If a drone falls in Fata and nobody calls for dharna, does it even make a sound?


Sabir Nazar cartoon on drone strikeEarlier this week a senior commander of Haqqani Network and two other militants were killed by a US drone strike in Fata. COAS casually repeated the mantra that drone strikes are ‘counterproductive‘, but for the most part the incident has been quietly ignored. Only Shireen Mazari has been beating the drum of war against America while criticising the Army Chief for being too sheepish. This raises the question, what is different about this drone strike from others that have been turned into national

For one thing, there is the obvious. Pakistan is poised to win the Champions Trophy, and against none other than India itself. The truth is right now is the perfect time to do any dastardly thing that you don’t want anyone to notice because quite honestly everyone is paying attention to one thing and one thing only and that will continue till at least the next few days.

However, there is something else going on I think which is that there is uncertainty in the halls of power about just how far to push the Americans in the Trump era. Just a few days ago, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhary told the Americans that Haqqani Network ‘have moved into Afghanistan and need to be taken care of there’. Was he lying or was he merely uninformed? Either way, the fact that the Americans carried out a drone strike against Haqqani Network militants in Fata just days later shows that they already knew he was trying to sell them counterfeit goods. Was this strike the Americans sending a message that the old ways were not going to be tolerated any longer?

There have been other messages sent loud and clear, such as the American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announcing that ‘The president has asked the question specifically about our level of support and funding to Pakistan’ and that the US is ‘beginning an inter-agency policy review towards Pakistan’. Is it a coincidence that these announcements came on the heels of a drone strike against Haqqani Network militants in a place that our government swore they could not be?

Whatever our past strategies toward the Americans have been, the election of Donald Trump as president has changed matters by creating much more uncertainty about how we will be viewed and whether our strategic concerns will be appreciated. Strategies of the past that involved turning a blind eye to pro-Pakistan militants are not going to go unnoticed today. That is something, unlike this week’s drone strike, that we cannot simply ignore.

Education Has Become a National Security Crisis

classroomEducation is important, not just so that a child can learn to read and write, but so that a nation can prosper. Researchers with the United Nations found that “each additional year of education boosts a person’s income by 10 per cent and increases a country’s GDP by 18 per cent”. This should make education a central part of national policy in Pakistan where economic growth has lagged for decades despite the country being located in one of the fastest growing economic regions of the world. Actually, Pakistan is second from last in economic growth in the region. The only country worse is Afghanistan, which has been a war zone since more than 10 years.

South Asia Economic Growth 2015If we are lagging in economic growth, and education is a proven way of boosting economic growth, what is our current education policy? Once again, we are almost at the bottom. Not only of the region, but of the entire world.

Pakistan has the second highest concentration of out-of-school children in the world after Nigeria

Some efforts are being made to improve things. Punjab government has successfully enrolled in school 18,622 children from brick kilns. However, it is a drop in the ocean of the problem. 360 schools were destroyed in Fata this year. And while 18,622 children have been enrolled in school in Punjab, 1.6 million children are out of school in Balochistan.

Pakistan’s education emergency is not new, but it is not improving and it is pushing us towards economic disaster for coming generations. Education is a matter of uplifting the poor and improving girls empowerment, but treating this emergency as such has been a failure till date. We need to treat the dire education emergency for what it is: a national security crisis.

Martial Law in Sindh: Is Army Creating Another Balochistan?

martial law

Let’s start by being honest about one thing: An increasing part of the country is under martial law. Fata is clearly under martial law. Balochistan is under martial law. And over the weekend the last layer of paint peeled off and revealed that Sindh is for all intents and purposes under martial law, too. Pakistan Rangers writ has been extended, and it will continue to be extended. Governor’s Rule has been ruled out for the time being, but this is merely a formality that allows us to pretend that the obvious de facto reality is actually something else.

This is the point where you are saying, “Yes, but Karachi was out of control! It was taken over by terrorists and mafias and the people were living in constant fear! Something had to be done!” Okay, I am not disagreeing with any of that. Karachi has long had problems including being believed to be the home of many al Qaeda safe houses, an accusation that has only been reinforced with the deaths of al Qaeda terrorists in shoot outs with law enforcement agencies. There is also the widely accepted claim that Mullah Omar died while being cared for in a Karachi hospital, though agencies are less ready to accept that one due to the obvious implications for our claim not to be actively helping the Taliban.

So, yes, something needed to be done in Karachi. But what has been done? Has Army cracked down hard on jihadi networks in Karachi? No. Actually, Pakistan Rangers have raided 90 multiple times and continue arresting, detaining, and threatening MQM leaders and workers (though the party continues to stubbornly hang on to life). Predictably, PPP finds itself in the cross hairs now too with arrest warrants issued for former Prime Minister Gilani, Makhdoom Amin Fahim and others. Chairman Higher Education Council Sindh Dr Asim Hussain has even been charged with terrorism! Is it any coincidence that he is a close confidante of Asif Zardari?

In response, Zardari has accused Nawaz of bringing back politics of revenge from the 1990s, which Pervaiz Rashid has obviously denied. Zardari is no fool, however it is likely that the scenario is much less a PMLN strategy than a GHQ strategy. In elections, it will be PTI that probably gains more from a battered MQM and PPP than Noon-league, and Nawaz may only be spared for the moment because Army’s focus is on Sindh and not Punjab.

