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Hafiz Saeed, Taliban and Obama’s Af-Pak Policy – Pakistan on a Knife’s edge?

June 3, 2009

India is looking at Pakistan in disbelief. Lahore High Court has passed a judgement ordering the release of the chief of Jamaat-ud Daawa – Hafiz Saeed. The charges were frivolous too – disturbing public order! The honorable court found that there was no ground to keep the demagogue under house arrest. Hafiz Saeed is the same man who was released by the Indian authorities after the Indian Airlines plane IC 814 was hijacked to Kandahar in 1999. He is believed to be behind the Parliament attack, the Mumbai train attack and the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. In Pakistan the Jamaat ud Daawa is seen as a charitable organization and it is said that JuD was active in relief work during earthquakes and other natural calamities. The man spews vitriolic against India, the US and the Zionists. While the JuD may be active in relief work, it is also true that they have been propagating violence and it will surprise no one if their men are behind many of the attacks in India. They have linkages to Lashkar-e-Taiba. Where these organizations end and al-Quaeda begins with Taliban at their side is a difficult question. And pray, where does the ISI fit into all this is another dimension of the jig-saw puzzle. The pious Americans have a finger in every pie – and ISI was an extension of the CIA for long. They have not been mere bystanders.

The other fact about Pakistan is that the country is tottering economically. They have serious balance of payment issues and were on the verge of a default on the interest on loans. Americans bailed them out as did the Chinese. The country is in dire straits economically. There has been little development over the years and most of the infrastructure is of British vintage. The educational levels are abysmally low. Even the ‘educated’ are mostly versed in religion and have little modern education. Radicalism in Pakistan society is rife. There is a total lack of institutions and the country has a ‘democracy’ that is switched on and off like a light bulb. To add to all this is the constant interference of the Americans who have a myopic view of the nation and a people who for them are mere pawns. For them Pakistan is a strategic asset to be used as pleased. The Pakistan army is the last bastion that holds the country together. And this last bastion is heavily subsidized by the Americans. It is like a private army at the disposal of Washington. Washington pays more than a billion dollars for the upkeep of the Pakistan army every year. This 700,000 strong army is at the beck and call of its masters in land yonder. The corps commanders have close links with those sitting in Pentagon.

In mid nineties the Pakistan People’s Party under the leadership of a young lady named Benazir Bhutto took charge of the country. Her interior minister Nasrullah Babar was given the task of mobilizing young men from madrasas in north-west of the country and give them arms and ammunition and logistical support. Of course, this was done with the approval of their masters in Washington. This force was called the Taliban and it tried to run over the whole of Afghanistan. The 9/11 attacks made the US take a U turn and they went after a force they helped create. The Taliban found refuge in the Federally Administered Tribal Agencies (FATA) and Peshawar became their hub. The Pashtu speaking rugged warriors started regrouping and soon their writ run in north-west of the country. Islamabad saw that they could do little to stop the rise of this Islamic outfit. They tried to broker a peace with the ever expanding Taliban who had now taken control of Swat. The radicalization of Pakistan society saw ordinary Pakistanis having an inclination towards a more orthodox Islam. Punjab came under the sway of such radicalism. We now have a situation where radical elements in Pakistan Punjab have links with Pashtun Taliban. The Punjabi Taliban was behind the Mumbai attacks. At least one of the Mumbai attackers was a Pashtun and could not speak Punjabi. America went to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan but now finds itself enmeshed in a much trickier situation in Pakistan. The chickens have come home to roost. And roost they will in another country, another area which is not quite as accessible as the original. The Americans have a task on their hands.

The situation becomes deadly when such a volatile country as Pakistan is armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons. They have missiles that have a range of more than 2000 kilometers. And now they have a second strike capability. I agree that most of this technology is borrowed and is not indigenous. But fissile material is a threat nevertheless. The expansion of Taliban into Swat and on to Buner alarmed the West. A crackdown was ordered. The mercenary Pakistan army swung into action. They needed the money to keep itself and the country afloat. They razed to ground towns and cities. Mingora is a shadow of itself. It was a town with a population of more than 300,000, but today less than 20,000 residents remain. Most have fled and are living in tents provided by the UNHCR. The city has turned to rubble with decaying bodies and no electricity. The only hospital is a heap. The people are angry at the Pakistan army. The Taliban have withdrawn. All in all, the country is fighting a civil war. More than 4 million people have been displaced, living under the sky. Will the Pakistan army follow the Taliban into the tribal agencies? It is very unlikely. The Taliban have reacted by attacking a police training camp near Lahore, attacking the Sri Lankan cricket team and trying to bomb the office of the ISI in Lahore.

