Soviet Central Asia all the way to Bihar in northeastern India. And so it goes: For so much of history, there was simply no border between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the northern third of India — the heart of the Gangetic state.
And whereas the geography between Afghanistan and northern India was often politically united, the geography between today’s northern India and southern India was often divided. The point is, nothing we see on the current map should be taken for granted or, for that matter, is particularly anchored in history.
It was the British who actually created what in logistical terms is the subcontinent, uniting what is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in the late 19th century through a massive railway grid that stretched from the Afghan border in the northwest to the Palk Strait near Sri Lanka in the deep south, and from Karachi in Pakistan to Chittagong in Bangladesh. (The Mughals and the Delhi sultanate also unified many of these areas, but through a looser system of control.) Because Afghanistan was ultimately unconquerable by British forces in the 19th century and also had a difficult terrain, it was left out of this modern railway civilization. But don’t assume that this particular British paradigm will last forever.
In fact, it has been crumbling for decades already. Pakistan’s de facto separation from Afghanistan began to end somewhat with the Soviet invasion of the latter country in December 1979, which ignited a refugee exodus down the Khyber and other passes that disrupted Pakistani politics and worked to further erode the frontier between the Pashtuns in southern and eastern Afghanistan and the Pashtuns in western Pakistan. By serving as a rear base for the Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviets during that decadelong war, which I covered first hand, the Soviet-Afghan war helped radicalize politics inside Pakistan itself. Johns Hopkins University Professor Jakub Grygiel observes that when states involve themselves for years on end in irregular, decentralized warfare, central control weakens. For a concentrated and conventional threat creates the need to match it with a central authority of its own. But the opposite kind of threat can lead to the opposite kind of result. And because of the anarchy in Afghanistan in the 1990s following the Soviet departure and the continuation of fighting and chaos in the decade following 9/11, Pakistan has had to deal with irregular, decentralizing warfare across a very porous border for more than a third of a century now. Moreover, with American troops reducing their footprint in Afghanistan, the viability of Afghanistan could possibly weaken further, with a deleterious effect on Pakistan.
This raises the question of the viability of Pakistan itself and, by association, the continued existence of the current hard-and-fast borders of India, especially given that Bangladesh as well is, in relative terms, a weak and artificially conceived state in almost never-ending turmoil.
Pakistan is not necessarily artificial, of course. As Stratfor has written, Pakistan is the demographic and national embodiment of all the Muslim invasions that have passed down into India through much of history. It is artificial only to the extent that this vast Muslim demography, rather than configuring with a state, extends all the way from Anatolia to central India, and thus the specific borders of Pakistan only work to the extent that Pakistan is reasonably well governed, with responsive bureaucratic institutions, and possesses a civil society that reaches into the tribal hinterlands. But that is demonstrably not the case.
So Afghanistan truly matters, if not necessarily to American grand strategy than to the political destiny of Pakistan and thus to the Greater Indian subcontinent.
A post-American Afghanistan means a number of things. It means some further consolidation of Iranian influence in the western and central parts of the country and an extension of some Iranian influence in eastern Afghanistan as well. This is because Pakistan will be frustrated in projecting even more influence into eastern and southern Afghanistan because of its own Taliban problem on its side of the border. In the 1990s, Pakistan could simply provide logistical and other means of support to the Afghan Taliban; now it is not so easy. At the same time, though, the Saudis will work through the Pakistanis to project whatever influence they can in Afghanistan. And Russia, through the Central Asian republics — whose ethnic groups have compatriots inside northern Afghanistan — might exert more influence, too. India will work with both the Iranians and the Russians to exert its own influence as a limiting factor to that of the Pakistanis and the Saudis, even as the Pakistanis lately try to balance between the Iranians and the Saudis. Such competing outside influences and interferences may tend to work against central control from Kabul rather than in support of it. And an Afghanistan in partial chaos — let alone a complete state breakdown — may work over time to further destabilize Pakistan.
Of course, Pakistan would not suddenly collapse in this scenario. But it could decay in an exceedingly gradual way that its supporters and attendant area experts might at first be able to deny, even as the evolving mundane facts on the ground would be undeniable. The signs of decay are electricity outages, water shortages, a further deterioration of the urban environment, the inability to travel here and there in outlying areas because of security issues, the inability to get much done at a government office without a bribe or a fixer. Pakistan has experienced such phenomena for decades already; the key will be the increase or decrease in their intensity. A state that cannot monopolize the use of force and cannot supply adequate public services is weak. Pakistan we know is weak, despite the strengthening of its democracy and civil society in recent years. It already has ongoing insurgencies in the tribal areas, in Balochistan and in Karachi. But will it become steadily weaker? Because prime ministers and presidents come and go, I am thinking beyond the high politics in Islamabad, New Delhi and Kabul and am more concerned with the granular, ground level reality in places such as Karachi or Quetta, or in the other parts of Sind and Balochistan.
What would a terminally diseased Pakistani state come to look like? It might see more feisty regionalism in the southern provinces of Balochistan and Sind, whose leaders told me on a trip through the area some years ago that they would prefer over time a closer relationship with New Delhi than with Islamabad. These are people who never accepted a strong Pakistani state to begin with and always advocated more federalism. With Balochistan and Sind moving closer to India, and the Afghanistan-Pakistan Pashtun border area in permanent disarray because of turmoil inside Afghanistan according to such a scenario, then a rump state of Greater Punjab might begin to emerge — again, denied for years by officials up until the point that it is undeniable.
India, of course, would not like any of this. Top officials of responsible states — which India certainly is — prefer the status quo and quiescent borders, not their opposite. But India might at some point in the 21st century have no choice but to confront Pakistan’s partial dissolution, and that would irrevocably change India.
Because geopolitics values not the ceremonial statements of leaders but the reality of control on the ground, the Indian subcontinent will continue to fascinate. It is important to note here Henry Kissinger’s view on India in his latest book, World Order: “India will be a fulcrum of twenty-first-century order: an indispensable element, based on its geography, resources, and tradition of sophisticated leadership, in the strategic and ideological evolution of the regions and the concepts of order at whose intersection it stands.