What fate awaits a government that wages war on its own people as the regime of general Pervez Musharraf is doing in Pakistan? Having experienced the tragedy of East Pakistan, most Pakistanis know the answer, but appear not to have grasped the gravity of the current crisis. The disastrous policy of attacking tribesmen in Waziristan, and now also in Balochistan, has set two vital regions of Pakistan’s borderlands on fire. The operations launched in Waziristan in March last year against the Waziri tribes have now spread to the Mehsud tribes as well. Far from subduing them, the military’s attacks have so angered the people that they now regard the military as their prime enemy.
The latest assault on South Waziristan was launched on September 8, when a military truck hit a landmine in the main market of Wana. Wana market had been shut down by the military more than six months ago, putting the livelihoods of tens of thousands in jeopardy. Already angry, the tribesmen were further outraged when soldiers started to shoot indiscriminately after the landmine exploded, wounding scores; eight were arrested and executed on the spot to terrorize the population. The next day helicopter-gunships bombed the village of Shanki Jela near Luddah, inhabited by the Mehsud tribe that had hitherto stayed out of the fighting; a number of villagers were killed. When the imam of a local masjid called on people to help the wounded, and people responded, helicopter-gunships and artillery opened fire on them, killing more than 100 civilians, at least half of them children. A military spokesman had the audacity to say that the children had been training as terrorists.
Lieutenant-general Safdar Husain, corps commander Peshawar, whose forces are involved in the atrocities, tried to personalize the conflict by saying that this was all the fault of Abdullah Mehsud, recently released from Guantanamo Bay. Abdullah lost a leg during the Afghan jihad, and has fought government forces since because he sees that they are waging war on behalf of the US. General Safdar had earlier reneged on an agreement with Nek Muhammad, a 27-year-old tribal commander from Wana, and killed him on June 18 by firing missiles at a house where he was staying. This was the result of a joint US-Pakistan operation, with Americans providing information about Nek Muhammad’s whereabouts after a cell-phone conversation whose signal an American drone had picked up. In a show of defiance tens of thousands took part in Nek Muhammad’s funeral. Pakistani soldiers are now so hated that if they venture out they are attacked. GeneralSafdar, meanwhile, sits in a fortified compound in Peshawar hurling rhetorical volleys at the tribesmen, while ordinary soldiers and militiamen get killed in a US-launched crusade. The tribesmen had posed no threat to Pakistan before the assault.
Such tactics cannot possibly endear Pakistan’s military to the local tribesmen. Nor has the war against them been without cost to the military. The general admitted in a press conference inPeshawar on October 19 that the security forces, including the army and paramilitary personnel, have lost 171 men since March; hundreds have been wounded. Losses among tribesmen, especially women and children, run into the thousands. The government has tried to brush these off by claiming that it is targeting only “foreign militants”: a claim that is challenged by the member of the National Assembly from South Waziristan, who said in Islamabad that he would resign his seat if the government could prove the presence of even one foreigner in the tribal area. Since the military campaign not only foreigners but also a large number of tribesmen, all seething with anger over government policy, have moved over the mountains to Afghanistan.
There is widespread belief among the tribesmen that the Pakistani military is being paid by the USto attack its own people. This belief is reinforced by the fact that all attempts to find a peaceful solution, including the traditional jirga, have been spurned by the military. Fighting has also spread to the neighbouring province of Balochistan. General Safdar has admitted that the maximum number of “foreign militants” in the tribal region could be around 100, but has not explained why 75,000 troops are needed to deal with so few. Musharraf says there are 500 to 600, but even those do not justify such a huge deployment.
The US-crusade charge is beginning to gain currency, reinforced by the Americans’ own behaviour. During a four-day visit to Pakistan during October 16-19, Christine Rocca, US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, held discussions not only with Pakistani foreign secretary RiazKhokhar but also with Musharraf, prime minister Shaukat Aziz and education minister JavedAshraf. The US has been pushing for changes in the madrassah curriculum throughout Pakistan. Although a government spokesman said that “there was nothing earth-shaking or any one specific issue or concern that dominated the talks”, Rocca has pressed for “educational reform”. According to the Karachi daily Dawn (October 20), “Ms Rocca conveyed that the US government was eager to see the... implementation of... reforms... in the curriculum to strengthen the existing system and modernise the madrassahs”. The day Rocca met Pakistani officials in Islamabad, US secretary of state Colin Powell was heaping his own praise on Musharraf in an interview with USA Today. He too emphasised the importance of “educational reform” of Pakistani madrassahs.
The US obsession with changing the curriculum of Pakistani madrassahs shows their real agenda. The curriculum, especially the emphasis on jihad, was eagerly promoted by the US while the Afghans were fighting the Red Army in the 1980s. During that period, the US sent sacks full of dollars to help the madrassahs; now jihad has become a dirty word because it is directed against the American occupiers. More importantly, anyone entertaining such dangerous notions must be eliminated. The US has demanded that Pakistan’s army do this, failing which it will do the job itself. Pakistani information minister Shaikh Rashid has admitted that if the Pakistani military had not attacked the Wazir and Mehsud tribes, American forces would have done so. This pathetic excuse indicates the level of subservience– indeed, thralldom– of Pakistan’s ruling elites. Pakistanis wonder how America, which (its rulers never tire of telling its people) is an ally, can violate Pakistani sovereignty with such impunity. The bitter reality is that Pakistan has no sovereignty, independence or autonomy; it is now as much under occupation as Afghanistan orIraq. One of the few differences is that the killing of Pakistanis is done by Pakistan’s own army.
The anger of the Waziri and Mehsud tribes, as well as of the people of Balochistan, is akin to what the people of erstwhile East Pakistan felt when general Yahya Khan unleashed his army against them in March 1971. Yahya did so in the mistaken belief that he was saving the country;Musharraf’s crime is that he is fighting America’s dirty war. The net result cannot be very different. The Pakistan army has now abandoned even the pretence of aspiring to liberateKashmir. For decades the military has consumed the lion’s share of the country’s budget and got other undeserved perks, all for the struggle to liberate Kashmir and to complete partition. Having got used to such perks, and stuffed huge bank-accounts with matching bellies, they have no stomach at all left to fight anyone, anywhere. Having tasted the blood of their own people, they must sate their lust by killing more civilians; if America pays for it, so much the better. It isPakistan that will ultimately lose, long after the generals have been consigned to the dustbin of history.