Wednesday :: Feb 11, 2009

The State of Pakistan


by eriposte

I've been writing a bit about South Asia, with a focus so far mostly on India and Kashmir, and to some extent Sri Lanka. In this post, I will start some coverage of Pakistan.

Last week, Laura Rozen reported this at The Cable (emphasis mine, throughout this post):

A senior director on South Asia may be appointed at a later point. Bruce Riedel, the veteran CIA and NSC official who served as the senior lead on the team advising the Obama campaign on South Asia, has previously told The Cable he expects to stay at the Brookings Institution. But it's possible he could play an advisory role, sources say.

The Pakistani newspaper Dawn is now reporting that Riedel has been tapped to lean an "inter-agency review of the US policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan" and that "Richard Holbrooke, Mr Obama’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Michele Flournoy, a former [US] Defence Department official will co-chair the panel." I don't know much about Riedel but his recent writings and interviews on Pakistan are worth reading to get a sense for his thinking on Pakistan.

Since its partition from British India in 1947, Pakistan has never really been a democracy and a combination of various factors have led to Pakistan's precarious situation today. Pakistan is in great turmoil and the turmoil is not just restricted to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). If you look at a typical Pakistan-friendly map of Pakistan, the country's main provinces are Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and there are four additional federally administered regions, including the capital city of Islamabad, the regions referred to as Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir that India nominally considers to be part of the state of Jammu & Kashmir (and refers to as "Pakistan-occupied Kashmir" or "PoK") and FATA. I don't use the term "Pakistan-friendly map" lightly because Pakistan's border with Afghanistan on its left (drawn by the British in the late 19th century and known as the Durand Line) is not really accepted by Afghanistan, and Pakistan's eastern/north-eastern border with India along Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is not just a matter of dispute with India since 1947 but one that has led to multiple wars. These two factors, coupled with internal socio-ethnic and governance issues and the "Islamization" of Pakistani politics, have played a big role in making Pakistan one of the most dangerous places on earth. In one of his interviews, Riedel suggests that U.S. policy should be to convince Afghanistan and Pakistan to make the Durand Line the permanent border between the two states because that "would be in Pakistan's interest and I think in the long term it's in everyone's interest". He goes on to say vis-a-vis Jammu & Kashmir, that "based again on the principle that the existing line of control ought to become an international border with some special status reserved for Kashmiris". Riedel is well meaning, but unless the details are well thought out, a focus on artificially drawn borders could end up being a highly oversimplified solution to these long-standing disputes that might do little to solve the underlying issues and potentially worsen the situation in the long-term (I will explain why in future posts).

Today, Pakistan is facing immense challenges that are expanding in scope and dramatically raising the risk profile of that region. The Institute of Conflict Management in India has published some statistics on its South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) website, on the growing violence and terrorist attacks within Pakistan in the 21st century. SATP has pointed out that this data might be understating the true casualty rates given the Government's restrictions on media coverage. However, it is instructive to review the data - and I've created a simple chart for that purpose.

Pakistan_fatalities_trend_2003_2008.jpg

According to SATP, this is in part driven by a significant increase in suicide attacks:

The magnitude of Pakistan's slide towards chaos is best illustrated by the fact that, between March 22, 2002 (the first suicide attack) and end-2006, there were 22 suicide attacks; in 2007 alone, there were 56 such attacks, rising to 59 in 2008. In 2008, fidayeen (suicide squads) relentlessly targeted Army convoys and check-posts, Police Stations and training units, Government officials, polling stations, schools, jirga meetings, hotels, restaurants, mosques and various soft targets. Almost 11 per cent of total fatalities in Pakistan during 2008 were inflicted through suicide attacks.

It is commonly known that Pakistan has little control over the goings-on in the FATA, which has perhaps been the most violent region in Pakistan. However, the NWFP is also a hotbed of conflict. In fact, the beautiful sub-province of Swat in the NWFP, sometimes known as the "Switzerland of Pakistan" (see this map), has been almost completely taken over by the Taliban despite a large Pakistani military presence in the region. Here's Sher Baz Khan writing in Dawn:

MINGORA: The road to Swat used to be a byword for breathtaking beauty. Although it remains the most picturesque in the country, it now conjures up fear and lurking danger.

The journey upwards from Mardan these days is forbidding. The entire route is a picture of utter desolation. Fear of the unknown has overtaken a place fabled for its fertile fields and majestic mountains.

Even a flying visit is enough to fill one with a sense of foreboding that religious extremists would overrun the valley before long.

Most people, especially those living in urban areas, seem to have lost the will to live.

Things started taking an ugly turn in July 2007 after the then NWFP chief minister Shamsul Mulk called in paramilitary forces to take on militants fired by Maulana Fazlullah’s inflammatory rhetoric.

