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The unpopularity of US drone strikes has been exaggerated
Pakistani politicians fume and rant against US unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strikes against al-Qaeda and Taliban targets in the tribal areas in Pakistan’s North-west. The outrage is a charade, at least for the politicians in government, because some of the UAVs are operating out air bases in Pakistan, ostensibly with the knowledge and permission of the Pakistani government.

But a survey of the affected populations in the tribal areas, conducted by the Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy (AIRRA), a local think-tank, found that the people do not quite share the same level of outrage.

The popular notion outside the Pakhtun belt that a large majority of the local population supports the Taliban movement lacks substance. The notion that anti-Americanism in the region has not increased due to drone attacks is rejected. The study supports the notion that a large majority of the people in the Pakhtun belt wants to be incorporated with the state and wants to integrate with the rest of the world.

    —Do you see drone attacks bringing about fear and terror in the common people? (Yes 45%, No 55%)
    —Do you think the drones are accurate in their strikes? (Yes 52%, No 48%)
    —Do you think anti-American feelings in the area increased due to drone attacks recently? (Yes 42%, No 58%)
    —Should Pakistan military carry out targeted strikes at the militant organisations? (Yes 70%, No 30%)
    —Do the militant organisations get damaged due to drone attacks?
    (Yes 60%, No 40%)[Farhat Taj/The News]

AIRRA claims that it “has been envisioned to remain independent, both ideologically and organizationally”. If the results any reflection of this vision, then they should deflate the displays of righteousness that Pakistani politicians put up, and indeed, weaken their hand while negotiating with their US counterparts.

Surrendering Swat

Pakistan’s strategic retreat will be irreversible…unless the military establishment is transformed

First the facts: the Pakistani government has struck a deal with Maulana Sufi Mohammed, who heads an organisation called the Tanzim Nifaz Shariat-e-Muhammadi (TNSM) to impose Nizam-e-Adl regulations, which are based on Sharia law, in the Malakand Division of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). This region consists of Swat and a few other districts where the Pakistani army has been unable and unwilling to take on the Islamist militants who have effective control. But it is not Mr Sufi Mohammed’s TNSM that holds sway—rather, it is his Maulana Fazlullah’s militia, including the Shaheen Commando Force, affiliated to Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that has imposed a reign of terror in Swat. And to spice up this Frontier version of Santa Barbara, Mr Fazlullah is Mr Sufi Mohammed’s son-in-law.

It is the third time in the last year that the the Pakistani government is attempting to strike a deal with the father-in-law in order to get the son-in-law to cease violence. It has failed twice—because Mr Fazlullah and Swat are pieces on a larger chessboard that also includes, among others, Baitullah Mehsud and Waziristan. These two militant leaders have been able to whipsaw the half-hearted attempts by the Pakistani state machinery into submission.

And a little background: The erstwhile princely state of Swat, headed by the Wali, had a traditional justice system based on an admixture of tribal and Islamic laws. This was abolished when Swat was integrated into Pakistan in 1969—and was replaced by a corrupt, tardy and unpopular bureaucratic system under the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (PATA) regulations. General Zia-ul Haq’s Islamisation project and the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan got mixed up with the popular resentment against a failed judicial-administrative system. Mr Sufi Mohammed’s TNSM began as protest movement against the PATA regulations, which naturally took the shape of a call for Sharia. In 1993, Pakistan’s Supreme Court ruled against the PATA regulations. You would think that some other system came into effect. But it didn’t. A judicial vacuum followed—nobody bothered with trifling matters like a proper judicial system for the people of Swat and its neighbouring districts.

There have been previous announcements of the imposition of Nizam-e-Adl in Swat, but it is unclear if the people’s need for a justice system, any justice system, was met. But the issue of a justice system is distinct from what Mr Fazlullah & Co are trying to establish. The Taliban agenda is to set up an Islamic state on the lines of Mullah Omar’s erstwhile regime in Kabul. Going by their electoral preference—for the secular Awami National Party—it is clear that the people of Swat don’t want that. But now that the Pakistani state has abandoned them, that’s likely to be what they are going to get. [Update: See Sepoy’s post]

Where does all this take us? Well, the fact that the Pakistani government had to settle for political realism within its boundaries suggests that it does not have the power to prevail over the TTP. The attempt to explain away its surrender as a tactical move is hogwash—unless the Pakistani military establishment undergoes a radical transformation, it is unlikely that the government will ever be able to reclaim the lost territories.

