Tuesday, 23 February 2010

AfPak – setting realistic expectations

The world is myopic in its views of war. Operation Moshtarak, the operation launched by international and Afghan forces in the southern Helmand province is indicative of these contradictions.
Operation Moshtaraq, like earlier British military offensives in Helmand, is a clear admission that despite the nine year presence of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) large swathes of Afghanistan are governed by the Afghan Taliban.
In these areas, the Taliban raises revenue through a taxation infrastructure. It dispenses justice through a legal system of Islamic courts and judges. Interference by the civilian Afghan government or ISAF is minimal.
Turn to Pakistan and the media reporting is far different. Pakistan's tribal areas (FATA), which are constitutionally separated from the rest of Pakistan for governance purposes, are constantly held up as areas out of the Pakistan government's control.
Surely, FATA is outside of the government's control. FATA historically manages itself based on a particular form of governance heavily reliant on tribal codes of conduct.
Since the US led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the Pashtun population feels disenfranchised from Afghanistan's political structure. While the Pathans could be willy-nilly bombed to smithereens in Afghanistan they felt slightly safer with their tribal cohorts in Pakistan's FATA; until the Pakistani state joined the fight in earnest.
The blame for Pakistan's predicament is shared by all parties. Certainly, the Taliban made a power grab in Pakistan 'proper,' e.g. Swat. Additionally, the Taliban attempted to replace the traditional tribal leadership structure with an alternative political regime. A regime with views that run contrary to ordinary Pakistanis' opinions on Islam and certainly threaten the power of the existing westernized secular ruling elite.
For its part, the Pakistan government happily neglected FATA in return for political acquiescence from the tribes. Development was haphazard, if extant at all. Social indicators such as literacy, access to healthcare and infant mortality are among the lowest in the country.
Soviet Spetnaz, or Special Forces, prepare for an operation during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Today, US Special Forces prepare for similar operations ftom the main Soviet base in Bagram

In 2010, the Taliban is a reality for both Afghanistan and Pakistan. Where to next - negotiations?
A war ends when peace breaks out. Peace breaks out when opposing armies reach a political compromise or one of the combatants is decimated.
Only a fool believes that the Taliban can be wiped out militarily.
Despite their barbaric ferocity, the Taliban has demonstrated itself to be a formidable foe. In a televised interview on February 21, General Petraeus said, "Al-Qaeda is a flexible, adaptable--it may be barbaric, it may believe in extremist ideology, as it does, but this is a thinking, adaptive enemy." The same can be said of the Taliban.
Many of the Taliban's more 'moderate' ideals are in fact part of the moral value structure of Pashtun society. Short of killing every Pashtun tribesmen, these social conventions will not disappear in the next few decades. Only time measured in generations, and development will help segments of Pashtun society meet modernity.
Pakistan may periodically 'sanitize' South Waziristan and the ISAF Helmand. However, until the Pathans generally, and the Taliban specifically, are part of the solution they will remain integral to the problem.
US funded and supplied Afghan Mujahideen, the precursors to the Taliban, pose for a photo in 1985. Change the 'Chitrali' caps to turbans and you have today's Taliban

Ironically, the only time Afghanistan has seen sustained peace since the Soviet invasion in 1979 was during the five years (1996 – 2001) of Taliban rule. Unfortunately, the price of peace paid by the Afghan people, especially by Afghan women and girls, was particularly high.
For peace to break out the Taliban's views on females are the litmus test. Once the Taliban agrees to fundamental civil rights for females a negotiated peace settlement should be a matter of time. After thirty years of war which has yielded little but suffering, it's time we give peace a chance.

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