A Chance To Reshape Pakistan
(c) Far Eastern Economic Review
by Brahma Chellaney
The devastating earthquake that struck Pakistan and Afghanistan on October 8, 2005, not only claimed tens of thousands of lives, including 87,000 in the Pakistan-controlled state of Kashmir alone. By devastating Kashmir and northern Pakistan, the quake also hit a principal recruiting ground and logistical center for global terrorists. It leveled a number of terrorist training camps in a region that serves as the last main refuge of al Qaeda—and quite possibly the hiding place of Osama bin Laden.
The earthquake in Pakistan is an example of how a natural disaster does not have to be an unmitigated tragedy; it can provide the shock needed to trigger political change and economic revitalization. In this particular region, both are desperately needed. Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has emphasized only one opportunity afforded by the quake—resolving the intractable territorial dispute over Kashmir waged by Pakistan and India—but this calamity offers a more fundamental opening for Pakistan to chart a better future for itself. This future can be realized through wise use of aid money being offered for the region’s reconstruction.
Northern Pakistan has become crucial not only to India and Pakistan but also to the global war on terrorism. As a tool in this war, a huge amount of international aid is flowing into quake-ravaged northern Pakistan, giving donors the potential leverage to steer the region away from terrorism. Besides disbursing at least $160 million in emergency relief aid, international donors have pledged $5.8 billion for long-term reconstruction.
As another component of the international relief effort, the United States has sent 1,200 troops to the militant strongholds in the mountains of northern Pakistan, and NATO is sending up to 1,000 more. Donors to the relief effort can be assured that that their aid, at a minimum, will not be used to rebuild the terrorist infrastructure destroyed by the forces of nature. But entirely rooting out terrorism in Pakistan is a problem that seems as enormous as the sums being disbursed there.
Hobbled by military rule, militant Islam, endemic corruption and dependency on foreign aid, Pakistan remains a main breeding ground of global terror and the likely hideout of the most wanted terrorists. Leading fugitives captured in Pakistan in recent years include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al Qaeda’s third in command; Abu Zubeida, the network’s operations chief; Yasser Jazeeri; Abu Faraj Farj; and Ramzi Binalshibh, one of the 9/11 coordinators. These al Qaeda leaders were found living in cities across Pakistan.
In a television interview last August, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri boasted that his country had not handed over “a single Pakistani” to the United States, and that all the captured al Qaeda figures transferred to U.S. authorities were foreigners. However, Pakistan’s home-grown, al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias, like the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed, continue to operate openly in the northern parts of Pakistan, despite an official ban on their activities.
Ominously, Pakistan has emerged as a common thread in the investigations of most acts of international terrorism. As Gen. Musharraf himself acknowledged July 21 in an address to the nation after the London subway bombings, “Wherever these extremist or terrorist incidents occur in the world, a direct or indirect connection is established with this country.”
For the U.S. and other NATO states, the quake relief and reconstruction in Pakistan offers an important opportunity to win hearts and minds in a citadel of anti-Western radicalism—a country that the Congressional Research Service warned is “probably the most anti-American country in the world right now.” After all, U.S. tsunami relief helped change attitudes in another Muslim country, Indonesia, where survivors in the province of Aceh still are grateful for the help they got from America but not from Islamic separatists.
But unlike in Aceh, Islamists and underground militants were quick to begin rescue-and-relief operations in the quake-battered parts of Pakistan even before the state could respond. In fact, extremist organizations, as The Wall Street Journal reported on Nov. 23, are now openly competing with international teams in relief work, with the lead being taken by Jamaat-ud-Dawa (an offshoot of the Lashkar-e-Taiba), labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. and India and banned by Gen. Musharraf in 2002.
Through such dedicated work, the Islamists have boosted their popular image at the expense of the ruling military, whose sluggish and muddled initial response belied its claim to being Pakistan’s most reliable institution. Even in Islamabad, it took military rescuers two hours to reach the only building that collapsed, with just one crane available in the entire city.
Now, children orphaned by the quake are being “adopted” by Lashkar-e-Taiba and other underground groups, which impart what the Jamaat ud-Dawa calls “Islamic education.” In the years ahead, these youths will swell the ranks of jihadists, who pursue violence as a sanctified tool of religion and a path to redemption.
The spread of the jihad culture in Pakistan, which one American analyst described as “Colombia with nukes and Islamic fundamentalism,” poses serious regional and international challenges, not least because of the shifting poses of Gen. Musharraf in regard to the state’s commitment to antiterrorism. Pakistan’s dictator has since 9/11 ridden two horses—extending selective antiterror cooperation to the United States, symbolized by the high-profile al Qaeda arrests, and maintaining a political alliance with Islamist parties at home. In this way Gen. Musharraf has managed to pocket billions of dollars in U.S. aid and at the same time helped to promote the religious far right.
