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Waziristan and Chechnya

26 April, 2010

By Ahmed Quraishi


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It was brave on the part of the Pakistan army chief to publicly apologise for mistakenly bombing and killing tens of innocent people in a Khyber Agency village. In a similar incident in 2006 during the reign of his predecessor, where a US missile killed up to 80 children in a school, the action was not only defended but the Pakistani military was forced to own it, giving the first signal to everyone that innocent Pakistanis can be killed with impunity as part of the war on terror. Since then, more than a thousand innocent Pakistanis have lost their lives as collateral damage in these ‘successful’ drone attacks. This would remain one of the darkest spots in our history where our rulers shirked their responsibility for the protection of every Pakistani citizen on our soil.

But the army chief’s apology is also an opportunity to review whether it is acceptable to have allowed ourselves and our American allies to import their methods of dealing with occupied populations in Iraq and Afghanistan to be used with our own people inside our own homeland.

This review is important because these imported methods of dealing with occupied populations are not only unsuitable here but are radicalising our own citizens instead of pacifying them, producing more disgruntled citizens for our enemies to recruit, brainwash and use to kill more Pakistanis and spread mayhem.

In using these imported methods we are committing the same mistake that President Putin, now a prime minister, has been committing in Chechnya for the past decade. He successfully curbed the insurgency and ended the ability of the US and other countries to use Chechnya to bleed Russia by covertly supplying weapons and intelligence to the insurgents. But instead of building on that success, Mr Putin continues to use aggressive tactics in Chechnya, breeding more insurgents and more opportunities for outsiders to meddle.

The same is happening in our tribal belt. Just when we have stamped out insurgents and criminals in some pockets, here comes the collateral damage – both from CIA drones and our own occasional mishaps – to create additional pools of disgruntled citizens ready to be picked up by anyone who has resources to use them against the Pakistani state.

It’s a vicious cycle that destroys the massive nation-building work that our military is conducting in places such as Swat, with the military’s own money and often without any support from incompetent civilian governments in Islamabad and Peshawar. For example, few people know that our soldiers donated two days’ pay to collect US$1.2 million to renovate more than half of the 400 schools in Swat destroyed by terrorist groups. The army is building roads and restoring water supply lines in Swat, even organising cultural and musical events to provide much-needed entertainment to a disturbed population and restore normalcy. Not to mention achieving the impossible by restoring two million refugees back to their homes in less than a year.

But all of this good work is eaten away by the kind of massive bloodshed that occurred on April 10 at remote Tirah Valley of Khyber Agency. Despite the brave apology, the accident will create new rebels and revenge-seekers. It also brings into focus an old complaint about the veracity of intelligence that the Americans have and share with our military. Once again, the insurgency within our tribal belt is directly linked with the American mismanagement in Afghanistan. Allowing the Americans or anyone else to set up spy networks inside our territory and unleash private defence contractors in beards and local dresses is like allowing our own people and territory to be treated in the same manner as Iraq and Afghanistan, which are foreign-occupied zones. This foreign element, including collateral damage and the faulty intelligence that causes it, is also sending a wrong message to ambitious criminal and tribal leaders and politicians, and that message is: the Pakistani state and its military are too weak to check foreign meddling and thus taking matters into their own hands is a legitimate option.

Another mistake that is bound to breed more enemies for the state is our faulty policy of not clearly asserting that the Afghan Taliban along with any other Afghan parties are legitimate Afghan political players. Fighting them is not and should never be Pakistan’s responsibility. The presence of some Afghan Taliban on Pakistani soil is due to close ties between Pakistani and Afghan Pashtuns. The solution is not for Pakistan to help the US eliminate them, but to resolve the deadlock inside Afghanistan that has resulted in the Afghan Taliban escaping their country to take refuge here.

Make no mistake about it: rebels who terrorise and kill Pakistanis must be eliminated by force and without mercy. But allowing outsiders to kill our people directly or through faulty intelligence means we will see suicide attackers for a long time to come.

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