The radicals in Pakistan resent the army action against its own people at the instance of Washington. Hafiz Sayeed and other radicals have time and again voiced their ire against the West, the Zionists and more particularly against India. The Pakistan leadership is with its back to the wall. If they do not take action against the Taliban, their masters in Washington will tighten the screws. They also know that fighting the Taliban is in their own interest too, as the monster is quite capable of gobbling up the whole country. Once they take action against the radicals in the west they run the risk of flaming the Islamists in other parts of the country, most notably in the critical Punjab province. They have no option but to mouth vitriolic against India to keep the wolves at bay. They are running with the hares and hunting with the hounds. The recent utterances about ‘resolving’ the Kashmir issue should be seen in this light. India on its part has its own grouse. Infiltration from Pakistan remains a big concern and Indian security forces are losing men every day. India also has to contend with intermittent terror strikes sponsored by Pakistan. Pakistan has to play ball with the radicals to keep them happy. Mumbai and other such attacks are a case in point. If the Pakistanis are to be blamed for incidents such as 26/11, the west has to take responsibility too. They have created these monsters and now when India has grown to be the backyard of the West in South Asia, the West is feeling the heat, directly or indirectly. That is not to give a clean chit to the Pakistan establishment, but to see the situation in perspective. The malaise runs deep. Fundamentalism and radicalism plague the Pakistan society. Taliban has vowed to attack targets within Pakistan. They will attack Indian targets too, with the help of their Punjabi cohorts. Hafiz Saeed and other such demagogues therefore need to be kept in check. Madeline Albright was right when she described Pakistan as a cesspool and a migraine for the west. The civilian government is trying hard to stay afloat. Army is loath to take over the country when the situation is so precarious. It may have to, however, take charge if things go out of hand.

The fact is that radicalism is set to devour the country. It is the common Pakistani who needs to come out and say that they want the country out of the clutches of the radicals. The problem is that the aawam has been so assiduously subjugated by the successive dictators that they do not know the power of the will of the people. This was clear when Nawaz Sharief called off his march to Islamabad midway, once he was assured that the Punjab government would be reinstated. What he did not understand was that with the kind of public support he enjoys he could have marched on to Islamabad and taken over the reign of the country with popular support, something like what Yeltsin did in Russia and the Orange Revolution of Ukaraine.

The world cannot ignore Pakistan as it is now a nuclear weapon state. The Pakistani leadership – both civilian and military know this and are playing this to the hilt. The US has said that they will forsake Pakistan if they did not get support from China, Russia, Iran and India. They have now got tired of the situation and feel that they are taking the burden of the international community. But the US cannot shake off their responsibility quite so easily. They helped create a monster and they must get the djinn of radicalism back in the bottle. Were it not for the nuclear weapons, the West would have distanced itself from Pakistan long ago. They still can get a reprieve, if they had the will to dismantle Islamabad’s nuclear arsenal. The fact is that even Uncle Sam does not know exactly as to where and how many nuclear weapons are there in Pakistan. They have started another game – trying to put a leash on India and the appointment of Robert Einhorn, the non-proliferation hawk, has to be seen in this light. Rather than tackle the Pakistan problem head on, the West is trying to skirt the issue and placate Islamabad. That can have an opposite effect. To genuflect in front of Uncle Sam is bad, but to be seen to bow down to pressure from India is blasphemy in Pakistan where people grow up hearing anti-India tirade. Protest by the US against the release of Hafiz Saeed means little. We have to understand that the administration in Islamabad comes from the same radical society that is Pakistan. They are not an island unto themselves. A macabre scenario which is quite possible is – what if the radicals get hold of the nukes?

June, 22, 2009 Update: That the Taliban are eyeing the nuclear weapons of Pakistan is clear from this report: “God willing, the nuclear weapons will not fall into the hands of the Americans and the mujahideen would take them and use them against the Americans,” Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, the leader of al Qaeda’s in Afghanistan, said in an interview with Al Jazeera television.Abu al-Yazid was responding to a question about U.S. safeguards to seize control over Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in case Islamist fighters came close to doing so.

“We expect that the Pakistani army would be defeated (in Swat) … and that would be its end everywhere, God willing.”

Asked about the group’s plans, the Egyptian militant leader said: “The strategy of the (al Qaeda) organisation in the coming period is the same as in the previous period: to hit the head of the snake, the head of tyranny — the United States.

“That can be achieved through continued work on the open fronts and also by opening new fronts in a manner that achieves the interests of Islam and Muslims and by increasing military operations that drain the enemy financially.” Source: Reuters

July, 14, 2009: The farce is over. Just before the NAM Summit where the Indian and the Pakistani prime ministers were to meet, it is reported that Hafiz Saeed has been released and all charges against him have been dropped. It is clear now that the arrest or detention of Saeed was a charade and that the Pakistanis have discarded even that semblance of trying to bring to book the people behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. Pakistan reckons that they have done enough in Swat and South Waziristan for the west such that they have this leverage with them and that they can ignore any concerns of India. The US is engrossed in Afghanistan and thinks that Pakistan’s support is critical to the success of its Afghan operations. They fail to realise that if India is hurt, sooner or later they will be hurt too by the same forces. India has been taken for granted again. It is time that India stops looking at the world and does what it thinks fit for her security needs. The west will come around sooner or later.

25th of July, 2009: Hafiz Saeed has said in his Friday prayer address that the US has a secret agenda vis-a-vis Pakistan and that is to see it disintegrate. Mr. Saeed perhaps knows that were it not for the support of the west, Pakistan would have disintegrated long back. The ethnic strife, radicalism and the financial crisis in Pakistan has led the country to such a pass. It is men like Hafiz Saeed who have been the reason for this crisis. Were it not for the strategic location of Pakistan and the fact that they have nuclear weapons, the west would have turned their backs on Pakistan long ago. Even now, once the Af-Pak initiative of the Obama administration is over, the flow of money from the US will stop and Pakistan will have to fend for itself. We here in India would like to see a stable and strong Pakistan but the ground realities are such that one cannot rule out any possibility.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. June 26, 2009 6:50 pm

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