Friday, July 03, 2009

Pakistan Divided Against Itself

Recent reports by Jane Perlez and her colleagues at the New York Times reveal that Pakistan is still a divided house. The military and the civilian administration don’t trust each other, and indeed seem to have competing visions of the world; and the military itself seems divided. Whatever cooperation the Americans are getting with Pakistan is therefore likely to come unraveled. An unpromising future in a critically important neighborhood. RLC

NYTimes June 28, 2009
Taliban Losses Are No Sure Gain for Pakistanis
MARDAN, Pakistan — For the past month and a half, the Pakistani military has claimed success in retaking the Swat Valley from the Taliban, clawing back its own territory from insurgents who only a short time ago were extending their reach toward the heartland of the country.
Yet from a helicopter flying low over the valley last week, the low-rise buildings of Mingora, the largest city in Swat, now deserted and under a 24-hour curfew, appeared unscathed. In the surrounding countryside, farmers had harvested wheat and red onions on their unscarred land.
All that is testament to the fact that the Taliban mostly melted away without a major fight, possibly to return when the military withdraws or to fight elsewhere, military analysts say. About two million people have been displaced in Swat and the surrounding area as the military has carried out its campaign.
The reassertion of control over Swat has at least temporarily denied the militants a haven they coveted inside Pakistan proper. The offensive has also won strong support from the United States, which has urged Pakistan to engage the militants.
But the Taliban’s decision to scatter leaves the future of Swat, and Pakistan’s overall stability, under continued threat, military analysts and some politicians say.
The tentative results in Swat also do not bode well for the military’s new push in the far more treacherous terrain of South Waziristan, another insurgent stronghold, where officials have vowed to take on the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Baitullah Mehsud, who remains Pakistan’s most wanted man.
Signs abound that the military’s campaign in Swat is less than decisive. The military extended its deadline for ending the campaign. Even in the areas where progress has been made, the military controls little more than urban centers and roads, say those who have fled the areas. The military has also failed to kill or capture even one top Taliban commander.
It was “very disappointing,” said Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, a senior politician from the region, that none of the commanders had been eliminated. It turned out, he said, that early reports of the capture of Ibn Amin, a particularly brutal commander from Matta, were incorrect.
Many Taliban fighters have infiltrated the camps set up for those displaced by the fighting and are likely to return with them to Swat, said Himayatullah Mayar, the mayor of Mardan, the city where many of the refugees are staying. “Most of the Taliban shaved their beards, and they are living here with their families,” he said.
As of two weeks ago, the police had arrested 150 people in the camps suspected of being members of the Taliban, Mr. Mayar said. This figure did not include suspects arrested by the Intelligence Bureau, Pakistan’s domestic intelligence outfit, and the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, the country’s main spy agency, he said.
Meanwhile, the government, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, has yet to announce a full plan for how it will provide services like courts, policing and health care that will allow the refugees to return home and the government to fully assert control.
Those plans appear to be mired in conflict and mutual suspicion between the military and the civilian government, raising serious questions about whether the authorities can secure Swat and other areas and keep them from being taken back by the Taliban, military experts said.
“I’ve told the president and the prime minister and the chief of the army this is the time to act. Just take basic things and implement them,” said Gen. Nadeem Ahmad, the commander of the Special Support Group, an arm of the Pakistani military that is providing temporary buildings and some food for the displaced. “This is not talking rocket science.”
On a notepad, General Ahmad had drawn a chart of the four elements of what he called “lasting peace.” They were good government; improved delivery of services, including rebuilt schools; speedy justice (something the Taliban had provided); and social equity.
He appeared to be skeptical that those aspects could be delivered within what he called an essential one-year time frame. He said he had warned the leaders: “If you don’t deliver, it will be trouble. You will come back and do the operation again.”
Having witnessed past episodes of deal-making with the Taliban, the people of Swat say they want tangible proof that the military is serious this time and that they will be safe if they return home.
From the start, a rallying cry has been a demand that the army kill or capture Taliban leaders, a ruthless group of highly trained fighters, some with links to Al Qaeda. But the army has not been able to show any evidence that it killed any of the Taliban leaders.
The daily newspaper The News said in a recent editorial that unless Maulana Fazlullah, the Taliban’s main commander in Swat, and Mr. Mehsud, the country’s top enemy, were captured, “the Taliban are going to live to fight another day.”
Indeed, most of the damage from the recent fighting appears confined to small agricultural hamlets outside Mingora, according to interviews with displaced people. Some said they had heard from recent arrivals to the camps that areas 500 yards off the roads remained in control of the militants.
The “outlook was bleak” in Swat because the civilian government did not have the money or the skills to rebuild, said Shuja Nawaz, the author of a history of the Pakistani military and now the director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington.
Most of the two million displaced people are still living in tent camps and cramped quarters with relatives and even strangers, in cities as far flung as the southern port of Karachi.
Many displaced people were fed up with the cruelties inflicted under Taliban rule and have backed the military campaign. But as the fighting drags on in places, the mood among them grows increasingly despondent.
Some displaced people said that they were angry at the army for indiscriminate shelling in civilian areas. Others said they were confused about why the military operation was even necessary.
“We had no problem with the Taliban,” Umar Ali, a poultry trader from Qambar in Swat, said as he sat on the veranda of a home in Swabi, a town filled with displaced people. “We’re here because of the military shelling. I’m a trader, and the thing that affects my life is the curfew.”
Earlier Pakistani campaigns against the Taliban do not offer an encouraging precedent. In Bajaur, a part of the tribal areas, two main economic centers, the market towns of Loe Sam and Inayat Kalay, remain in ruins nearly eight months after the army smashed them in pursuit of the Taliban and claimed victory.

