Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Turmoil in Afghan-Pakistan Region: Need to put things into perspective

(Above: Afghan Civilian Deaths Breeding Extremism - Al Jazeera - April 27, 2009)

Too often the media has focused on the rhetoric of religious extremists. But that's only part of the picture. Why do some segments of the population find an appeal in their rhetoric? That question has not been looked at closely. The focus is usually on the 'internal'. The usual answer given is the madrassa: Students from under-served socio-economic backgrounds end up in these madrassas where they are brainwashed into becoming 'martyrs'. The external factors, like the one mentioned in the above report, are scarcely considered.

Perhaps even more important is to place the current situation in a sound historical framework. How were Taliban created? What was the context of their creation? Out of multitude of factions in Afghanistan, how come only they were able to consolidate power in the 1990s? What was the utility of Afghan Jihad for the global powers? Today, where are they getting their continuous supply of weapons from? In Pakistan, how come against the bombardment of ISAF/NATO/CIA in FATA and Pakistan Army's continuous campaign in the last many years, they are expanding like wildfire. Why is Army willing to negotiate with Taliban but uses an iron hand against the Baloch insurgents? How this political violence and the extremism it breeds legitimize the presence of global powers in the Afghan-Pakistan region (and, similarly, in Iraq for that matter)?

Concerning the Shia targeting (bombing and target killing) in Pakistan, an important question to consider is how in the face of ISAF/CIA/NATO' s and half-million- strong Pakistan Army's campaign, a few thousand Taliban and their local supporter groups could still open a third front against the Turi/Shia tribes in Kurram Agency (Parachinar, Pewaar, etc.) last year? Anyone familiar with the long history of Taliban and their supporter groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan knows that the timing of their attacks and their targets are usually very strategically calculated. Now whether they do this strategic thinking themselves or the 'hidden hands' behind them (while the Taliban factions consciously or unconsciously play in their hands), the important point is to discern the possible strategic goals. What's at stake in provoking Shias in the current political turmoil and how do they expect Shias to respond?

It's important to distinguish the pawns, the kings, and the actual players playing the game on the chessboard.

The point is not to emphasize one factor (internal or external) over the other (and silent the latter). It's about the need to develop a sound analysis of the ground realities.