This is also where things get very, very dangerous. Aside from the obvious problems with a military taking out targeted operations against political parties in a supposed ‘democracy’, there is the regional issue that is obvious to everyone not wearing khaki coloured lenses. After all, It was the Punjab Home Minister who was killed in a terrorist attack. It was the Punjab Law Minister who is a known associate of the leader of a banned organisation. And yet there has not even been any similar military operations in Punjab. Now let us ask, how well has martial law been greeted in Fata and Balochistan? Sindhis already resent the Punjabi attitude that treats them like illiterate backwards serfs, and now there are boots on the ground that give that tension a visible reality. Army’s heavy handedness has never won over a people whether Pashtun, Baloch, or Bengali. What do they expect to happen in Sindh?

Fighting smarter

Much attention has been given lately to a single sentence in a White House report on Afghan war policy that criticises “no clear path to defeating the insurgency in Pakistan”. Unfortunately, defensive reactions have largely missed the larger point which is that neither does the US have a clear plan. Despite almost ten years of fighting in Afghanistan, the US military is still trying to reach a point where they can remove troops without risking Afghanistan returning to a terrorist safe haven. The Americans might wish that we had a better plan for defeating militants, but then again so do we wish the same about them. Perhaps some of the problem is that we’re both looking at the fight the wrong way.

The debate about the fight against Taliban and militants more generally tends to break down into two sides: Kill the militants until there are no more left to cause problems and Negotiate with the militants until they agree to stop causing problems. Both of these sides are inadequate for dealing with the problem.

The military only solution doesn’t work because there is not a finite number of ‘militants’. In fact, some military actions can result in sympathy for the militants, undermining whatever military gains were made. The negotiation solution doesn’t work because militants do not have some minor issues that they are complaining about, they want to see the complete dissolution of democratic Pakistan and the nation replaced with a pan-Islamic Caliphate under their own rule. This has been proven by the fact that every time a negotiated peace has been made with militants, they have soon broken the negotiation to advance their own cause.

Obviously, these two ways of thinking are not sufficient. But what else is there? Actually a more nuanced perspective came not from the military brass of the US or GHQ, but from a place that perhaps people were not expecting it: President’s house.

President Asif Ali Zardari

In a recent interview with UK newspaper The Guardian, President Zardari compared the war in Afghanistan to the drug war in Mexico.

“Just as the Mexican drug war on US borders makes a difference to Texas and American society, we are talking about a war on our border which is obviously having a huge effect. Only today a suicide bomber has attacked a police compound in Baluchistan. I think it [the Afghan war] has an effect on the entire region, and specially our country,” Zardari said.

This is a very interesting observation and one that I think should be taken quite seriously. Military solution has been tried against drugs in Mexico for decades, but during this period drug use and the resulting violence has continued to increase. Some people advocate negotiating a peace with the drug lords, but this would bring with it an increase in the problems that come from drug use like increased crime and health problems.

People are now looking at alternative ways to get rid of drugs and the associated violence. In the drug war, people are discussing ways of removing the profit motive for drug sellers and treating drug addicts not as criminals but as people with a sickness. The goal is to remove the underlying causes of the drug problem rather than trying to eliminate it without addressing the issues that created it.

Could a similar approach work in the fight against militants?

Religious extremism may not have a profit motive the same way drugs do, but there are other underlying reasons why people are attracted to militant groups and these should be addressed. Many people in the tribal areas look to militants to provide a system of law and order that is more just than the FCR. We should be looking for ways to address the concerns of the people so that they find their best interests being met by democracy and rule of law instead of having to settle for Taliban style ‘justice’.

Likewise, any 15-year-old who is willing to turn himself into a bomb to kill innocent people is not a criminal mastermind, he is suffering from a psychological illness. This illness could be the result of stress or despair that has been manipulated by the devious brain washers of the extremists. This must be fought not by seeking out these young men to kill them, but to treat their sickness so that they can return to society and even help to find and treat others who have been manipulated and abused as they were.

Policies that are coming from US military and GHQ both are having some positive effects, but they are clearly not enough. Rather than point blame at one another about who does or who does not have a clear plan to victory, we should be looking for new ideas and new approaches. We have the same goal – defeating the militants and bringing peace to the region – let’s work together to get there.

New Study: Pakistani Youth Are Moderates

Pakistani youth are serious about their own religion, but do not want to impose it on other people, a new study conducted by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) has revealed.

The latest issue of ‘Conflict and Peace Studies’, a quarterly research journal of the institute carries the outcome of the study focussed at examining the thinking patterns of Pakistan’s youth, the Daily Times reported.

According to the PIPS survey involving postgraduate students from 16 public and private universities and postgraduate public colleges across the country, 92.4 per cent respondents overwhelmingly considered religion to be an important factor in their lives, though 51.7 percent admitted that they did not offer prayers regularly.

In what may come as a surprise to many, 79.4 per cent of the surveyed Pakistani youth thought that the Pakistani Taliban did not serve the cause of Islam.

While 85.6 per cent respondents believed that suicide bombings were prohibited in Islam, 61.7 per cent people supported military operations in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

According to the survey, 95 per cent Pakistani youth favoured women education. (ANI)