But the decision seems to have rebounded on the government, for now at least. The Maulana’s followers hold sway over no less than 80 per cent of the Swat valley.

The Army is into the third phase of an operation that has seen the state’s writ shrinking by the day. Of late the Taliban have made inroads into even settled areas, such as, Mardan, Takhtbai, Shergarh, and almost the entire Malakand Agency.

Taliban are spreading their message in the same way as they did, and still do, in Swat. The medium of the message is fear. In fact, fear is the message.

The moment I entered the region, I was struck by unmistakable signs of a place steadily turning its back on the outside world. Institution after institution is falling to the Taliban. Non-combatants have a stark choice: seek refuge in other places or accept the diktat of Maulana Fazlullah.

Zulfiqar Ali, also writing in Dawn, indicates that the internal refugee situation due to the conflict in the FATA and NWFP is becoming a challenge:

With the security situation aggravating in the northern parts of the NWFP and the tribal areas, the government has registered over 40,000 internally displaced families living with relatives and friends or in rented houses in eight districts of the province.

Yet, the problems are not restricted to the FATA and NWFP.

Balochistan has been experiencing an ethnically driven violent insurgency for a while now:

The "dialogue with those who are up in the mountains" in Balochistan - initiated after April 2008 - is unraveling, with serious repercussions for Islamabad. Violence saw an increase in 2008 in comparison to 2007, as at least 348 persons, including 130 civilians, 111 SF personnel and 107 insurgents, were killed and another 383 were injured in more than 397 insurgency-related incidents. Violence in 2007 saw at least 245 persons, including 124 civilians, killed. The situation could, in fact, have been far worse had the three principal insurgent groups - the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), the Baloch Republican Army (BRA) and the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) - not declared a unilateral cease-fire on September 1, 2008.

On top of the insurgency problem, there is now increasing concern that Balochistan, particularly its capital city of Quetta, is becoming a haven for the Taliban as well:

American officials are increasingly focusing on the Pakistani city of Quetta, where Taliban leaders are believed to play a significant role in stirring violence in southern Afghanistan.

The Taliban operations in Quetta are different from operations in the mountainous tribal areas of Pakistan that have until now been the main setting for American unease. But as the United States prepares to pour as many as 30,000 additional troops into Afghanistan, military and intelligence officials say the effort could be futile unless there is a concerted effort to kill or capture Taliban leaders in Quetta and cut the group’s supply lines into Afghanistan.

From Quetta, Taliban leaders including Mullah Muhammad Omar, a reclusive, one-eyed cleric, guide commanders in southern Afghanistan, raise money from wealthy Persian Gulf donors and deliver guns and fresh fighters to the battlefield, according to Obama administration and military officials.

The province of Punjab has not escaped conflict either. As SATP notes:

While the progressive collapse in NWFP and FATA is well documented, it is Punjab that is, in many ways, emerging as a jihadi hub. While 304 persons, including 257 SF personnel and 34 civilians, were killed in 78 terrorism-related incidents in Punjab in 2008, it is the presence of many militant groups in the province that is alarming. Data indicates, further, that more SF personnel and civilians were killed in Punjab than militants. While this is a clear indication that the Taliban-al Qaeda network is securing the upper hand, it is also evident that the extremists are bringing the conflict to Pakistan's urban heartland, including the national capital Islamabad, the provincial capital Lahore and the garrison town of Rawalpindi. In fact, out of the approximately 78 incidents in 2008, 21 were reported from Islamabad and 22 from Lahore. Apart from the fact that some of the terrorist attacks in Punjab have been carried out by the Taliban-al Qaeda network, suspects arrested in places like Faisalabad, Sargodha, Islamabad and Lahore, among others, in 2008, included persons from the FATA and NWFP. Militants from across the country and outside easily find safe havens in places like Islamabad and Lahore. 

Sindh has been more stable but there are some signs of trouble there as well:

Levels of violence in Sindh province were relatively low with some 42 incidents reported during 2008, in which 52 persons, including 29 civilians, were killed and 109 injured. There is, however, growing evidence to suggest that militant groups maintain a significant presence in the Province, notably in capital Karachi, Sukkur, Khairpur, Jacobabad, Badin, Larkana, Mirpur Khas and Hyderabad. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain stated, on August 9, 2008, that Taliban activities were visible in the interior of Sindh in areas like Badin and that an unspecified number of people were coming from FATA and Northern Areas to Karachi and the interiors of Sindh, on a daily basis.

Needless to say, the Northern Areas and "Azad Kashmir" (aka "Pakistan occupied Kashmir") have long been involved in the Kashmir conflict. What this means is that Pakistan is in a heap of trouble and is experiencing serious blowback from the strategy of "Islamization" followed by some past Pakistani leaders (and the ISI) and their support for terrorist/militant groups.

eriposte :: 7:10 AM :: Comments (2) :: Spotlight :: Digg It!