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Creeping monster and state of denial

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse April 02, 2009

The statistics is mind-boggling; 19 suicide strikes, at least 16 bomb attacks, as many as nine drone attacks between January and March 30. By end of March casualties off these incidents crossed 750 ( at least 600 civilian and roughly 150 security personnel). Alone in March, extremists killed and maimed scores of people in at least ten incidents of terror across Pakistan. Quite a telling statistics on the creeping monster of death squads that continue to take lives and ratchet up destruction in the country, the dramatic assault on the Lahore Police Academy being the latest.
And if the March 31 statement distributed by the Associated Press and Reuters were any credible indicator, Baitullah Mehsud, the maverick diminutive Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan leader owned up the storming of the police school and “vowed to launch an attack on the U.S. capital.”
"We wholeheartedly take responsibility for this attack and will carry out more such attacks in future," Mehsud, an al Qaeda-linked leader based in the Waziristan ethnic Pashtun tribal region on the Afghan border, told Reuters by telephone.
"It's revenge for the drone attacks in Pakistan."
"Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world," Mehsud , who has a $5 million bounty on his head from the U.S., told the agencies by phone, and also claimed responsibility for a suicide car bombing that killed four soldiers Monday in Bannu district and a suicide attack targeting a police station in Islamabad last week that killed one officer.
Regardless of Mehsud’s claims, the statistics quoted above, gathered by the Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), Islamabad for the first quarter of 2009, suggests that the monster of violence – all perpetrated either in the name of Islam against the US and liberal values (as the militants see it), or against India for its role in Kashmir, is gradually fanning out all over. The primary target remains the security forces and government functionaries.
Viewed against this spiral of atrocities, the cacophony against US drone strikes, spearheaded by several politicians, seems embedded in shallow and self-righteous emotionalism. Those demanding an immediate end to the US drone attacks inside Pakistan are either ignorant of the reality, or are in a state of perpetual denial. The president and the prime minister, on the other hand, content themselves with statements that are in synch with the questionable public sentiment. But in reality, these pronouncements are a mere eyewash - an appeasement at best -, devoid of a genuine expression of discontent on the US strikes on suspected al Qaeda hideouts.

Understandably, the Pakistani government can do little to stop these strikes. Nor can it afford to out-rightly oppose these interventions, which the US officials say will continue until al Qaeda is “defeated, dismantled and destroyed.” Internationally, the stakes are simply too high for a country like Pakistan to embark on a confrontationist path. Isolation and financial squeeze are the options that confrontation might push it into.
Domestically, the greater issue at home is the state of denial. Most Pakistanis continue to duck under ruses such as “ingress on sovereignty,” or “it is not our war.”
Of course, it was not our war but it has become now. With terrorists ready to kill and die and - an army of suicide bombers – Fidayeen – stalking streets and hitting at will, this war is threatening all those who differ from the Taliban way of life and their interpretation of Islam.
The challenge for most of these Pakistanis – both government as well as non-governmental leaders and leaders - is to embrace the reality and shun denials. Firstly, it is a state that is living off deals with militants, who despite getting appeasements, are still mowing down innocent people, and members of the security establishment in particular. The attacks on the mosque in Jamrud, on two police installations in Islamabad and the training school in Lahore as well as frequent strikes and ambushes of the military and para-military convoys and targets in Swat, Bajaur, and Waziristan are some of the glimpses of the damage these self-proclaimed defenders of Islam are inflicting on the state. In February, the state surrendered a precious part of its soil i.e. Swat to the whims and diktat of militants, merely because neither the military nor the civilian leadership could regain the region from the clutches of militants, represented by Soofi Mohammad.
Swat, in fact, is a telling comment on the (in)ability and the in(capacity) of our state institutions. President Zardari, in a detailed interaction with TV anchors drawn from all over Pakistan on March 30 offered little cogent and plausible explanation as to why the surrender in Swat, and for how long will the area remain in the clutches of militants, personified by Soofi Mohammad. He also gave little explanation as to what was holding him back from signing the Nizame Adl regulation.
All he said revolved around the point that the military, the intelligence, the provincial government and his party had their own “assessments” of the situation. “It will take some time until these assessments gel and we are able to send peoples’ representatives back to the area,” was his response. He wants first to raise a new police force before the government can wrest the control of the area from Taliban. It sounds pretty wishful and a path fraught with numerous risks. For how long will the area simmer under the Taliban rule, nobody has an answer to it. Next to Swat and Peshawar is the 27,220 square kilometers stretch known as FATA, most of which remains virtually under the militant control. Neither the military nor the civilians exercise full control over the hilly region. In other words, as one often hears from Washington and London, these areas are ungovernable, and there have been suggestions that if Pakistanis cannot govern these areas, they better come up with alternatives.
The current relative peace that we see in FATA at the moment is predominantly the result of questionable peace deals. One would not like to belittle the importance of dialogue but what does dialogue really mean, particularly when we talk of dealing with people and groups who openly confess to crimes on humanity and vow to wage wars on other countries from the Pakistani soil – all in the name of Islam.
Given this backdrop, it becomes quite imperative for countries like the USA and Great Britain to suggest their recipes for fixing groups that pose direct existential threat not only to Pakistan but also to the rest of the world. If we remain in a state of denial, and our people and politicians keep ducking under emotional and illogical rhetoric, the Americans will keep lobbing missiles to take out militants whom President Obama declared as the “cancer eating Pakistan from within.” Ironically, as if to prove the “state of denial”, most Pakistani politicians including the president and the prime minister, refuse to see the clear writing on the wall. Their reaction to the Obama speech was: oh that is an open indictment of Hamid Karzai and his failures. Most of Pakistanis either advertently overlooked or failed to realize that Obama practically zeroed in on Pakistan. Any major attack anywhere in the world would have been planned and executed from the mountainous border regions of Pakistan, he said.
It basically meant that Pakistan had become the new war theatre which took precedence over Afghanistan. Unless we fix the problems in Pakistan, we can’t succeed in Afghanistan. This message requires a dispassionate review by Pakistanis. They all need to get out of the state of denial. It is our war and warrants an urgent and rational response from us before others impose one on us.

The writer is the chairman of Center for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad.

Imtiaz Gul's book, The Al Qaeda Connection: Terror in Tribal Areas, is due out in June