A new kind of war
06 Mar 2009
The blood of the slain policemen had not even dried before allegations began to fill the air in Pakistan that India had mounted the attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore.
It was left to one courageous journalist to observe, sarcastically, that ''Given how late the Sri Lankan team decided to play the Test in Lahore, and the logistics and other requirements for mounting such an operation, the Indians didn't have much time to put this together - in which case, if these analysts are to be believed, India seems to have done an impressive job''. The worst thing that could happen, he concluded, was for a state is to go into denial. ''How long will we deny that we have groups that have run amok and whose obvious agenda involves destroying Pakistan as a nation-state?''
It is not only Pakistan that is in denial. President Obama condemned the attack as an ''attempt to damage Pakistan's relations with Sri Lanka''. He could not have been further off the mark. The attack had nothing to do with Sri Lanka - a New Zealand or West Indies team would have served the terrorists' purpose equally well.
Their real target was Pakistan's tottering democracy and it's seriously endangered civil society. Their purpose was not to isolate Pakistan from the world of international cricket but from the world itself. For most of the past three decades Pakistan's cricket team has been among the three best in the world. Cricket has therefore become the talisman of Pakistan's success as a nation, and almost the sole focus of its national pride. Killing Pakistani cricket is therefore a surrogate for killing the modern nation state that Pakistan yearns to become.
By far the most puzzling feature of Pakistan's descent into chaos is that it is happening with the acquiescence of its armed forces. The Pakistan army has 650,000 soldiers and 528,000 reservists. Yet barely 16 months after it started a 'major offensive' against the Taliban in Swat, Mullah Fazlullah's rag tag, murderous militia, which numbers barely 2,500, has it on the run. The army command ascribes this, and its other failures in the tribal areas, to the fact that its army is trained for high intensity combat against India and cannot therefore be retrained and redeployed to the west until all possibility of a war with India has been eliminated.
This argument is absurd. When a living organism faces both an immediate and a distant threat to its existence, the instinct for self preservation forces it to confront the former. But Pakistan's army has still to move one significant unit from the Indian border.
Many explanations have been put forward for Musharraf's, and now Kayani's, willingness to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, but the most obvious is the least discussed: the army's dread of getting inextricably bogged down in a war it cannot win.
What the Taliban are ruthlessly waging is a new kind of war, in which civilians are expendable pawns. The Taliban kills civilians; the civilians turn to their government for protection; the government fails to protect them; in desperation they submit to the terrorists to buy their peace. he Taliban wins. QED.
Pakistan's ISI understands this kind of war only too well, for it has waged it with considerable skill in Kashmir where, since 1998, it has tied down more than half a million Indian troops with fewer than 2,000 armed militants. Today it is getting a dose of its own medicine in terrain that is more difficult than that of Kashmir, and the number of militants 10 times larger.
It knows, therefore, that it can win battles and inflict the occasional, crippling, defeat. But it does not have the numbers to blanket the countryside, as India has done in Kashmir, so that normal life can continue. Peace therefore requires a political settlement, but no such settlement will endure so long as Pakistan remains a partner of the US in the Afghan war. In the meanwhile, appeasement buys time.
America has so far been in a state of denial because it could not bring itself to believe that it is a part of the problem and not of the solution. That is changing. It now needs to recognise that the road to peace does not run through the military eradication of the Taliban in Pakistan but through a political settlement in Afghanistan that deprives the Pakistani Taliban of the oxygen of nationalist rage.
But a political settlement will remain out of reach for everyone so long as the security establishments in Islamabad and New Delhi remain at loggerheads with each other. First Mumbai, then Lahore: isn't it time these capitals learned the obvious lesson?