Strategically, the surrender will embolden the Taliban forces elsewhere. General Kayani was caught describing the Haqqani militia in Afghanistan as Pakistan’s “strategic assets”. As long as the military establishment continues to believe that the Taliban can be strategic assets it is only a matter of time before the Taliban hegemony crosses across the Indus into the Punjab province. K Subrahmanyam thinks that the Pakistani generals might not want to live under such a regime. But who knows what a combination of delusional thinking, radicalisation and political realism might lead to?

Tailpiece: It is touching to see an op-ed columnist describe Mr Sufi Mohammed as “a simple and peaceful man who does not preach violence except in the way of jihad against non- Muslims.”

Related Links: Swat in Pragati: Articles by Manan Ahmed & Ayesha Saeed

The myth of the unbeatable Pashtun

A question of superior force, superior tactics and resolve

Sushant Sareen’s piece on the psy-war in Afghanistan makes an important point:

Even more galling is the nonsense being peddled that this war is not winnable and that the Pashtun lands are the graveyards of empires past and present. Not only is this historically incorrect, it is also a self-created, self-serving and self perpetuated myth.

The fact is that the Pashtuns are eminently beatable and have been beaten plenty of times in the past. Alexander, Timur, Nadir Shah, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, and the British, all have beaten the Pashtuns and established order in the Pashtun lands. Lest it be forgotten, the Sikhs followed by the British had defeated the Pashtuns so comprehensively that for almost 150 years now, relative peace and order has prevailed in the Pashtun lands.

True, the British suffered the occasional setback but they eventually managed to subdue the Pashtun tribes. Had the British wanted they would have also continued to rule Afghanistan, only they didn’t find it worth their while and preferred to let it remain a buffer between India and Russia. The Russians too would never have been defeated had the Soviet economy not collapsed (and it didn’t collapse because of the war in Afghanistan) and had the Americans not pumped in weapons and money to back the so-called Mujahideen.

No doubt the Pashtuns are a very turbulent race. Not only have they crafted treachery into a fine art form, they have also used it to great effect in the way they fight against their rivals. But while they are terrific warriors for whom warfare is a way of life, they have always succumbed to superior force and superior tactics, not to mention the lure of money. The Pashtuns have never been known to stand against a well-disciplined, well-equipped, motivated, and equally ruthless force.

But a set-piece army is only partially useful against the Pashtuns; it must be backed by highly mobile troops who can chase the guerrillas and hunt them down. [Rediff]

Sovereignty vovereignty

..and violations thereof

Over at Five Rupees, Ahsan has an excellent take on the goings-on between the United States and Pakistan along the Durand line.

I should also stipulate for the record that the violation by the U.S. of Pakistan’s sovereignty—the notion that a state practices exclusive control of territory within its borders—in FATA is a red herring, for three reasons.

First, the Pakistani state’s sovereignty in the region since independence has been tenuous at best; the area has largely been left to its own devices under the stewardship of local- and district-level tribal governments.

Second, even if the preceding sentence was not true, Pakistan’s sovereignty in the region was chronologically and historically first violated by the Taliban, and not American drones and soldiers. Like virginity, sovereignty can logically only be violated once; once the Taliban established a quasi-parallel administration in the region, it became a political and legal reality that Pakistan does not lay claim to controlling the area.

Third, the uproar about sovereignty (concerning) American actions in the reigon in the last few weeks ignores the fact that the Americans have been doing this for well over two years now; it is only the fact that (a) it has become more overt, and (b) it is being done more frequently that seems to be the root of Pakistani anger. Neither (a) nor (b) have anything to do with the violation of sovereignty per se and have everything to do with the way the violation of sovereignty is conducted.

Irrespective of polito-legal questions of sovereignty, the fact remains that the status quo represents an extremely dangerous situation for the Pakistani state. Squeezed by the Americans to do more, by the Pakistani population to do less, and by the Taliban to do nothing, this high-wire balancing act is doomed to fail. The question, however, remains: on which side of the wire is Pakistan going to fall?[Five Rupees]

Kill the invaders

Say the corps commanders of the Pakistani army?

Bruce Loudon of The Australian reports that the Pakistani army’s corps commanders have ordered their troops to retaliate against US troops crossing over into their territory.

What amounts to a dramatic order to “kill the invaders”, as one senior officer put it last night, was disclosed after the commanders—who control the army’s deployments at divisional level—met at their headquarters in the garrison city of Rawalpindi under the chairmanship of army chief and former ISI spy agency boss Ashfaq Kayani.[The Australian]

That is something if at all it is true. No other major news sources are reporting this, and there is no official announcement to this effect. So the dramatic order might have been intended for purposes of drama. In any case, these orders are not too useful against Predator strikes.

But it will be interesting to see what happens the next time US special forces conduct a raid into Pakistani territory.