“In Refugee Aid, Pakistan’s War Has New Front”

Published: July 1, 2009

QASIM PULA, Pakistan — Islamist charities and the United States are competing for the allegiance of the two million people displaced by the fight against the Taliban in Swat and other parts of Pakistan — and so far, the Islamists are in the lead.

Two million people have been displaced by the fight against the Taliban in Swat and other parts of Pakistan.

Although the United States is the largest contributor to a United Nations relief effort, Pakistani authorities have refused to allow American officials or planes to deliver the aid in the camps for displaced people. The Pakistanis do not want to be associated with their unpopular ally.

Meanwhile, in the absence of effective aid from the government, hard-line Islamist charities are using the refugee crisis to push their anti-Western agenda and to sour public opinion against the war and America.

Last week, a crowd of men, the heads of households uprooted from Swat, gathered in this village in northwestern Pakistan for handouts for their desperate families. But before they could even get a can of cooking oil, the aid director for a staunchly anti-Western Islamic charity took full advantage of having a captive audience, exhorting the men to jihad.

“The Western organizations have spent millions and billions on family planning to destroy the Muslim family system,” said the aid director, Mehmood ul-Hassan, who represented Al Khidmat, a powerful charity of the strongly anti-American political party Jamaat-e-Islami.

The Western effort had failed, he said, but Pakistanis should show their strength by joining the fight against the infidels.

The authorities’ insistence that the Americans remain nearly invisible reveals the deep strains that continue to underlie the American-Pakistani relationship, even as cooperation improves in the fight against the Taliban, and public support for the war grows in Pakistan.

Yet Islamist and jihadist groups openly work the camps.

“Because of the lack of international agencies, there is a vacuum filled by actors that are Islamist and more than that, jihadist,” said Kristele Younes, a senior advocate with Refugees International, a Washington group established in 1979.

One of the most prominent jihadist charity groups, Jamaat-ud-Dawa, had been barred from the camps, according to Lt. Gen. Nadeem Ahmad, the head of the Pakistani Army’s disaster management group. The group was designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council in December.

