Strategic dialogue and the Pashtun


Senior Member
Oct 5, 2009
Strategic dialogue and the Pashtun

The Pashtun, who undoubtedly are the direct victims of terrorism and the war on terror, have never been asked to express their views in this regard. The Pashtuns are now so tired of the strategic depth policy that they compare it with a deep grave for them

By the time this article appears in print, the strategic dialogue between the US and Pakistani governments scheduled for March 24, would have started in Washington. The more important of delegations, perhaps the most significant one, left for Washington on March 20. This delegation comprises our top military stalwarts, with the army chief as its head. The other delegation from Pakistan includes some of the key position holders in the country’s economy, environment and energy sectors. Of course all these issues, the economy, climate and energy shortfall, will come under discussion during the dialogue, but analysts say that the most important point of the agenda is the war on terror and its future in Pakistan as well as across the border in Afghanistan.

This time the dialogue is most significant; and analysts have pinned many hopes on it. Its importance is twofold. The Obama administration wants to withdraw US and NATO forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2011. On the other hand, secret negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan are also underway.

The US has, by now, understood that the war on terror is never going to be won without the help of Pakistan. But things are not so simple. On the one hand, the US has always demanded that Pakistan should do more, and has very often ‘blamed’ Pakistan of having double standards in the war. It contends that the secret security agencies of Pakistan still support the Taliban in Afghanistan. Recently, according to some media reports, the arrests of some top Taliban leaders in Pakistan are seen by the US as an effort by Pakistan to thwart the negotiations between the Karzai government and the Taliban in Afghanistan. On the other hand, Pakistan is now expressing its frustration in loud words over the never-ending demands by the US to do more in its efforts to curb militancy and extremism.

All this ado clearly signifies that the two main allies in the war on terror lack mutual trust. It seems that now the two allies are running into difficulties with regard to combating terrorism collectively. In this dilemma, the effects on Pakistan are much greater as compared to the US, because the war has incurred the Pakistani nation tremendous losses both in term of economy and human lives.

Widespread confusion about the war, especially in the biggest, more influential province of Punjab, has now dragged Pakistan to the losing side. There is also resentment within the military about countering the internal threat in the form of extremism. This is evident from the statements of ex-servicemen, who are now making loud noises that this is not our war, but one imposed on us by the US. This sentiment is shared by Punjab much more than by the three smaller provinces of Pakistan. There are still some analysts who are hopeful enough to believe that Pakistan, particularly its military, is now in a marriage with the democratic government in fighting these internal threats. These analysts quote the successful military phase of the Swat operation. Yet, for many, Swat will be an example of whether Pakistan, and indeed the allies, will be successful in reining in the dragon of terror in the region or not. But this analogy falls short of realistic assessment, as Swat is not a separate state on the planet. Militancy in Swat was very much linked with the one in FATA and other areas of the NWFP. Swat was in no way the headquarters of the militants. Yet Swat had one advantage over other regions by being famous the world over for its beauty and sharing no borders with the safe havens of militants in FATA or Afghanistan. There is another aspect to the matter as well. Pakistan is fighting terrorism on its land but also wants to pursue the infamous policy of ‘strategic depth’ in Afghanistan. In simple words, it means to secure a pro-Pakistan government in Afghanistan, which will pose no threat, ensuring security on its western border. This wish was clearly enunciated by the army chief a few weeks ago.

But has Pakistan has ever tried to take the people — who are, predominantly, the victims of this strategy and terrorism — on board over this policy? The Pashtun, who undoubtedly are the direct victims of terrorism and the war on terror, have never been asked to express their views in this regard. Just look at the strategic dialogue in Washington. Neither party has bothered to ask the people whose fate is being decided in the dialogue. This is clearly an exclusivist approach, which will serve no end. The Pashtuns are now so tired of the strategic depth policy that they compare it with a deep grave for them. What is being felt among the Pashtuns is a replica of what was felt by the Bengalis 40 years ago. To avoid a fall of the Pashtun belt, the allies, Pakistan and the US must take them into confidence; otherwise it will be too late. The US is as much responsible in this as Pakistan is. Both need to listen to the Pashtun.

Besides, the Pakistanis living in Punjab must unlearn what they have been taught for decades, and they must reconsider whether they can play the role of the ‘big brother’ or not. They must deconstruct the imaginary discourse about a foreign enemy and reconstruct the national discourse to pinpoint the real threats this country faces. As ever, a greater responsibility now rests with them to prove that they deserve the title of the ‘big brother’.

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