25 November, 2009

Re : IDPs of South Waziristan

I received the following comment/criticism for my article on South Wazirstan from Prof Kunal Ghosh of IIT Kanpur. I attach both his comments & my reply.

The IDPs of South Waziristan
Posted by: "Prof. Kunal Ghosh" kunal@iitk.ac.in lanukg
Mon Nov 23, 2009 4:52 am (PST)
This article by Uddipan Mukherji gives a comprehensive picture of the on
going operation in South Waziristan and its fall out, namely the
deplorable condition of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). However,
in his analysis on why the populace is supporting terrorism, he uses the
same hackneyed so-called secular concepts and contradicts himself. He

"Being one of the most impoverished regions of Pakistan, FATA has become
the breeding ground of Taliban militancy. Lack of participatory governance
and abysmally low socioeconomic indicators are primary factors fostering
a milieu of terrorism. Quite expectedly, the terrorism generated in this
region by the Al Qaeda and Taliban has menacingly scattered into the
Pakistani heartland."

Lack of governance and grinding poverty set the context and are important
factors. But they are not the determinant factors. Poverty does not always
lead to terrorism. An ideological input is necessary. What are the
terrorist master minds promising the population? By taking up arms against
the Americans in Afghanistan and the army of Pakistan, would they acquire
wealth and welfare here and now? No, the promise is a birth in heaven.
Wahhabi-Deobandi madrasahs in thier hundreds are enlisting sons of very
impoverished people by promising them free board and education. The
finance comes from Wahhabi Saudi Arabia. These young boys are
indoctrinated in a truncated version of Islam which abhors Sufi
spiritualism or Tariqa, whereas Tariqa has always been an important
pillar of traditional Sunni Islam from the times of Prophet Mohammad.

Mukherji contradicts hinself when he says " Quite expectedly, the
terrorism generated in this region by the Al Qaeda and Taliban has
menacingly scattered into the Pakistani heartland." Why should terrorism
spread so easily into better governed and not-so-impoverished Pakistani

The world must confront this Wahhabi fanaticism squarely like it did
Nazism in the past. Otherwise this version of fanatic Islam would take
over all the Muslim countries one by one. It has already taken over Aceh
porvince of Indonesia which is actually a relatively prosperous region,
bacause many of the sons of Aceh have been working in Saudi Arabia. The
rest of Indonesia is hearing the sounds of the alarm bell. But the world
leaders are lulled into complacency by the piped music coming out of Saudi
Arabia, like the Prime Minister of UK before Churchill, Neville
Chamberlain, whose nerves were soothed by the vague Anglophile utterances
of Nazi supremo Adolf Hitler.

Kunal Ghosh
My Reply :

Dear Prof Ghosh,

Thanks for your erudite comments.

But I have reservations regarding the word "hackneyed".

I guess we are again at the ideological crossroads of Hegelian and Marxian philosophies. Whether "idea" or "material condition" is the basis of the Universe, remains a persistent matter of debate.

There is no gainsaying the fact that Al Qaeda-Taliban combo despise "dar-ul-harb" and vow to achieve "dar-ul-Islam" : historical legacy of which could be traced back to Abdul Wahab of Arabia (1703-87) and the Delhi saint Shah Waliullah (1702-62).

Further, I would like to point out the following (from your comments):

"What are the terrorist master minds promising the population?
By taking up arms against the Americans in Afghanistan and the army of Pakistan, would they acquire wealth and welfare here and now?
No, the promise is a birth in heaven.
Wahhabi-Deobandi madrasahs in thier hundreds are enlisting sons of very
impoverished people by promising them free board and education. "

So, Sir, I guess you also agree that ultimately the "impoverished lot" has to be given some concrete material benefits in this 'life', apart from the promise of '70 virgins' in 'jannat'.

Moreover, isn't/didn't the Maoist rebellion in India or say Nepal or for that matter in China & Vietnam feeding/fed on the disgruntlement of the population; viz. lack of development, unemployment & others ? Though these insurrections are/were based on strict doctrinal concepts.

