Swat and the Doctrine of Necessity

‘The Swat accord is doctrine of necessity in its purest form’, Ayaz Amir argues.

Those armchair warriors — and there’s no shortage of them out here — who are wringing their hands over the Swat accord should ask themselves whether the government had any alternative. Necessity, and iron necessity at that, is the mother of this accord. The authorities were left with no other option because the Swat Taliban under the command of Maulana Fazlullah had fought the army to a standstill.

In Pakistan, as indeed elsewhere, sending in the army is the option of last resort. We had tried this option in Swat and it hadn’t worked. In fact the Taliban, far from being defeated, were in the ascendant, their grip on Swat tighter than before the operation began. The army was there, as it still is, taking distant artillery shots at the Taliban, and occasionally sending in helicopter gunships, but for all that confined largely to its bunkers.

Guerrilla insurgencies are not defeated by such long-range or long-distance tactics. So what was the ANP government in Peshawar to do?

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NWFP’s Sensible Compromise

The NWFP government has made a sensible decision. Pakistani military has no deterrence power in the region. The ill-conceived counter-insurgency operation has only hurt civilians, and has allowed the insurgency to spread. One only hopes the ceasefire is not undermined once again by the clowns in Islamabad at the behest of their Washington masters.

Our rulers: erratic, fearful and full of deceit‘, writes Shireen M Mazari, a sober defense analyst.

Just when one was about to commend the President for finally seeing the light in terms of agreeing to the NWFP government signing a deal with the TNSM for peace in Swat, we witnessed the usual backtracking from the Presidency, if Ms Rehman the official propagandist is to be believed. That, in turn, led to the ANP government being pushed into a state of confusion over what exactly it had signed on to in the agreement it made in front of representatives of all the major political parties – barring the JI which refused to attend. This has marked all the negotiations and agreements made to end militancy and violence earlier also – not just in Swat but also in FATA where US drones always put paid to any peace through negotiations.

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‘Intense, focused and targeted’

Rahimullah Yusufzai on developments in Swat and the delusions of the armchair militarists.

Unlike the earlier two phases of the military operations in Swat in 2007 and 2008, the latest one initiated in late January is being praised by the ANP-PPP government in the NWFP and sections of the population opposed to the militants. The more discerning elements of the civil society, who tend to criticise almost anything that doesn’t conform to their political and intellectual orientation, are also backing the intensified military action. The main reason for the support to the armed forces this time is due to the belief that the latest military operation is intense, focused and targeted.

This reminds one of a statement made by Gen Pervez Musharraf on the eve of the US invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. In a bid to win public support for his unpopular decision to ally Pakistan with the US at the time, he had argued that the American military action in the neighbouring, Taliban-ruled country would be quick, focused and targeted. Obviously, the General was trying to reassure Pakistanis that this was going to be over soon as he calculated the Taliban regime would collapse and the US troops would go home after installing a pro-West government in Kabul. Though President George W Bush contradicted his Pakistani counterpart, Gen Musharraf didn’t correct his flawed assessment. Supremely confident of his military knowledge and intellectual prowess, he even claimed at the time that the Taliban could not fight a guerrilla war and, therefore, would soon become irrelevant.

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And the drone policy continues…

There is no single journalist who is more knowledgeable and incisive when it comes to the consequences of the so-called ‘war on terror’ on Pakistan than Rahimullah Yusufzai. Since so much nonsense has been proliferating about Pakistan courtesy of both ill-informed Western journalists, and the native informers (*), PULSE will strive to provide fuller coverage of developments in the region.  Here is Rahimullah Yusufzai on the continuing US bombing of the Pakistani tribal belt.

The issue of missile strikes by US drones in Pakistan’s territory has dominated politics and the media in recent days and weeks. The new Obama administration has made it clear the attacks will continue despite statements of disapproval on an almost daily basis by Pakistani leaders, who argue that this policy was undermining Islamabad’s efforts to counter the militancy.

Robert Gates, who has been retained as defence secretary by President Barack Obama to ensure continuity to Washington’s policy in its ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, became the first American official last week to publicly comment on the issue of drone attacks in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Normally, US officials avoid commenting on the topic in public and instead unnamed sources in the Pentagon or the intelligence agencies leak information to the American media about such attacks, along with the claim that someone important in Al Qaeda had been killed. At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr Gates said the US would continue to carry out missile attacks against Al Qaeda militants in Pakistan. The US, he warned, will “go after Al Qaeda wherever Al Qaeda is.” He also said the decision had been conveyed to the government of Pakistan.

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Emperor Obama

Obama is certainly a good diplomat. He’s given an interview to a fawning journalist from the Saudi-owned Arabiyah channel (as opposed to the more credible Jazeera) in which he talks nice. Examine his words, however, and you see that the basic parameters have not budged an inch. ‘Israel’s security’ remains paramount; Hamas and Hizbullah are implicitly labelled terrorist (Iran supports terrorist organisations); the liberation of Palestine is reduced to an issue of economic development. On the ground, meanwhile, Obama’s first week was marked by the imperial murder of tens of civilians in Pakistan. Richard Seymour  provides an excellent analysis here:

The first Democratic president in the modern era to be elected on an anti-war ticket is also, to the relief of neocons and the liberal belligerati, a hawk. Committed to escalation in Afghanistan, his foreign policy selections also indicate bellicosity towards Sudan and Iran. During his first week in office he sanctioned two missile attacks in Pakistan, killing 22 people, including women and children. And his stance on Gaza is remarkably close to that of the outgoing administration. The question now is how Obama will convince his supporters to back that stance. Bush could rely on a core constituency whose commitment to peace and human rights is, at the very least, questionable. Obama has no such luxury. In making his case, he will need the support of those “liberal hawks” who gave Bush such vocal support.

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Obama’s Vietnam?

‘Friday’s airstrikes are evidence Obama will take the hard line he promised in Pakistan and Afghanistan,’ writes Juan Cole. ‘But he should remember what happened to another president who inherited a war’. Like most western commentators Cole reproduces uncritically claims about the deaths of ‘foreign fighters’ (unconfirmed, for the record). Pakistani officials are usually just as eager to conjure up foreign fighters in order to mitigate the backlash that the extrajudicial murder of innocent tribals would elicit.

On Friday, President Barack Obama ordered an Air Force drone to bomb two separate Pakistani villages, killing what Pakistani officials said were 22 individuals, including between four and seven foreign fighters. Many of Obama’s initiatives in his first few days in office — preparing to depart Iraq, ending torture and closing Guantánamo — were aimed at signaling a sharp turn away from Bush administration policies. In contrast, the headline about the strike in Waziristan could as easily have appeared in December with “President Bush” substituted for “President Obama.” Pundits are already worrying that Obama may be falling into the Lyndon Johnson Vietnam trap, of escalating a predecessor’s halfhearted war into a major quagmire. What does Obama’s first military operation tell us about his administration’s priorities?

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