Monday, October 25, 2004

Pakistan: And now even the Chinese!


While the intensity and number of sectarian attacks in Pakistan have been on the increase, the recent increase is unusual, to say the least. India and its intelligence agency, RAW, have often been accused of subverting peace in Pakistan. However, no agent of RAW could possibly wreak such havoc in our country without assistance and support from our own people. There is also little doubt that the attackers have succeeded. Not only have the Chinese pulled out of the Gomal Zam dam project, but they are also reconsidering abandoning others. Our government and all its spokesmen can cry themselves hoarse explaining the economic opportunities available for direct foreign investment in the country but few, if any, will avail them in the face of such insecurity.

And now even the Chinese!
Shaukat Qadir

There is need not only to reach out to militants and explain the government position but also finding alternative gainful employment for them. It would be pointless to explain the change of policy and leave them unemployed. Punitive action must be accompanied by a socio-economic development programme to prevent those discontented with a ‘pro-American’ government from joining the ranks of anti-state elements

Recent years have seen an ever-expanding cycle of violence in Pakistan, mostly between the various Muslim sects. However, the recent spate of violence is almost unprecedented. In Karachi, Lahore, Multan, and even Sialkot — which had never witnessed such incidents before — there have been suicide bombings, car bombs and merciless massacre with automatic weapons. Now, even the Chinese — our time-tested and universally popular friends — are under attack. Two engineers, as we know, were kidnapped, threatened with death, and one of them has paid with his life during the rescue operation. What has created the insecurity and deadly turbulence in our midst? Does it have anything to do with the military operations in Wana, Balochistan and elsewhere?

While the intensity and number of sectarian attacks in Pakistan have been on the increase, the recent increase is unusual, to say the least. India and its intelligence agency, RAW, have often been accused of subverting peace in Pakistan. However, no agent of RAW could possibly wreak such havoc in our country without assistance and support from our own people.

I suggest that the discontent with the government’s pro-America policies, which is still not very widespread, could quickly spread further. The Musharraf-led government is increasingly being viewed as acting not in the interests of its own people, but at the behest of Bush and company. This view receives credence due to the fact that most of the people the government today identifies as terrorists were, till a year or two ago, recipients of official support and encouragement. I can understand the reason for the volte face, even accept that there was no alternative, but the victims of this sudden change of policy see it only as a manifestation of the government’s pro-America bias. They also see America as the perpetual betrayer that will exploit Pakistan as long as it wishes and then ditch it again. They draw the parallel in reverse; if the Pakistani government has chosen to ditch those whom it was carefully husbanding till recently, it is acting in the US way.

When I narrated the formulation to a foreign journalist, she asked how this explained the attack against the Chinese? There is, after all, no faction in Pakistan — including the religious extremists — who do not refer to them as ‘our all-weather friends’. That is indeed quite true. But if the purpose is to destabilise President Musharraf — or rather ‘the pro-American’ government — what better way than to ensure that even those who should consider themselves the first to receive hospitality from every citizen of the country should feel insecure.

There is also little doubt that the attackers have succeeded. Not only have the Chinese pulled out of the Gomal Zam dam project, but they are also reconsidering abandoning others. Our government and all its spokesmen can cry themselves hoarse explaining the economic opportunities available for direct foreign investment in the country but few, if any, will avail them in the face of such insecurity.

So what can we do about it? There is little the government can do without first accepting the fact that most of the terrorists of today are its own creations. It does not have to acknowledge this publicly but it needs a clear understanding of the fact. Only then can it start looking at how to address the problem. Finally, the government seems to have made an attempt to enlist the support of the ulema. This is an important step but the effort appears to be too little and too late. Predictably, therefore, it has met with indifferent results.

I want to make two suggestions. First, the need to enlist support of a credible body of religious leaders. There used to be a Milli Yakjehti Council that had considerable success in defusing sectarian tensions. When a Shia gathering was attacked and several people killed, the Council met immediately to denounce those behind the attack. The next day the Sunni ulema attended the funeral of the Shia dead. After a similar attack on Sunnis shortly thereafter, the Shia ulema reciprocated the gesture. This established the likelihood of a ‘foreign hand’. It is perhaps time to revive the MYC. Second, there is a dire need to reach out to the state’s own creations now being viewed as agents of instability and explain to them the reasons for the change in policy. They need to be told that the country needs their support.

Achieving this cannot be easy. Because of the mistrust, the job will require a strategy that does not directly involve any government agency. The policy, however, must come from our ministry of information. It should entail not only reaching out to militants and explaining the government position but also finding alternative gainful employment for them. Could they be recruited in the Frontier Corps, the Levies or local police? It would be pointless to explain the change of policy and leave them unemployed. Nothing I have said is intended to suggest that those guilty of crimes against the state and its citizens should not be punished. Only that punitive action must be accompanied by a socio-economic development programme to prevent those discontented with a ‘pro-American’ government from joining the ranks of anti-state elements.

The author is a retired brigadier. He is also former vice president and founder of the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)

Daily Times 24/10/2004