Doctrines/Principles are fine, but the cadre-base has to remain powerful : and that can be assured through poverty (emphasis added).

Now coming back to the phrase "Quite expectedly" which I had used in the article, I would like to clarify the meaning.
1.) I meant that any insurgency needs spatial extension and wants to spread its bastions elsewhere; lest it looses its sheen.
2.) TTP wanted to terrorise major cities of Pakistan in order to thwart the "Operation Rah-i-Nijat".
3.) Some areas of Punjab, NWFP & Balochistan provinces in Pakistan are fecund "growthlands" of Taliban et al. But they are pockets of administrative negligence & poverty.

Undoubtedly, a Laden or a Hakeemullah or for that matter a Jinnah may foment mobocracy through their demagogy, but sustenance can occur only through an assured supply of mass base; the reasons of which are somewhere else to search.

Down the lane, the "state actors" are to an extent responsible for the "non-state actor-led" insurgency.

thanking you
Yours truly
Dr Uddipan Mukherjee

PS : Why has Saudi Arabia itself not been the breeding ground for terrorists? I mean, why is terrorism conspicuously absent from Saudi heartland ? Finance is agreeable, even McChrystal specifies it in his report. Regarding Banda Aceh, I am not an avid watcher of that area, but I don't think Aceh can be compared to Af-Pak. Sporadic incidents cannot be compared to sustained terrorism. For that matter, Mumbai, Banglaore also have faced terror events.

19 November, 2009

The IDPs of South Waziristan

The following article of mine was published in News Central Asia on 21st November, 2009 (http://www.newscentralasia.net/Articles-and-Reports/480.html)

The Operation Rah-i-Nijat has completed its first month. The battle seems to be long drawn as the Pakistani Taliban has declared to engage the military in guerrilla warfare. Furthermore, the battle is not only being fought in the core tribal areas but also in the mainland with important cities like Lahore, Peshawar and Rawalpindi facing suicide attacks almost daily.

“We have not been defeated. We have voluntarily withdrawn into the mountains under a strategy that will trap the Pakistan army in the area”. This was what the Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq told journalists on November 18.

But another issue of concern in this belligerent atmosphere is the condition of the displaced tribal population that is leading despicable lives in temporary camps.

Apart from its four provinces of North West Frontier Province (NWFP), Punjab, Sind and Balochistan; Pakistan also houses the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan in the west. From north to south, FATA is composed of the seven agencies of Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, North Waziristan and South Waziristan. The President of Pakistan through the governor of the NWFP directly administers FATA.

Each agency of FATA has a particular tribe dominating its demography. Just to the east of FATA, there are six ‘Frontier Regions’, which are also administered by the governor of NWFP but has popular representatives. The Frontier Regions of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank are contiguous to the South Waziristan agency.

Being one of the most impoverished regions of Pakistan, FATA has become the breeding ground of Taliban militancy. Lack of participatory governance and abysmally low socioeconomic indicators are primary factors fostering a milieu of terrorism. Quite expectedly, the terrorism generated in this region by the Al Qaeda and Taliban has menacingly scattered into the Pakistani heartland.

South Waziristan is the epicentre of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the group responsible for the recent wave of terror attacks in the Pakistani mainland. Hence the Pakistan army launched the much-awaited ground offensive on October 17 in order to decimate the Mehsud and Uzbek strongholds in the region.

In this ongoing counterinsurgency battle, the collateral damage has been huge. The residents of South Waziristan in particular and FATA in general have been displaced.

Conditions are worse for the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) from North and South Waziristan as the military has restricted the establishment of camps for them on the rationale that they would offer jihadi groups pools of easy recruits. Furthermore, the NWFP administration identifies and registers members of the Mehsud tribe, and requires them to be accommodated in private homes. The ‘host families’ have to assume legal responsibility for them. This is done to keep a strict vigil on the potential militants. Host families frequently face harassment by the security agencies, including the military, paramilitary and police.