Nonetheless, it set up operations in Mardan under a new name, Falah-e-Insaniyat, according to Himayatullah Mayar, the mayor of Mardan. After the order to leave the area, Falah-e-Insaniyat went underground but still appeared to be operating to some extent, Mr. Mayar said.

Signs of the organizational strength and robust coffers of Islamist charities were easy to see around the camps, often in contrast to the lack of services offered by the government.

For example, Al Khidmat, Mr. Hassan’s group, arranged to bring in eye surgeons from Punjab to staff a free eye clinic for the displaced, offering cataract operations and eyeglasses.

“Government hospitals are nonexistent here, and we are able to treat not only the displaced but the whole community,” said one of the surgeons, Dr. Khalid Jamal.

Meanwhile, Mr. Hassan was busy checking new temporary schools, health clinics and four ambulances on 24-hour service that Al Khidmat had set up.

Every day, he said, he personally supervised the distribution of food at three different places — sometimes at a home, sometimes in a camp. So far, he said, he had covered 400 of 450 villages near the city of Swabi. Always, he said, before the food is distributed, he delivers his exhortation to jihad.

By contrast, although much American aid gets through, it is not branded as American, and Pakistani authorities insist that it be delivered in a “subtle” manner, General Ahmad said.

The general said he had told American officials there would be an “extremely negative” reaction if Americans were seen to be distributing aid. “I said they couldn’t fly in Chinooks, no way,” General Ahmad said, referring to American military helicopters. The United States, he said, was seen as “part of the problem.”

That is not what American officials had hoped for. At first, the exodus of people from Swat, many of whom had suffered from the brutality of the Taliban, seemed to present a chance for Washington to improve its image in Pakistan.

“There is an opportunity actually to provide services, much as we did with the earthquake relief, which had a profound impact on the perception of America,” Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said at a hearing attended by the Obama administration’s special envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke, at the start of the exodus.

In an effort to highlight American concern for the refugees, Mr. Holbrooke visited the camps in June, sitting on the floor of a sweltering tent and talking to people about their plight. “President Obama has sent us to see how we can help you,” he said. One result of the trip was an effort to send Pakistani-American female doctors to assist women in the camps.

According to the State Department, the United States has pledged $110 million for food and logistical support. In late May, the Defense Department sent several flights to Islamabad carrying ready-to-eat meals, environmentally controlled tents and water trucks. But ideas of winning back popularity with a big show of airlifts of American assistance on the scale of American earthquake relief to Kashmir in 2005 were rebuffed, and not only by the Pakistanis.

American nongovernmental organizations in Pakistan discouraged high-profile deliveries of United States government aid because anti-American sentiment was too widespread and the security risk to Americans in the camps was too high, said the head of one of the groups, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. There were many Taliban in the displaced camps, and they believed the Pakistani military was fighting against them in Swat on orders from Washington, the official said.

The restrictions on American assistance are clear in the camps and in villages like this one deep in the countryside around Mardan and Swabi, where Pakistani families have opened their homes to large numbers of displaced people.

American officials and their consultants were barely able to move beyond the highly visible refugee camps set up along the main highway between Islamabad and Peshawar, said Mahboob Mahmood, a Pakistani-American businessman who has visited the area to help find ways to bring additional aid.

“They have been almost completely neutered,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 2, 2009, on page A1 of the New York edition.


hannah said...

I was talking about this earlier today with a friend - there is not enough money in the world that could convince me to go to Pakistan on assignment. I salute the people brave enough to work there, but there's no way I could do their job. I worry about my colleagues in Islamabad, Karachi, Peshawar, and Lahore every day.

Bob said...

Thanks, hannah,
It's good to hear from you. I agree that there are many frightening features of Pakistan society. I do think, though, that if you were there it would not seem as dangerous as we suppose. However, I know lots of people in that part of the world who have no idea of dangerously they are living. Most of us don't see things coming -- or even refuse to see what's coming. Take the global climate change for instance ...