Pakistan: The Myth of Civilizing War

by Adaner Usmani

1. There have been three major military offensives in the past eighteen months (in Bajaur, Swat, and South Waziristan), complemented by a series of surrogate operations throughout the northwest. At its height, some two to three million people were displaced, including about half of Bajaur’s entire population. Today, roughly one million have yet to return to their homes (see the UNHCR’s most recent reports). A media blackout on areas under siege has meant that estimates of civilian casualties are unavailable. Nonetheless, scattered anecdotes and independent reports have made for frightening reading. The Economist, for example, reported that after the Swat operation, “an estimated 300 to 400 corpses of suspected Taliban... turned up in Swat, dumped on street corners, bridges or outside homes...” (“Pakistan’s Swat Valley” Oct. 1, 2009). And only recently, in what is now “liberated” Swat, the military responded to a recent suicide blast with an operation of terrifying proportions — reportedly rounding up some 1,000 residents to undergo a search in the rain, and detaining a similarly enormous number (“Over 1,000 rounded up in Mingora search operation,” The News, Feb. 26, 2010).

2. As one ex-reporter wrote recently, “The media rarely reports on the civilian deaths due to a combination of self-censorship, difficulties in accessing the conflict, and pressure from the military. The cover-up of what is going on is systematic.” (see Fahad Desmukh, “The Myth of War Reporting,” thirdworldism, April 14, 2010).

3. See Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, “Pakistan: Crisis of a Frontline State,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 40: 1 (2010), pp. 105-122.

4. This was Pakistan’s 1968, documented best in Tariq Ali’s Pakistan: Military Rule or People’s Power (New York: William Morrow, 1970).

5. Aijaz Ahmad, “Democracy and Dictatorship in Pakistan,” Journal of Contemporary Asia, 8:4 (1978), p. 486.

6. Ahmad, p. 486.

7. Certainly, a more developed formulation of this claim would accommodate the massive social and economic changes in Pakistan since independence. One might further argue that it begs more questions than it answers. But provisionally (or even just heuristically), given the limitations of this piece, it will have to suffice as is.

8. Hamza Alavi, “Pakistan and Islam: Ethnicity and Ideology,” in Hamza Alavi and Fred Halliday, State and Ideology in the Middle East and Pakistan (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1988), pp. 106-107.

9. Ahmed Akhtar Khan, “Rare Attack on Pakistan Ahmadis.” BBC News, Oct. 7, 2005.

10. See Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim (New York: Three Leaves Press, 2005), pp. 128-161.

11. Mamdani, p. 159.

12. The recent arrests of high-profile members of the Quetta Shura hardly mark a break in these relations, as some have suggested; rather, the worry for the Army was that it was going to be left out of the negotiations that seem to be underway. As a show of strength, it played its hand. The underlying contours of its strategy, however, have remained the same (See Gareth Porter, “Defying U.S., Pakistan Keeps Custody of Baradar,” IPS, Feb 28, 2010).

13. The TTP came together in December 2007 on the shared goal of fighting the Pakistani State, which they regarded as a satrap of the American military. This line has been repudiated by the Afghan Taliban, who on numerous occasions have made clear that they regard attacks inside Pakistan as contrary to their interests and principles.

14. These commanders include: in the Mehsud areas in the Eastern half of South Waziristan, Qari Zainuddin Mehsud (died June 2009) and Toofan Mehsud; in the Wazir tribal areas in the Western half, Maulvi Nazir Ahmed; in North Waziristan, Hafiz Gul Bahadur; in Tank, Turkistan Bhittani. (See “Baitullah rival Qari Zainuddin shot dead in D I Khan,” DAWN News, June 23, 2009, “NWA Taliban pledge adherence to accord,” The News, March 18, 2010, “Making Friends with the Taliban,” BBC News, June 24, 2009.)

15. See Pervez Hoodbhoy, “The Saudi-ization of Pakistan” in Newsline, Jan 2009.

16. See Karlos Zurutuza, “Pakistan’s Other Insurgents,” in Vice Magazine, Nov. 2009.

17. See Madiha Tahir, “Pakistan’s Broken Mirror,” in The National, March 25, 2010.

18. See Adaner Usmani, “Struggling for Land” in Zamana.org, Sept. 2009.

19. See Fareed Khan, “...Christian is burned alive...”, in AsiaNews.it, March 24, 2010.

20. See ADB, “FATA Rural Development”.

21. Four of the other five on this list are, tellingly, in Baluchistan (see Abid Qayum Suleri, “Hunger Pains” in The News, Feb 27, 2010).

22. It cannot itself explain, for example, why resistance has taken a religious, “right-wing” cast (for that, at a minimum, one needs to incorporate into the narrative the multiple legacies of the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s).

23. Scattered socioeconomic indicators are available on the website of the government of FATA.

24. To this day, the Frontier Crimes Regulation Act (FCR) — handiwork of Lord Curzon, in 1901 — remains in place. This, lest we forget, is the same Lord Curzon who, confronted with unruly tribes in the border regions, famously said: “Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end, will there be peace.” Cue the F-16s, it seems.

25. A striking illustration of this is the recent intensification of military operations in Orakzai and Khyber, justified by the claim that militants have fled there in the face of the South Waziristan campaign. In Orakzai, the new operations have already displaced some 200,000 individuals since the turn of the year — about half the total population of the district (“200,000 civilians flee Pakistan military offensive,” AP News, April 12 2010). And in Khyber, in mid-April, the military twice bombed a “militant” outpost in Tirah — once initially, and once as residents came to rescue people from the rubble — duly killing some seventy-one civilians. (“Villagers claim many slain during operation,” DAWN News, April 13, 2010).