Frankenstein’s Monster revisited —William B Milam
I was struck that the Pakistani government seemed unable to formulate or articulate a public argument for a bill clearly meant to strengthen Pakistan’s democracy and foster the many common goals that should unite the two countries
A couple of months ago, I wrote in this space of my intention to make my travels in various parts of the world over the upcoming months the subject of these columns. I meant to eschew Pakistani politics, as I think that there are many more prescient political writers appearing regularly in the pages of the Daily Times and that, on a monthly schedule, my writings on politics would become even more repetitive and unimaginative than they had been.
Alas, I haven’t travelled in the past five weeks, and have run out of topics to write about from my annual summer excursion in Europe and my August drive across the United States. I depart soon for Africa, and from that trip, I plan two columns. One will be on the experience of seeing, at close proximity, the lowland gorillas and other forest animals now protected in a nature preserve in the Republic of the Congo; and the second on my impressions of Liberia, a state that is trying to come back from real, and complete, failure.
In the meantime, the momentous events of the past several weeks in Pakistan have inspired me to try my hand again at a metaphorical treatment of a part of Pakistani political history. This is not an entirely new thing for me, as some readers will recognise. In fact, in an article published in the Daily Times almost two years ago, on December 12, 2007, I pointed out the striking parallel between the celebrated legend of Frankenstein’s Monster and the drama then beginning to play out in Pakistan.
This has now come to the front and centre of our attention. The Pakistani state, through its army, is intent, or says it is, on extirpating the extremists who have become enemies of the state that created them. I gave that piece the title “Frankenstein’s Monster Finds a Name and a Face”, but you will find it in the paper’s archives under a shorter title.
No need to repeat the Frankenstein legend to the Daily Times readers. As we all know, the good doctor created life from death — a monster he sewed together from parts of dead bodies (in the movie version, at least) — for what he thought were good reasons. But this amalgam of unnatural parts consolidated and became a threat to the doctor and to the society he was part of. Eventually it was kill or be killed.
This metaphor leaps out at me again because the big news in Pakistan — news I can’t refrain from writing about — is that the army has invaded South Waziristan to gain back from the Pakistani Taliban the writ the Pakistani state had lost there. This is bigger news even than the earlier decision to take back Swat because it now involves the entire extremist nexus, not just the Pakistani Taliban and a few lonely allies, as was the case in Swat. In South Waziristan, as in the rest of FATA, the entire panoply of extremist groups will be on display and in the fight. Al Qaeda and Pakistani jihadi groups are much more solidly entrenched there and, thus, will be much more difficult to dislodge.
“Invaded” may not be the word that the army or the government choose to use, but since the Minister of Interior, among others, has been quoted as saying that Pakistan is now “at war” the word “invade” seems quite appropriate, even though South Waziristan is a part of Pakistan. In other words, Pakistan is now at war with its immediate enemies, those who have attacked the state and eroded its writ, not only in South Waziristan and other parts of FATA, but in other, settled, parts of Pakistan.
For the few that didn’t already understand it, or preferred to ignore it, the military campaign in South Waziristan has and will continue to demonstrate the tight links among these organisations by highlighting both their resistance on the ground and their response in the rest of Pakistan — the spreading and escalating attacks against military and civilian targets throughout the country. This will bring home to the Pakistani people, as even the Swat campaign did not, the tightening nexus between these various groups all of which now probably view themselves as at war with the state.
Besides the Pakistani Taliban, the army will certainly run up against seasoned Al Qaeda fighters. I have heard, for example, estimates of perhaps 3,000 Uzbek Al Qaeda fighters in South Waziristan, who have nowhere else to go. And if anybody has an interest is making sure the army is not successful in South Waziristan, it is Al Qaeda. They will call on their other allies. There will likely be some (perhaps reluctant) Afghan Taliban fighters who will come to the aid Pakistani Pashtun homologues. And Punjabi jihadis, lusting to fight the army of the government they hate, will join their Taliban allies.
Clearly, just as Dr Frankenstein lost control of his monster, those who created the jihads as proxies to advance Pakistan’s interests in South Asia have lost control of their creations. The inexorable logic is that if the Pakistani Taliban go down, other extremists’ turn will come. They won’t miss the opportunity to turn what seems an inevitable fate around by ganging up now on the army. These jihadis will also be motivated to stop the steady, and one can hope, accelerating decline in Indiaphobia which led to their creation, and which keeps them going.
If the logic of their ultimate elimination prevails, it will be a long and difficult period for Pakistan, its people, and its army. There are many more “ifs” between the invasion of South Waziristan, the end of extremism in Pakistan, and the full return of control of all its territory to the state.
First must come success in South Waziristan, which will be difficult and take possibly more time than now estimated. This will have to be followed by the same kind of success and, importantly, the very difficult but vital tasks of economic development and political integration in all of FATA. I am not ignorant of the all-important effect US policy — President Obama’s decisions — regarding our military and counter-insurgency effort in Afghanistan will have on the willingness and ability of the Pakistan Army to continue to the struggle extremism after it completes its mission in South Waziristan.
It is all one big interlocking, interdependent puzzle, the eventual outcome of which is quite impossible to predict under the best of circumstances. However, we can be sure that, in large part, the outcome depends on the quality of political leadership, the vision and foresight of Pakistani civilian and military leaders, as well as their dedication to the task at hand, and importantly, their definition of the task at hand.
It also depends on vision and understanding of Pakistan’s allies, in particular US leaders. In that regard, the public debate over the war in Afghanistan as well as President Obama’s decision on sending additional American troops to give the proposed improved COIN strategy a better chance of succeeding will be important signals to Pakistanis of US determination to stay the course in Afghanistan, and not repeat the mistakes of 1989-90.
Of course, it works two ways. Pakistani actions and political rhetoric will also influence US policy and behaviour, not perhaps in the immediate future, but down the road that the two governments should be travelling together. The brouhaha over the Kerry-Lugar bill showed, I think, an unfortunate lack of insight and foresight on both sides. How shameful it would be for the leadership of both countries to miss this important turning point in the relationship because of misunderstanding and lack of thought, and because hyperbolic misinformation and political vindictiveness exacerbated already bruised feelings. The lessons both sides learned must be taken to heart and internalised.
I was struck that the Pakistani government seemed unable to formulate or articulate a public argument for a bill clearly meant to strengthen Pakistan’s democracy and foster the many common goals that should unite the two countries. The government allowed itself to be caught on the wrong foot and seemed unprepared to deal with the hyperbolic nationalism over language that has been in previous bills over several past years. (In this regard, see the insightful column by Najmuddin Shaikh in the Daily Times of October 23). I write this even as I acknowledge that, on the US side, the good intentions of the drafters and the administration miscarried in fits of absent-mindedness and careless drafting.
Better leadership is needed on both sides if Pakistan is to come through this struggle against extremism with the strength to rebuild its society and modernise its economy. These overarching goals are, I believe, the common goals of Americans and Pakistanis of all stripes and opinions. Somehow, this has to be made the bedrock of the relationship. (Source: Daily Times)
William B Milam is a senior policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre in Washington and a former US Ambassador to Pakistan and Bangladesh