Taliban expert suggests rethink of `national security` requirements

By Majid Sheikh

Dawn, Jun 20 , 2009

LAHORE, June 19 “The military and intelligence establishment, under civilian rule, must completely rethink the meaning of 'national security', so that FATA is brought into the national mainstream and no territory of Pakistan can be grabbed by the Pakistani Taliban”.

The renowned writer and journalist, Mr Ahmed Rashid, delivering a lecture, The Taliban Phenomena and Pakistan's Future, at Lahore Gymkhana Club on Friday, was of the opinion that there was a lack of civilian leadership, which was the reason no clear direction in the fight against the Taliban was still in sight. The state is unable, and still unwilling, to fight the fear, terror and paralysis that was being unleashed on the people of Pakistan. While the Pakistan Army was definitely a disciplined and united force, it was definitely not effective against terrorism, he said. There is an urgent need to retrain a part of the Pakistan Army for anti-insurgency activities. The current method of tackling the situation would have catastrophic after-effects.

Mr Rashid said that a classic 'anti-insurgency' war was to 'clear, hold and rebuild', not clear and then clear out. He said it was evident from visiting the IDPs of Swat that while they all hated the Taliban for their two year barbaric rule, they were also equally angry with the army for not coming to their assistance even though they were posted nearby. This lack of willingness to 'rebuild' stems partly from the fact that still the national security perceptions of the military establishment are not to give up on the Taliban. This could have devastating consequences for Pakistan, because the Taliban want to now wrest political power for themselves and have a mechanism to sustain themselves.

He explained that the 'Taliban Model' stems from the fact that Pakistan allowed the Afghan Taliban to settle and prosper in FATA and in the cities of Pakistan. From them emerged the Pakistani Taliban as well as the Central Asian Taliban. If they manage to grab power in any part of Pakistan, it would not be a surprise to very soon see the emergence of an Indian Taliban. This could have even greater and grimmer consequences for Pakistan. Because of this possibility, it was understandable why India was interested in Afghanistan, especially after the Pakistani proxy government of the Taliban had been routed in Afghanistan.

Mr Rashid dwelt at length on how the Pakistani Taliban emerged from the strategic mistake of allowing the Afghan Taliban to settle in Pakistan. “Today the Pakistani Taliban are being sustained by money by the drug trade, and from within Pakistan by religious and political parties, as well as by individuals. Where is all this money coming from?” He explained the drug connections and how the entire network flourished.

He was of the opinion that Pakistan must immediately rethink their concepts of 'national security'. Today we need peace with India, even though he said that India should also now, in their long-term national interest, find an acceptable solution to the Kashmir issue. For them to remain adamant on not settling would, as they will soon discover, be to their disadvantage.

“Today Pakistan's leading supporters, China and Saudi Arabia, are on the verge of entering a phase of 'not friendly relations' with Pakistan because of the continued support for the Taliban by the military and intelligence establishment,” he said.

“The weak civilian leadership is contributing to the military not giving up power to make strategic decisions.”

He said that now the western world was sick of bailing out Pakistan every 10 years. That is why a major economic crisis was inevitable, and that is why considerable international assistance was the only way out to stem terrorism.

He counseled for major political initiates by the civilian government to prepare the country for complete civilian rule in all parts of Pakistan. Once FATA is part of normal Pakistani civil life, one can strive for normalcy. “Maybe for the time being the Taliban hold sway, but the moves must come now,” he said. He explained how the Pakistani military allowed over 300 pro-government Pashtun tribal Maliks to be slaughtered by the Taliban, while they got rid of an efficient system of governance in place since British times. “They just brought in clueless military officers to run the place and the Taliban got rid of them,” he said.

A lively question and answer session followed the lecture. The lecture by Mr Rashid was arranged by the library committee of the club, which organises a 'Speaker of the Month' series.




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