Sunday, June 07, 2009

Terrorism: Anti-Taliban offensive increasingly seen as anti-Pashtun

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The Pakistani military operation against the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliates in the Swat Valley and the adjoining areas of the Malakand Division of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) is increasingly being seen by sections of the local population as an anti-Pashtun operation forced on the Pakistani Army by the US.

2.Tribal sources report that pamphlets and posters accusing the Army of waging a war against the Pashtuns under the pretext of a war against the Taliban have started appearing in the interior areas of the NWFP. US analysts are being accused of over-projecting the alleged threat from the Pakistani Taliban in order to force the Pakistani Army to mount a full-scale military operation in the Swat Valley and the neighbouring areas. Well-informed sources in the NWFP say that it is also being alleged that some American experts deliberately exaggerated the number of the Taliban volunteers who entered the Buner District some weeks ago in order to create a scare that the Taliban was marching towards Islamabad.

3. The large-scale exodus of internally-displaced persons (IDPs) ------estimated at a little over 2.5 million--- from the areas where the Pakistan Army has mounted a military operation against the Taliban, the failure of the Federal Government to make satisfactory arrangements for looking after them, the opposition to them from the local population in Sindh, Balochistan and the Punjab and the reported plans of the Army to create a cantonment in Swat are leading to a fresh polarisation between the Pashtuns and the non-Pashtuns. According to these sources, the Pashtun refugees have started blaming the US for all their troubles.

4.The Pakistan Army, which has claimed to have freed large parts of the Swat Valley from the control of the Taliban, has intriguingly refused to allow the Pashtun refugees from the Valley to move back to their villages from the camps for IDPs. No satisfactory explanation for this has been given. While the Army has allowed the IDPs from the Buner District to go back to their homes, it is not allowing the IDPs from the Swat Valley to go back to their villages. This is adding to the resentment of the Pashtuns.

5. One possible reason for the Army's refusal is that it does not want the IDPs to move back till the semblance of a civil administration is restored in the valley. These sources say that the Army does not want to take up the responsibility for looking after the re-settlement of the returning IDPs when its hands are full with the military operations against the Taliban.

6. Maj.Gen.Athar Abbas, a spokesman of the Army, told a media briefing on June 6,2009, as follows: “The Army would stay in the area till a sense of security among the people is revived, a credible defence system by the law enforcement agencies, including police, is put in place and the possibility of the terrorists hiding in mountains coming back to launch a second phase of insurgency is obviated. This would not take less than a year.”

7. The visit of Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, to Pakistan from June 3 to 5, was projected as a humanitarian mission to monitor arrangements for looking after the IDPs and assess their requirements. The US has already contributed US $ 120 million for this purpose. The Obama Administration has promised to give US $ 200 million more after Congressional approval.

8.The UN authorities have reportedly estimated the total requirements at present as US $ 543 million of which the US has already given US $ 120 million and others US $ 137 million.

9. While there are already pledges amounting to more than 60 per cent of the requirements, there is no relief and rehabilitation infrastructure on the ground to handle the disbursement of this amount. Apart from the UN High Commission For Refugees, no other international organisation is well-placed to co-ordinate. In the absence of a national and an international humanitarian relief architecture, jihadi and anti-US organisations such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa, the political wing of the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), with well-tested and devoted cadres to handle humanitarian relief, have moved in.

10.In addition to organising the humanitarian relief with greater efficiency than the Government, they are also indulging in anti-Government and anti-US propaganda. Al Qaeda, which sees a new opportunity in the humanitarian situation created by
the military operations, has left it to the JUD to handle ground relief operations, but it has started adding to the anger of the IDPs by blaming the US for their plight.

11. Apart from some high-profile, photo-opp visits to some camps of the IDPs, Holbrooke seems to have devoted little time to working out the requirements for a humanitarian relief infrastructure on the ground. He is essentially a diplomat par excellence. Humanitarian relief is not his strong point. There is a need for the US to appoint a humanitarian relief co-ordinator, who can assist Holbrooke. (6-6-09)

The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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