London buzzing with discussions on Pakistan’s perils
Thursday, December 18, 2008By By Aamir Ghauri
LONDON: India and Pakistan may slowly move on to tackle problems that their governments feel are the most important to be taken care of, but hardline Taliban elements are telling the international media that the west or its allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan will not win the war against them.And while the American and British top dogs have returned from the region after their attempts to cool temperatures down between New Delhi and Islamabad, the western think tanks, media and interest groups are still munching on Mumbai mayhem.London is buzzing with debates, talks, print and television reports about the war on terror and its possible future victims and flashpoints. Also is debated if the west would be able to fight it out successfully against the multi-headed hydra that raises its head every now and then in different locations. While much hope is fixated on president-elect Obama and his surge plans for Afghanistan in this regard, there remains widespread scepticism in the ability and longevity of the western action against the enemy.Ustad Mohammad Yesser, who reportedly runs a training camp for suicide bombers and sit on the Taliban ruling council, told the BBC’s Panorama programme — aired on Monday — that the war raging in the Pakistan-Afghanistan borderland was not going to end. “More Pakistani soldiers are going to die and more Afghan soldiers are going to die. We are not deaf and dumb in this war and this war is not going to end.”Another Taliban leader, who could not be shown for legal reasons, cold bloodedly, explained the raison d’etre of the war to Jane Corbin, the Panorama presenter. “You people fight to live. We fight to die. You love your life. We love our death. How are you going to fight with us?” For him the Pakistani Army and government siding with the “aggressors” was the problem “because we are fighting a war of freedom, even under the UN rules”.Bajaur, the programme said, was the epicentre of the current battle. It showed completely levelled villages, a complex network of tunnels that run hundreds of meters and have coughed up weapons, training manuals, explosives and ID papers of foreign fighters. And the solution to end the conflict was very simple for the Pakistani military commanders. Maj-Gen Tariq Khan, the Frontier Corps commander in the area, told the programme that it could be a fight to death. But the only solution is that the terrorists “lay down weapons and present themselves for arrest. Otherwise, we will kill them as there is no other way.”The US commander on the Kunar side, Brigadier General Mark Milley thinks the success of the operations lies in the joint effort by the Pakistani and Afghan forces — the hammer and anvil approach. He believes that al-Qaeda is holed up in the area. “The terrain and all the complexities of the culture etcetera, lends itself to the insurgents establishing themselves here as a safe haven and a sanctuary. There is absolutely no doubt that they (al-Qaeda) have done that.”The programme interviewed Pakistani inmates in Afghan jails who “were sent to Afghanistan to carry out suicide bombings”. Abid, who was to drive a truckload of explosives, abandoned the operation when he realised that the target was an Afghan military camp rather than a western one. “I could not kill Muslims and they deceived me. We’re told that if we do not carry out Jihad we would be renegades of Islam.”Corbin then travelled to a village near Bahawalpur to deliver Abid’s letter to his mother, Nasim, and grandfather, Essanul Haq. The family was shocked and the mother wept throughout the interview. They said their son was cheated by mullahs “as we sent him to study religion not terrorism and Abid should seek Allah’s forgiveness for doing something so heinous”.In another BBC programme, Hard Talk, Kai Eide, the UN envoy to Afghanistan said the security situation in the country had deteriorated. He suggested that insurgents (Taliban) be included in the efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan. He said some of the UN humanitarian work — like vaccination of 1.8 million children — could not have achieved without the tacit support of the insurgents. Last week saw almost daily events on Pakistan, mostly in the houses of parliament (Commons and Lords). Speaking at the South Asia & Middle East Forum seminar, Anatol Lieven opined that Pakistan was stronger than it looks. But he warned that there was at least one scenario for the country’s collapse — the US invasion of the country. He, however, did not foresee any chance of that happening. Other speakers agreed that Pakistan had to confront the mess that was created by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and now when the country is fighting for its survival it should not be burdened beyond its capacity.Speaking separately as a guest of Henry Jackson Society at the House of Commons, Imran Khan hoped the situation would change for the better once Barack Obama takes over from George Bush but said that any “surge” in Afghanistan would be moronic. He suggested that Nato should withdraw from Afghanistan and be replaced by a combined force provided by Muslim states.The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) has released its Strategic Comment on the post-Mumbai scenario. The detailed analysis foresees no dramatic action by India in the wake of November attacks. “In the run-up to a general election in summer 2009, it is difficult to envisage any serious forensic inquiry into the Mumbai attacks along the lines of the US 9/11 commission. The best that can probably be hoped for is the introduction of specific anti-terrorist legislation and moves to set up some kind of homeland security apparatus. Much action is likely to be cosmetic, such as increasing the size of the NSG and better equipping it, rather than addressing the underlying institutional and political issues.”However, the report said with the ongoing provincial elections in parts of India and the forthcoming general elections, the unprecedented public criticism of the central and Maharashtra governments has shaken the Congress Party, as it leads both. The party’s central leadership and its alliance partners could pressure the government to take some sort of action in response to the terror attacks, and to ratchet up the pressure on Pakistan.“In such a scenario, an early casualty could be the peace process between the two countries. Even if there is no military mobilisation, there remains a risk of misunderstanding and miscalculation between the two governments, especially at a time when mutual trust is in such short supply.At another talk and Q&A session on Tuesday evening at Frontline Club — a London hub of international journalists and authors — the panelists agreed that both India and Pakistan need to move away from their longstanding mutual hatred and work together to tackle the menace of terrorism that is eating into regional peace and stability.