The military is also restricting access to national and international humanitarian and development agencies in Dera Ismail Khan, where most of the Waziristan IDPs are located. Moreover, quack doctors often dispense medical care in homes and makeshift camps because there is a dearth of health practitioners in the region.

According to the Pakistani news agency Dawn, Martin Mogwanja, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, along with Dominique Frankefort, Deputy Country Director of World Food Programme (WFP) said in Islamabad on November 5 : “All those who are involved in military operation in one way or the other should ensure human safety and security to aid organizations to reach out to affected population.” He said that more than 46,000 families (about 330,000 people) had now been registered in Dera Ismail Khan and Tank as IDPs. Out of these, about 22,600 families had so far been verified, he added. He further informed that the re-screening of IDPs in Katcha Garhi and Jalozai Camps in Peshawar and Nowshera respectively had shown that only about two-thirds of the registered camp population was actually living inside the camp. The rest, were living elsewhere or had left without notifying the camp authorities.

The Chairman of the Special Support Group, Lt. Gen Nadeem Ahmad has said that the Pakistan Army is taking steps to make the process of registration of the IDPs of South Waziristan transparent.

In Dera Ismail Khan and Tank, around 125,000 IDPs from South Waziristan have been provided with 4,000 tonnes of food. Presently, the total requirement of the Pakistan Humanitarian Response Plan is US $680 million and UN funds 70.5 per cent of that corpus.

Lack of potable drinking water, education and health facilities and hard cash are significant issues, which need to be catered. Mobile Hospitals of Pak-Army could be used. Another programme is the disbursement of ATM cards in order to provide an alternative to hard cash.

The pertinent question in this scenario is to what extent the army is prepared for the kind of protracted guerrilla warfare in South Waziristan that the Taliban has vowed to continue? And if the battle goes on for a long period of time, what would be the fate of the IDPs? Keeping in mind that winter is fast approaching, the plight of the IDPs is likely to surge. Moreover, how the ‘Mehsud tribesmen’ shall be differentiated from the ‘Mehsud militants’?

With all these questions lurking in the background, the present situation in South Waziristan and its associated Frontier Regions present a bleak picture. The situation might snowball and the ‘innocuous’ Mehsud tribesmen might be drawn into the folds of the Taliban due to the discrimination faced at the IDP camps. Pakistan has to embark on the counterinsurgency operations in a careful manner so as not to alienate the tribal populace. Pakistan cannot afford to do so as further chasm shall endanger the already vulnerable towns and cities of the mainland.

18 November, 2009

Too Much for India !

Punjab’s chief minister Shahbaz Sharif on Wednesday said India is involved in disrupting peace in Balochistan and Waziristan and that there is evidence available in this regard.

Speaking at a news conference in Quetta, he said India is trying to defame Pakistan on an international level by claiming its interference in its internal affairs and support to terrorism.

He, however, urged that there is a need for mutual understanding between the two countries to ensure peace in the region.

10 November, 2009

The Last Lifeline for Karzai

This article of mine was published in News Central Asia on 09th November. (http://www.newscentralasia.net/Articles-and-Reports/473.html)

The long and arduous process of electing (or selecting?) the President of Afghanistan that began on 20 Aug, finally came to an uneasy end on 1 Nov, when the formidable candidate Dr Abdullah Abdullah quit the run-off elections.

He expressed his dissatisfaction at the ‘election procedure’ and the ‘associated fraud’. Hence, on 2 Nov, the incumbent Hamid Karzai was declared president for another five year term by Azizullah Ludin, the chief officer of the Independent Election Commission (IEC).

Interestingly, Karzai himself appointed Ludin to the office and Abdullah had raised vehement objections regarding the ‘biased attitude’ of Ludin. In fact, it was a major issue on which Abdullah relinquished his candidature.

The Afghan law does not allow the third candidate in the fray to contest the run-off when the second bows out. Thus, the rules prevented Bashardost from posing any challenge to Karzai.

