Saturday, 16 June 2007

Keeping the Story Straight

Looking through bits and pieces that I wrote over the last few months, but never went on to complete and post, I came across this unfinished piece about the Musharraf government's capitulations to militants and the largest loss of sovereign Pakistani soil following military defeat behind the loss of East Pakistan in 1971. It remains unfinished, and perhaps in some ways, now redundant, but I'm posting it here anyway since very few people in Pakistan seem to know about or even acknowledge the carving out of an independent state in our northern areas:


The Musharraf administration have obviously not learned anything from the Bush government. While it has been acknowledged universally by the media, analysts, think tanks, intelligence officials, government bureaucrats and even low level administration officials in the U.S. that there really was no connection between Saddam's Iraq and Al Qaeda, Bush, Cheney and the top ranks have stuck to their guns, repeating endlessly the lie that there was a link. Such stubborn discipline in the face of reality is truly admirable.

Alas discipline is not a prime quality of the Musharraf administration. For years it has been the party line that there is no Al Qaeda in Pakistan. There were stragglers, foreigners, miscreants and the odd sympathizer but no significant Al Qaeda presence. Needless to say that it has been acknowledged universally by the media, analysts, think tanks, intelligence officials etc. that there is a very significant Al Qaeda presence in Pakistan, dug in in the tribal areas. In fact, last month Musharraf himself stated that "Al -Qaeda is in our mountains, in Mir Ali. This is completely true."

Was the government finally facing up to reality? If so, no one told the Foreign Office, which only a few days strongly rejected the claim that there were Al Qaeda bases in the tribal areas of Pakistan. Not quiet on the same page, are we?

But given the actual situation in NWFP and the tribal areas, perhaps the administration can be forgiven for not always knowing what lies to tell and which lies are now redundant. Given the military defeat of the Pakistani army and its retreat from the tribal areas last year, and the humiliating terms it had to sign with the Taliban and Talibanesque fringe groups, the fact of the matter is that Pakistan has actually lost control of the largest chunk of its territory since the ill-fated 1971 war. 2006 was the year that the 'Islamic Emirate of Waziristan' came into existence.

The Pakistani government still officially denies that it lost any territory. Rather, they claim that they simply signed accords with local tribes that meant that the tribes would take it upon themselves to ensure that none of the foreign "guests" residing in the region would take part in any terrorist acts.

The actual signatories of the accord were the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Islamic Emirate of Waziristan. Of the patchwork of tribes in the area, only those whose leaders were Jihadis were recognized as signatories. Other tribes that were not so closely connected with the Taliban or other Jihadi groups were abandoned and found themselves now subject to Taliban-style rule - enforced by tribal rivals. In return for being given a free hand to do what they wished, the Pakistan army asked only that the Jihadis not attack them.

Interestingly the process was then repeated in a number of other tribal areas. As it so happened, under pressure from the United States, Pakistan allowed limited air-strikes to be carried out against a few targets in late 2006 and early 2007. Meanwhile, emboldened by their success, Jihadi groups started putting pressure on other other tribal agencies and even areas of Pakistan proper, forcing more concessions from the Pakistani government and fears from local tribes that they were being abandoned.

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