The devil’s dividend

The devil’s dividend

Pakistan’s duplicity in misappropriating funds provided by the US for fighting the war on terror should surprise none, least of all Washington (“Alms for arms", Mint, 26 December).

The manner in which Islamabad short-changed money and arms for fighting the Afghan war in the 1980s to run a proxy war in Kashmir is well recorded. The US had turned a blind eye to this perfidy as it did not affect what were perceived as America’s vital national interests. This time, however, lack of oversight is likely to have a far greater impact not just for the US but also the alliance of nations from Europe to Australasia fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

For Pakistan, too, the chickens of breeding terror abroad both in India and Afghanistan have finally come home to roost. The human tragedy of suicide bombings across the country occurring with chilling regularity is a grim reminder of the perils of fostering militancy abroad. Thus, no cynical gratification can be derived from Islamabad’s discomfort.

While India is naturally concerned about this shift of resources, a look at the military balance between the two states should indicate that as of now, there is no need to press the panic button. Acquisition of armaments worth $2-3 billion out of the total coalition support fund of $5 billion will not provide the Pakistani army the desired degree of asymmetry, but it will certainly add to the phenomenon of an arms race in the subcontinent.

The West and particularly the US administration went along with the Musharraf government’s canard of handling the situation on the Durand Line through a mix of counter-militant operations, peace treaties and selective apprehension of Al Qaeda operatives. Underlying the mistakes made by Western administrations is the lack of understanding of people, structures and societies in the East. Thinking of Pakistan or even India as a monoculture is patently dangerous, more so as geographical and cultural margins of the state such as Federally Administered Tribal Area (Fata) or North-West Frontier Province defy comprehension. Here, unique tribal codes such as “pushtunwali" still rule the hearts and minds of the people, in which tribal and clan loyalties are supreme, a “guest" is given full protection, blood feuds are settled in combat and Shariah administered by the jirga is law.

Islamabad has been protective of this culture over the years, allowing a gradual process of transformation. There were fears of banding of the Pashtuns astride the Durand Line in Afghanistan to form “Pashtunistan". The result is lack of development in these areas. Social indicators in the region are extremely poor and the only employment that menfolk have is wielding the gun.

Bringing change in these areas is a slow process. It cannot be brought about merely by building schools, roads or hospitals.

Had money been spent in providing the tribals basic infrastructure, creating “development dependency", it would have given the administration powerful leverage to bring about change in the attitude of the people in Fata. It will now be a hard slog to counter Behtullah Mehsud’s Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and the cult of suicide bombing fostered by Al Qaeda increasingly replicating the fighting in Iraq.

You have rightly questioned the ability of the army to handle this complex problem, given that it has lost moral authority and institutional character that provided it the will to sustain internal and external pressures. Drawing from past experience, when it survived through similar situations in the 1970s and 1980s, there is reason to believe that it maybe able to pull through, but the cost to the people and the economy of Pakistan is likely to be heavy.

Rahul K. Bhonsle is security analyst and editor, South Asia Security Trends. Comment at