But all is not well for Karzai. It may be ‘joie de vivre’ for him for the time being, but President Obama has clearly warned him to work against the rampant corruption and opium trade that have encouraged the resurgence of the Taliban. Already, General McChrystal has categorically stated in his report that drug trade is one of the chief financial support mechanisms for the Taliban.

Hence, Karzai has vowed to have a head-on collision with corruption. In a press conference, flanked by Vice President Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Karzai said, “Afghanistan's image has been tainted by corruption. Our government's image has been tainted by corruption. We will strive, by any means possible, to eradicate this stain.”

Ironically, even Vice-President Fahim is charged with malfeasance. Karzai doesn’t have an easy path ahead of him.

The US administration wants Mr. Karzai and the Afghan government to put into effect an ‘anticorruption commission’ in order to establish strict accountability for government officials at the national and provincial levels.

In addition, some American officials and their European counterparts would like to see at least a few arrests. The international community’s wish list of potential detainees includes Mr. Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai. He is a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade. Another player in the same league is General Abdul Rashid Dostum, accused of involvement in the killings of thousands of Taliban prisoners of war early in the Afghan conflict. Furthermore, Fahim is on the wish list too.

Just after the declaration of the IEC, the fifty-one year-old Karzai, quite paradoxically, urged his Taliban ‘brothers’ ‘to come home and embrace their land’. What type of strategy is he following? Is he calling upon the souls of the patriotic Talibans to undo this quagmire?

The fitting question in this regard is: will the Taliban or for that matter ordinary Afghans pay heed to Karzai’s appeal? Keeping in mind the kind of maladministration that his government has rendered for the last five years, the scenario seems bleak. Moreover, the recent revelations of the unholy connections of Karzai’s brother with the CIA have made the situation in Afghanistan more cumbrous.

Some analysts have said that there was immense pressure on Abdullah to quit, as Karzai was the only choice of USA. But that might not have been the case as some reports do suggest that the Obama administration, in its early days tried its best to search for another ‘pliable’ alternative to Karzai. They did not succeed in that endeavour though. In a more probable scenario, Abdullah might have understood that even if a ‘semblance’ of an election took place, it would have been difficult for him to defeat Karzai. More so, when the voter turnout remains a contentious issue amidst Taliban threats.

By now, it is an established fact that the ‘lack of governance’ in Afghanistan has been a major plank for the Taliban re-emergence. Thus Karzai has to plug in the loopholes. Moreover, a politically stable Afghanistan is a pre-requisite for the phased withdrawal of the NATO-led forces. Also, to thwart the Taliban, revival of democratic and judicial structures is of utmost necessity.

Another ‘friendly government’ for five more years and Obama has obtained the verdant field to send his troops. Enhancement of American troops in Afghanistan as per the request of McChrystal is now almost unavoidable. Actually, White House is following a ‘wait and watch policy’. It is keeping a sharp eye on the Pakistani operations in South Waziristan. And it would also keenly watch if Karzai lives up to his promises to combat corruption. The success of both Pakistan and Karzai, even to a partial degree, would set the stage for an American onslaught in Afghanistan.

In the meantime, Karzai needs to pounce upon this opportunity. If he can create conducive political atmosphere for the ordinary Afghans, cut down on the illegal opium trade and most importantly restore the confidence of the ordinary masses in the democratic governance; a new sunshine may occur in the war torn country. Needless to mention, this opportunity is Karzai’s last one.

TTP vows a 'protracted war'

Reuters Reports from PESHAWAR :

Pakistani Taliban have started a guerrilla war against the army and will wage a tough, protracted fight in the insurgents' South Waziristan stronghold, a Taliban spokesman said on Tuesday.

The army went on the offensive in South Waziristan, a lawless ethnic Pashtun region on the Afghan border, on October 17, aiming to root out Pakistani Taliban militants behind a wave of violence in urban areas.

The offensive is closely watched by the United States and other powers embroiled in Afghanistan, as South Waziristan's rugged landscape of barren mountains, patchy forest and hidden ravines has become a global centre of militancy.

