Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Taliban and the Pak-US Relations


By Dexter Filkins, NY Times, September 7, 2008

The above piece provides some useful insights. However, I suggest reading it with taking a grain of salt. It places the blame squarely on the extremists and the Pakistan military, but fails to give due credit to the US for its equally important role in the creation of the 'terror' in its current 'war on terror', historically (during the Cold War in particular) and at present.

Any serious study of extremism in Pakistan and the military politics has to take into account the Afghan Jihad and its long term consequences. I am not arguing about the morality of the Jihad itself against the invading Soviets, but the actual shape that the jihad ultimately took as a result of the US-Saudi-Pakistani involvement and their interaction with various competing groups, during and after the Afghan Jihad. The US and the Saudi Arabia poured in more than five billion dollars on the training and supplies of the jihadists in the 1980s. A narrow-minded, intolerant understanding of 'Jihad' and Islam was taught to the recruits, who were brought from the Afghan refugee camps, from various madrassas in Pakistan, and from abroad, including the US and the Britain. The Taliban are basically the second generation of these CIA-Saudi-funded and ISI-supervised jihadists.

By supporting various dictatorial regimes ("Islamist" as well as "enlightened") over these years, the US has continuously undermined the aspirations of the people and the political process in Pakistan. The ISI-Taliban connection is not a new revelation; the insiders sitting in the Pentagon and Washington know about it full well. However, what hasn't been pointed out in that piece is that in the past few years, in the name of war on terror the Bush administration has been more interested in suppressing the anti-dictatorial, anti-imperial, and anti-corporate-globalization movements in certain countries than fighting off the Taliban and al-Qaeda. The 'War on Terror' has been quite instrumental for the expansion of power and exploitation of resources not only for the Pakistani military establishment, but also the Bush administration. The ground reality is much messier than what the said piece affords to tell. Readers may find it useful to read this piece against the reviews of Ahmed Rashid's book that I posted earlier (here).

The choices the current administration and the one that will follow will make in dealing with the military, the civilian government under Zardari, and the Taliban are largely going to determine the future course of militant extremism in this region. The military has forcefully resisted any attempts by the US to undermine military's status as the most powerful player in Pakistan. The forceful reaction against the relegation of the ISI under the interior ministry and the suspension of the logistic support to NATO forces in Afghanistan through the Khyber Agency were instances through which the military effectively conveyed to the US that the US should deal with it directly, and not through the civilian government (by strengthening Zardari. As one can guess, The Khalilzad and Zardari connection did not make the military establishment very happy). The very recent 'secret' meeting between Adm. Mike Mullen and Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, along with other senior Pakistani and American commanders, perhaps reflects the latest choice the US has made (see here).

The ongoing American bombardments inside Pakistan, frequently resulting in the loss of innocent civilian lives, are on the one hand fueling anti-Americanism among the general population, and, on the other, undermining the moral authority of the civilian government, which is increasingly being seen as another lackey of the Bush administration, after Musharraf. If the current US policies continue, it will be difficult for the civilian government to survive for long and resist military's return to politics.

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