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Pakistan Faces a Protracted 9/11 of Its Own

Pakistanlink, News Analysis, Dr. Nazir Khaja Posted: Oct 31, 2009

Developments in Pakistan make daily headlines. In the latest suicide attack on the university campus in Islamabad, four female students were killed, according to reports. Qari Hussain, the man reportedly responsible for training Pakistani Taleban suicide bombers, said his organization now considered all of Pakistan a war zone. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said, "We are in a state of war."

Whether one wants to agree with it or not, Pakistan is undergoing a protracted 9/11 of its own. The continuing saga of violence and extremism in Pakistan and neighboring areas poses a grave threat not only to Pakistan's existence but also to the peace and security of the world. The spread of religious extremism from this region and its linkages to other groups of jihadists under various labels is of grave concern. The government's weakness and ineptness coupled with the vulnerability of the majority of its population, because of lack of education and economic opportunities, are major factors providing for the pervasiveness, reach and organizational depth of the terrorist network.

Pakistan's dependence on the US aid is a part of its history. The Kerry-Lugar Bill provides Pakistan with badly needed aid. Yet there is an outpouring of street emotions along with media bashing against the conditionality inherent in the bill. The language of the bill and also some processes of accountability demanded of Pakistan by the US also seem unsettling to the Pakistani military authorities. The opposition parties as well as the media are always ready to join in the anti-American chorus.

The one word that drives any relationship is trust. This now seems to be missing in the dynamics of the whole situation and behavior, both in Pakistan and the US. The two countries that historically were close allies now seem to be drifting apart.

On the Pakistani side, the people do not trust their government, the government does not trust the army, the army does not trust the government and the people seem to have very little of trust in themselves. A distrust of the US is a given and so it goes. The military's objection is toward the bill's demand for placing the army under tighter civilian control by transferring to it the authority for promotions and appointments of the top echelon. Therefore it is not difficult that the bill is being scrutinized closely and the meaning of each word and phrase measured.

The US side has its own issues relating to trust. Although President Barack Obama remains immensely popular, he is yet to build a track record of success on policy matters. The president had earlier coupled the Afghanistan war with the insurgency in Pakistan; he now seems to be uncoupling it.

Pakistan has always been recognized as a faithful ally in policy circles in Washington, no matter which party is in control. Recently that relationship has come under intense and continuous review. Large sums of money shipped to Pakistan in the past remain unaccounted, according to the accountability office. The US' traditional meddling for its own strategic interests in Pakistan has been mainly through the Pakistan Army, the only stable and organized institution in the country. In recent years there has been an erosion of this trust and now as President Obama is reworking the relationship to foster a civilian government, there is uncertainty and distrust. What then would be in the best interest of the US and Pakistan as well as the peace and stability of the region?

The paradox of the Pakistani politics is that though everyone is against army rule, there isn't much enthusiasm for the civilian alternative. Judging from their past performance in fact there are genuine fears about the civilian authorities' ability to deal with escalating violence and religious extremism. The operating principle in Pakistan's politics to this date remains "the doctrine of necessity" which is commonly utilized by all those who seek power, whether politicians or the army. The people of Pakistan know their choice is between the lesser of the two evils. To an average impoverished Pakistani, the army has remained an institution, perhaps the only one, which provides Pakistan with protection and security. The army is on the march again and has opened its campaign in the dangerous area of Waziristan, a nexus of extremists. It needs all the help and support it can get. The public opinion is solidly behind the army.

During this critical hour, the army has no choice but to act. Yet the army must be accountable to the civilian government as it must be in a democracy. However, due to the complex and grave situation in Pakistan extraordinary measures may be needed to achieve the dual objectives of maintaining democratic rule and strengthening the army's resolve and effort to crush the terrorist network. Can the inept civilian government and politicians set aside their personal agendas and vendettas to support the army's efforts?

With daily terrorist attacks in major cities, there is already a growing sentiment among Pakistanis in favor of another spell of military rule. Opinion polls show that the former President Musharraf is as popular, if not more, as the present incumbent Asif Ali Zardari. Restoring the rule of law and stability in what has historically been an ungovernable area seems to be the top priority in the people's mind.

There are no easy answers to Pakistan's problems. To stay the course on the democratic path and to fight a decisive battle against terrorists is not proving easy. Major adjustments in attitudes and expectations on the part of every one involved are needed.

First, the government and the warring political parties should set aside their differences to pay attention to the needs of the people of Pakistan and to band together with the army. In this crisis a fresh multiparty coalition government could give a boost not only to the confidence of Pakistanis but also to others including the US. This may be the necessary transitional step needed to strengthen the roots of democracy in Pakistan. The caretaker government should put all its efforts behind strengthening the hands of police and the law and order institutions in the country and boost the confidence of the people in democracy. There has to be transparency and accountability on the part of the government. After some semblance of stability is achieved and the threat of jihadist insurgency eliminated fresh elections can be called to elect a new government.

The people of Pakistan should not buy into the rhetoric of leaders who incite violence in the name of religion and continue to propagate hatred of others. They need to take an active part in identifying and weeding out those who are causing problems.

The US and others who want to help Pakistan grow into a true democracy must remain committed and yet sensitive to what Pakistan has undergone for the last several decades not only due to its own inherent problems but also because of the failure or lapses in the foreign policies of the US and others. Without the participation and buy-in of the local people no war can be won and no threat eliminated. Massive education and social service programs are needed and the US must invest in this effort. A critical need is to build a fence in the border areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The border areas are porous and it is difficult to control the traffic of arms, drugs and also the terrorists who travel and hide in these areas. The US must support this priority. This will also stabilize Afghanistan.

The people of Pakistan are being tested once again. The jihadists' declaration of war has to be dealt with in a decisive manner and only the army with the full support of the people can eradicate this menace. As the saying goes, the present government should lead, follow, or get out of the way. The people of Pakistan need the answer now before it is too late. Otherwise they would have no choice left but to look to the army, however repulsive the idea of another round of army rule may appear to all who believe in democracy.

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