Soldiers have been advancing into the militant heartland from three directions, have captured a string of important bases and entered the Taliban headquarters in the town of Makeen, the army said.

But Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq played down the militants' losses.

‘They are capturing roads while our people are still operating in the forests and mountains,’ Tariq told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

‘We have started guerrilla war against the Pakistani army. We've carried out several actions against the army and inflicted heavy losses on them,’ he said.

According to army figures, 486 militants have been killed since the offensive began while 48 soldiers have died.

There has been no independent verification of casualties as reporters and other independent observers are not allowed into the war zone except on an occasional trip with the military.

The violence has unsettled trade on Pakistan's stock market and the main index was 1.07 per cent lower at 8,840.58 at 0752 GMT in thin trade.

Tariq vowed a long, tough fight.

‘They thought they would capture Waziristan easily but the fight in Waziristan will be tougher than in Kashmir,’ he said.

Indian security forces have been battling separatist guerrillas in the disputed Muslim-majority Himalayan region of Kashmir since 1989. Tens of thousands of people have been killed.

The militants have stepped up attacks in town and cities since the offensive was launched, killing several hundred people.

Asked about the attacks, most carried out by suicide bombers, Tariq said: ‘Whoever harms our movement will be given a lesson.’

The government says Tariq's real name is Raees Khan Mehsud and has offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to his capture ‘dead or alive’.

It has offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to the capture, dead or alive, of 19 top Pakistani Taliban members, including Tariq and leader Hakimullah Mehsud.

06 November, 2009

Pak troops enter Makin in South Waziristan


01 November, 2009

To Arundhati Roy

It needs to be clarified right at the very outset that the present piece is neither an outright remonstrance against Arundhati Roy’s essay ‘Mr. Chidambaram’s War' nor a panegyric of Mr. Chidambaram’s policies regarding the ‘Maoists’.

Rather, what I fail to comprehend is the manner in which Roy embarks on a ‘reprimanding spree’. That obviously does not exonerate the Home Ministry of its rhetoric, policies and actions which keep on fluctuating in an asymmetric fashion.

It is an undeniable fact that the mainstream media, government and even the think-tanks are to a large extent alienated from the movement that has been launched in tribal India by the followers of Mao Zedong; morally and sometimes financially and physically abetted by the urban intelligentsia. ‘Alienation’ does not mean in terms of information, dossiers or papers, but in terms of understanding the ‘root cause’ of the armed insurrection. In that direction, Roy has hit the bull’s eye.

But Roy also flounders at the very beginning when she says :

“Perhaps the Kondh are supposed to be grateful that their Niyamgiri hill, home to Niyam Raja, their ‘god of universal law’, has been sold to a company with a name like Vedanta (the branch of Hindu philosophy that teaches the Ultimate Nature of Knowledge)”.

‘Has been sold’ is a phrase which is completely ‘out of phase’ with reality. In fact, throughout her article she has used such phrases which bolster paranoia. Is she trying to mock at the age-old Hindu Philosophies pertaining to the Vedas or just castigating Chidambaram? Not clear at all.

Roy vociferously proclaims : “Of course, the Maoists are by no means the only ones rebelling. There is a whole spectrum of struggles all over the country that people are engaged in — the landless, the Dalits, the homeless, workers, peasants, weavers.”

Hereby, she is exaggerating the internal security threat to the country and undermining our success as a democracy.

Moreover, is she eulogizing these movements? In the first place, she needs to appreciate the vastness of India, not only in the sense of territoriality but also in terms ethnicity, religion and caste. By no means are struggle of the landless, Dalits, peasants and workers novel. They had been documented since the days of the Raj and continue to spark the headlines even today. It is the sheer efficacy of democracy that such incidents get reported more often today and hence debated and thus sometimes acted upon.

That in independent India, we get the opportunity to discuss, debate and criticize; in itself is a pointer towards free democracy. Every system has its bottlenecks and India is no exception. And this is the fact which Arundhati Roy probably fails to understand or may be deliberately evades.