The terrorism scourge in Pakistan emanates not so much from the mullahs as from whiskey-drinking generals. The Pakistani military reared the forces of jihad, fathered the Taliban, and maintained long-standing ties (through its infamous Inter-Services Intelligence agency) with terrorist groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba. Yet by passing the blame for the disastrous jihadist military policies to the mullahs they control, Gen. Musharraf and his fellow generals have made many outsiders believe that the key is to contain the religious fringe, not the military. Their finger-pointing has only bred resentment among the Islamists, leading to the first cracks in the military-mullah alliance that has long dominated Pakistan. Gen. Musharraf’s standing at home has now been further damaged by his inept handling of the disaster.
The quake relief operations underscore the need for quiet international action to help secure Pakistan’s peaceful future by encouraging Gen. Musharraf to uproot the terrorist complex and take measured steps toward democracy. These relief operations, involving many foreign governments, 237 NGOs and the United Nations, can aid the global war on terror by helping the injured and the displaced in what remains the last bastion of transnational terrorists. Such is the remoteness of these quake-hit militant strongholds that, according to Jan Egeland, the U.N.’s top relief envoy, thousands of residents in higher areas risk freezing to death as they have not received any help even with the harsh winter setting in.
The Pakistani regime has said it is not in a position to finance the massive cost of reconstruction and rehabilitation. Yet, according to the military commander of the new U.S. Disaster Assistance Center in Islamabad, Navy Rear Adm. Michael LeFever, Pakistan’s recovery demands a long-term reconstruction phase after the current relief efforts. That means Pakistan will have to rely on outside funds for reconstruction and grant foreign teams and troops access to the militant areas.
At an international donors’ conference in Islamabad last month, Pakistan surpassed its target for funds for long-term reconstruction. The U.S. has tripled its commitment to $510 million, including $100 million in cash. The biggest donor state, however, is Saudi Arabia, which has promised $573 million. Other pledges include $1 billion each by the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, $501 million by the Islamic Development Bank and $270 million by the European Union. India, which declined international aid in its own section of quake-damaged Kashmir, has donated $25 million. The international effort is aimed at building civil infrastructure of a kind that never existed in the quake-torn areas.
That makes it vital to ensure that international reconstruction aid is not illicitly diverted to terrorist groups or employed to rebuild the “hate factories” that churn out trained, committed extremists. The aid needs to be used to help foster development and societal deradicalization in an area steeped in religious bigotry and teeming with Islamists of different hues and nationalities. This can only be ensured through close international monitoring and accountability in the disbursement of funds.
Such necessity has been underlined by the role of Islamist groups and their young gun-toting members in quake relief. According to Pakistani and U.S. media accounts, militants belonging to banned groups and wielding Kalashnikov rifles and walkie-talkies are in charge of a number of field relief camps in Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. The groups include the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Al Rasheed Trust, a Karachi-based charity accused by the United States of channeling funds to al Qaeda. With even wounded army soldiers reportedly seeking treatment at militant-run field clinics, the state appears to have ceded ground to the extremists.
Yet it is true that the disaster has opened the first real opportunity for the international community since the launch of the global war on terror to help Pakistan drain its terrorism-breeding swamps. Helping drain those swamps, however, will not be an easy task, given the way the culture of jihad is now deeply woven into the national fabric of Pakistan—as seen, for instance, in the culture of some of its 4,000 madrassas, which are not just seats of medieval theology but also schools imparting training in arms. What has made this radicalization so difficult to reverse is that it claims the imprimatur of religion.
Underground groups, despite their reportedly heavy quake-related losses, have not slowed their violent activities, as is evident from the killing of dozens of their members by Indian border troops while attempting to sneak across the frontier since the quake. What is needed is not just action against such groups, which keep changing their names, but the dismantlement of the infrastructure of terror in Pakistan. But that process can begin only if Islamabad first stops Islamist charities linked to known terrorist organizations from winning the battle for hearts and minds through their prominent role in quake relief.
Pakistan’s fate has always been in the hands of three As — Allah, army and America. Now Allah’s wrath has wrought ruin on the playground of terrorists, and the army has a new opportunity, with America’s support and international aid, to put an end to the stricken region’s role in fomenting global jihad. That will be a concession not to the outside world but to Pakistan’s own future as a viable, modern nation state.
The writer is professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.