Waziristan is once again in the cross-hare of our jet aircrafts and gunships. Daily air strikes reminiscent of World War II, killing men, women and children and destroying their mud houses, have become a tragic fact of life. While people were fast asleep, our jet aircrafts and gunships targeted their villages without prior notice to enable the women and children to vacate the area, and many lost their lives.
My association with Waziristan goes back to the late 1930s. My father was a Political Officer in Mir Ali, now razed to the ground by our jet aircrafts. Waziristan was on fire. The Faqir of Ipi was up in arms and was challenging the presence of British troops in the Waziristan hills. To combat this threat, the British were forced to flood Waziristan with military reinforcements.
All that changed when the British left. In September 1947, Mr. Jinnah took a bold decision to reverse the “pacification” policy. He withdrew regular troops from Waziristan and entered into new agreements with the tribes. Cunningham, the new Governor of NWFP, appointed by Mr. Jinnah was a Frontier expert. His disillusion with the “pacification” policy of the British was complete. “I think,” he wrote, “we must now face a complete change of policy. For nearly 25 years, Razmak has been occupied by regular troops and WANA for a few years less. The occupation of Waziristan has been a failure. It has not achieved peace or any appreciable economic development. It ties up an unreasonably large number of troops, and for the last 10 years there have been frequent major and minor offences against the troops.” Mr. Jinnah accepted Cunningham’s recommendations. The change in policy produced dramatic results almost overnight and paid rich dividends. The Wazir and Mehsud tribesmen, erstwhile enemies of the state, became the guardians of our western border.
Euripides once famously said, “Whom the Gods destroy, they first make mad.” At a time when Pakistan is extremely ill-prepared for adventurism on any serious scale, with the war in Malakand still not conclusively won, Swat still under army occupation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in his great wisdom, decided to unleash the hounds of war and opened a second front with air strikes against his own people in FATA.
The match is now lit, the blaze will soon spread like wild fire throughout the tribal areas and beyond. That is for sure. Today Pakistan is at war with itself. The country is tearing itself apart. Why? One thing is clear. There never was a more unnecessary war, a war more easy to stop, a war more easy to prevent, a war more difficult to justify and harder to win than that which will destroy and radicalise Waziristan.
The decision to launch a military operation in this highly sensitive border region, is ill-conceived, ill-advised, ill-timed, and would almost certainly turn into a prolonged bloody conflict, proving in time to be a massive self-inflicted wound. In the history of the world, no war was ever won by air strikes alone.
Flashback to East Pakistan: I was in Dhaka on March 25, 1971, when the army operation was launched. Early next morning, I saw long lines of our own people – men, women and children, with their pitiful belongings on their heads heading for the Indian border. Is history repeating itself in FATA? The exodus of men, women and children has already begun and is in full swing.
The lessons of the ill-fated army action in East Pakistan is: never, never, use your army against your own people. Never use jet aircrafts and gunships against your own people. It leads to civil war, foreign intervention and the breakup of the country. Military operation did not succeed in Baluchistan. It had to be called off very wisely by General Zia ul Haq in 1977. How can it succeed in FATA? We must eschew military option altogether, restore the dialogue and keep the talks going in search of a political solution. Military option is no option. It cannot be exercised against your own people. Dialogue, no matter how protracted, is the only option. That is the lesson of history.
Why kill your own people just to please the Americans? Why uproot lakhs and lakhs of your own people and turn them into refugees in their own country? Stop this absurd fighting, resume talks and you will see at once a new blossoming of hope all over the country.
The Pakistan army is a people’s army, in the sense that it belongs to the people of Pakistan. It is the only shield we have against foreign aggression. In the absence of strong political institutions, it is the only glue that is keeping our fragile federation together. Why use it against your own people? Why use force to resolve what is essentially a political problem? Why involve it in an unnecessary war in the mountains of Waziristan? Nothing will give our enemies greater pleasure than to see our army fighting its own people in a highly sensitive area close to Afghanistan.