To quote her; “They’re pitted against a juggernaut of injustices, including policies that allow a wholesale corporate takeover of people’s land and resources”.

This is sheer hyperbole. There is no gainsaying the fact that at times, the policy-makers and the executive have treated the tribal populace with disdain. There is also no denial that post-1991, Indian economy has proceeded towards the LPG (Liberalisation Privatization and Globalisation) policy and on occasions almost without paying any heed to the repercussions on the rural demography. Nevertheless, the scenario is surely not as bleak as Roy portrays it to be.

Statements like “wholesale corporate takeover of people’s land and resources” and “the women raped as a matter of right by police and forest department personnel” are horrendous.

The usurpation of farm and forest lands on which the livelihood of millions depends has indeed fomented movements, both of the non-violent and violent genres. Starting from Naxalbari in 1967 to the recent events at Singur and Nandigram in West Bengal can be cited as viable case studies. There has been corruption and thoughtless imposition of industrialization from above. But then people have spoken and acted against these ‘State malfunctions’.

Furthermore Roy laments : “Right now in central India, the Maoists’ guerrilla army is made up almost entirely of desperately poor tribal people living in conditions of such chronic hunger that it verges on famine of the kind we only associate with sub-Saharan Africa”.

This is another exaggeration to its limit. Roy should present proper data in order to corroborate her assertions. True, there is poverty, hunger and malnutrition in India, even after six decades of independence. Officially speaking, about one-third of the total population of the nation is ‘under the poverty line’ whereas probably another major chunk is fighting to survive. But that does not necessarily make India comparable to sub-Saharan Africa ! If that had indeed been the case, then India would not have sent the Chandrayaan to space or exported its software knowledge to that continent.

And Roy continues, “They are people who, even after 60 years of India’s so-called independence, have not had access to education, healthcare or legal redress.”

First, let us harp on the concept of the ‘so-called independence’ of India. This phrase has reverberated through decades, starting from the ranting by the Communist Party of India right after 1947. But the sheer ambivalence of the Party regarding the definition of the term has manifested with time. To rebuke the government for its failures in order to usher in change and better governance is a welcome step, but not at the cost of jeopardizing ‘National Sentiments’. Roy should realize that casting aspersions in a blatant manner on the Indian government in international media generally boomerangs on oneself. Populism at national cost is unacceptable.

On the other hand, it needs to be remembered that the Indian authorities have vacillated to an uncanny degree in combating the Maoists and faltered in their analysis in distilling the tribal elements from the ‘ruffians’. Hence further alienation with the ‘grass-roots’ has occurred with time.

One fails to gauge why Roy is not joining the ranks of the Maoists when we come across the line; “Their journey back to a semblance of dignity is due in large part to the Maoist cadre who have lived and worked and fought by their side for decades.”

Arundhati Roy fails to mention, inter alia, about the Right to Information Act (2005) or the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) which have made independent India proud. On most occasions, she looks at the other side of the coin. She goes for excessive ‘demonisation’ of the government and puts forward wrong data through the argument; “To get the bauxite out of the flat-topped hills, to get iron ore out from under the forest floor, to get 85 per cent of India’s people off their land and into the cities”. It is well known that about 67 per cent of Indians live in the countryside, and not 85 per cent as Roy comments.

One thing is crystal clear though. She is definitely against Operation Green Hunt. She advocates talks with the Maoists. But she does not bring out the negative fallouts of an armed rebellion. What are the solutions offered by Roy? Apart from talks with the Maoists, she does not offer any further clue. I guess Roy is vehemently trying to dissuade the government not to subscribe to Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarianism or fall into the trap of Neo-Liberalism.

A few words of caution are probably the fallout of this autopsy. The administration needs to reorient its thoughts and be more pro-people. To do so, it shall require overhauling of the machinery at some level and repairing at other levels. Nonetheless, intelligentsia too needs to put a restraint on their verbosity. It would not only be mutually beneficial, but also a catalyst for democracy and for the development of the ‘tribals’ on the whole.