Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Final Nail In The Coffin Of The Pakistani Pantomime?

If the history of the 21st century's first decade is ever properly written, the words "the war in Afghanistan" could probably serve as little more than an index entry from a footnote in a prominent chapter about Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Agency. The ISI deserves at least a chapter of its own, if only for the spectacularly cunning confidence trick it managed to play, year after year after year, with the United States of America as its most gullible victim.

Billions of dollars wasted and tens of thousands of lives lost, all the result of an elaborate pantomime carried off by the ISI, a parasitic, third-rate military-industrial lie machine that the White House still fancies as an American "ally." Chief among the ISI's successes, from 2001 until even now, is the propaganda fiction that after September 11, 2001, the Pakistani military stopped providing succor and sustenance to Al Qaida and the Taliban, and that if those entitities were present in Pakistan after 2001 at all it was only on account of those savage Pakhtuns from the hill country in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), and their primitive "hospitality" code of Pakhtunwali.

I strike a glancing blow at all that in my book, Come from The Shadows, which is due out in October. It's one of several myths about Afghanistan that I easily dispose of (evidence is our friend) in the opening chapter, Welcome to Absurdistan. In dispelling the myth that the Pakhtuns of FATA are as angry about NATO drone strikes as the troops-out lobby keeps telling us, I have relied heavily on the splendid front-line work of the Pakistani journalist Farhat Taj, a research fellow at the University of Oslo. Last year, I noted her finding: “I have been discussing the issue of drone attacks with hundreds of people of Waziristan. They see the U.S. drone attacks as their liberators from the clutches of the terrorists into which, they say, their state has wilfully thrown them.”

Two years ago, she told the Washington Times that most of what passes for informed punditry about Pakistan's tribal areas is drawn from third-hand journalism written by journalists who don't know the first thing about what they're talking about. "They constantly distort the realities of our people and area. Most of them do not even bother to come and see what is happening.”

Now, Taj has got a book out, Taliban and Anti-Taliban. It is the result not just of historical scholarship but also roughly 2000 interviews and discussions undertaken throughout FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkwa (formerly the Northwest Frontier Province) over the past two years. A lot of nasty and violent people, along with very smart and well-situated people, are going to be quite displeased with what the book exposes, not least the nonsense that the Pakistani government would surrender the jihadist Arabs and Talib crackpots in the hill country, but the stubborn tribes just won't permit it because of that "Pakhtunwali" thing. Taj writes: "Some first-hand interactions with the tribesmen would have provided the scholars and journalists with a wealth of empirical evidence to establish that no tribes in FATA can dare to host anyone wanted by the state."

Further: "Where do Usama Bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri or other foreign terrorists fit in to this notion and practice of hospitality? Well-armed and battle hardened Al-Qaida terrorists never surrendered their weapons to the tribes in FATA. Instead they have overpowered the tribes and brutally killed those tribesmen who defied them. They entered Waziristan with full state consent and all the tribesmen who opposed their entry were killed with state collusion by the militants. Those that were left ran away or were overpowered by the militants covertly backed by the Pakistani state. If the Pakistani state wants today, no militants can ever stay in Waziristan or elsewhere in FATA.

"It is a myth that FATA tribes gave refuge to Al-Qaida terrorists under the code of Pakhtunwali. In the tribal context, public backing of any issues, including refuge to anyone, has to be discussed and agreed upon in a tribal jirga (council). . . I would challenge the scholars and journalists to produce evidence of any such jirgas. The fact is that Taliban and Al-Qaida banned the institution of jirga wherever they took control in FATA or at least rendered it ineffective through targeted killing and intimidation of the tribal leaders, and all this was thoroughly facilitated by the ISI. . ."

It's pretty straightforward. The Frontier Crimes Regulations that apply in the otherwise lawless FATA region allow the Pakistani military to bulldoze entire towns if a tribe refuses to hand over a fugitive. The ISI has done precisely that for offences less grave than harbouring al Qaida. Indeed, the ISI did bulldoze villages, recklessly and unnecessarily, when it finally felt obliged to go after the Haqanni Talibs. What has the ISI done to go after Mullah Omar's Taliban? Nothing. Why? Pakhtunwali? Please, get real.

I've only read the first few pages, but it promises to be a most useful book. You can order it here.


Blogger joop said...

I being the son of that unfortunate soil would say ,"EVERY WORD OF WHAT I READ OVER HERE IS A TRUTH".

9:05 AM  
Blogger Kit Spence said...

"a parasitic, third-rate military-industrial lie machine"

Well said. You are also bang on about the attitudes in FATA and elsewhere, particularly NWFP about the attitudes to the drones. All of my friends there agree that the drone attacks are aimed at nasty people who should be eliminated. It is only the inept and lazy media types who keep spouting the myth that Pakistani's are enraged by this abrogation of their sovereignty. The residents of FATA and NWFP would like to see their own government deal with it, but, since they won't they are happy that someone is.

11:27 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home