Why doesn’t our military leadership learn from history? Asked if he had considered the implications of Napoleon’s Russian campaign, the General replied: “We military men make history. We don’t read it.” They are certainly making history on our Western border by waging war against their own countrymen. There is an old Russian saying: “Once you let your foot get caught in a quagmire, your whole body will be sucked in.” This is exactly what is happening to us in Waziristan.
We are now back to square one. Mr. Jinnah’s Waziristan policy which had stood the test of time has been reversed under American pressure. Our troops are back in Waziristan in aid of American troops fighting a war in Afghanistan that they have already lost. The result is a totally unnecessary and avoidable state of armed confrontation between the Pak army and the tribesmen. Those who know the Frontier are deeply concerned. Our civil and military leadership is playing with fire. By reversing Mr. Jinnah’s Waziristan policy at the behest of Americans, they have alienated powerful tribes in Waziristan and unsettled our Western border which had remained peaceful for 67 years since the birth of Pakistan.
There is a general perception that the TTP are not trust worthy and have taken up arms against the state without any justification or provocation. This is not wholly correct. It is the TTP who were betrayed time and again. In 2004 an agreement was reached, but the next day Moulvi Nek Mohammad was mysteriously killed in an American drone attack. Baitullah Mahsud, Hakimullah and Waliur Rehman, were all killed in order to sabotage the deals. A deal was also struck for the exchange of 300 ex-army prisoners on payment of compensation. Prisoners were released but no compensation was paid. In protest, the Governor Lt General Orakzai resigned. On three other occasions, agreements were reached for the exchange of prisoners. The Taliban released our prisoners, but the Taliban prisoners were not released.
The Mehsud and Wazir tribes of Waziristan are no strangers to external military interventions in their country. On each occasion the tribes and mountains won strategic victories, and troops were forced to withdraw back into the plains of the Indus valley. The British soon learned that you can annex land but not people.
As they say, “it is a wide road that leads to war and only a narrow path that leads home again.” In the early 1900s, a crusty British General, Andrew Skeen, wrote a guide to military operations in the Pashtun Tribal belt. His first piece of advice: “When planning a military expedition into Pashtun Tribal areas, the first thing you must plan is your retreat. All expeditions into this area sooner or later end in retreat under fire.” Let us hope the current expedition ends differently.
Decision-making in today’s Pakistan is bizarre. Many questions swirl. Why was the dialogue process not carried to its logical conclusion? Why was it peremptorily abandoned? Who decided to plunge Pakistan into a guerrilla war against its own people, raising the spector of a war on two fronts dreaded by military strategists and the general public alike? Who took the final decision to open a second front in FATA? The Prime Minister? The Cabinet? The Parliament? The Army? Who decides questions of war and peace in this country? In public perception, everything points to one inescapable conclusion: the decision to open a second front in Waziristan was not an internal decision. It was taken in response to irresistible pressure from the United States.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is playing with fire and acting like Conrad’s puffing gunboat in Heart of Darkness, shelling indiscriminately at the opaque darkness. The enemy is nebulous and the battlefield is everywhere. He has no address and no flag, wears no uniform, stages no parades, and marches to his own martial music. He requires no tanks or submarines or air force. He does not fear death. As the Soviets found in Afghanistan, the enemy doesn’t fight in conventional ways, but from behind big boulders and from concealments. He doesn’t have to win. He just has to keep fighting. Asymmetrical warfare is what they call it now.
No army, no matter how strong, has ever rescued a country from internal disorder, social upheaval and chaos. Army action can never quash the insurgency in FATA. It can only be managed until a political solution is found. No one can be bombed into moderation. This is a false and dangerous notion. The Taliban can be deterred militarily for a time but tanks, gunships and jet aircraft cannot defeat deeply felt beliefs.
The writer is a retired civil servant and senior political analyst.