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Pak-US dialogue: a Pakhtun perspective — by Farhat Taj

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi speak to reporters after a bilateral meeting on March 24, 2010 in Washington

Basically, the jirga is saying that it does not trust the military establishment, which is leading the dialogue with the US. The military establishment will follow the policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan, which is the key cause of the sufferings of Pakhtuns on both sides of the Durand Line

Days before the Pak-US strategic dialogue in Washington on the issue of terrorism, a grand tribal jirga was held in Peshawar. The jirga was participated in by civil society members, lawyers, doctors, students, minorities, tribal leaders and elders of the anti-Taliban peace committees and representatives of anti-Taliban political parties, the Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Awami Party (AP) and the National Party (NP). Each and every political agency of FATA and district of the Pakhtunkhwa province was well represented. The participants included women and religious and sectarian minorities. As defiance of the Taliban’s ban on music and dance, the jirga commenced and ended with traditional Pakhtun dances and music.

Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Kayani are leading the delegation that is holding the strategic dialogue with the US. There is no Pakhtun representative in the delegation and, therefore, the jirga demanded representation of the Pakhtuns in the dialogue. It seems that the PPP, which represents a large Pakhtun vote bank, has given up or has been compelled by the military establishment to stay away from foreign policy formulation. There is, therefore, no hope that the head of the Pak-delegation, Foreign Minister Qureshi, would highlight the Pakhtun perspective in the meetings with the US authorities. The perception of the jirga members was that the foreign minister would toe the line dictated by the COAS.

The jirga members categorically expressed the apprehension that the strategic dialogue would come out with a short-term and selective solution of terrorism. The solution would be aimed at sparing some terrorists, targeting others, shaking hands with some and leaving the helpless people of FATA and the Pakhtunkhwa province at the mercy of the Pakistan Army and its intelligence agencies.

This solution can help President Obama to win another term in office and can also facilitate General Kayani to get further extension in his service as COAS, but it cannot bring real peace to the region or the wider world.

Whatever is the mutually agreed upon anti-terrorism strategy of the US and Pakistan, the jirga members were unanimous that they would measure the decrease or increase in terrorism on the criteria set in the Peshawar Declaration jointly approved in a similar grand jirga in December 2009. The two key causes of terrorism identified by the Peshawar Declaration are: strategic depth policy of the military establishment of Pakistan; and the Arab expansionism embodied by al Qaeda under the garb of global Islam. To end terrorism, the policy of strategic depth has to be given up and al Qaeda has to be crushed.

Killing or capturing al Qaeda terrorists may not be a difficult task. To give up the strategic depth idea would be a great deal of work. This implies that targeted military operations have to be undertaken in several parts of Punjab, like Muridke, Jhang, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rahim Yar Khan and Bahawalpur, etc. The Punjab-based militant organisations that are banned, but continue to function under new names, have to be really banned and crushed. To root out the terrorist mindset, the state will have to eliminate the curriculum and literature taught in Pakistani schools and madrassas, which is based on hatred of women, Jews, Hindus and Shias and violent jihad against them and, last but not the least, all the Taliban infrastructure and their important leaders in FATA and Pakhtunkhwa province have to be eliminated through targeted military operations.

Moreover, the jirga demanded that the international aid given to Pakistan in the name of terrorism must be spent in FATA and the Pakhtunkhwa province. People of this area, who disproportionately suffer much more from terrorism than people in any other area in Pakistan, must receive the benefits of the aid in terms of education, health and jobs. Furthermore, whether in the military or the government of Pakistan, people who are responsible for corruption in the aid money must be made accountable and punished.

Hardly any jirga member was confident that the state is ready to initiate all these measures. Therefore, they agreed to convene another grand jirga within the next few months to address the evolving situation, following the Pak-US strategic dialogue.

Basically, the jirga is saying that it does not trust the military establishment, which is leading the dialogue with the US. The military establishment will follow the policy of strategic depth in Afghanistan, which is the key cause of the sufferings of Pakhtuns on both sides of the Durand Line. In this context, the jirga expressed misgivings over the US role in the ongoing strategic dialogue. The jirga members said that either the US does not understand the problem of terrorism in Pakhtunkhwa, including FATA, or has some ulterior motives that the superpower wants to achieve through the strategic dialogue at the cost of Pakhtun blood.

A common agreement in the jirga was that the US and NATO forces want to leave Afghanistan. The London Conference in January 2010, the NATO, Russian and Pakistani military chiefs’ meeting in Brussels in the same month and now the US-Pakistan strategic dialogue are all steps in this direction. The problem with this approach is that it does not pay attention to the grievances of anti-Taliban Pakhtuns in FATA and the Pakhtunkhwa province and the role of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan in it. If something is not done to curtail that role, the Pakhtun will continue to suffer death and destruction; Islamist extremism will grow and the ultimate beneficiaries will be al Qaeda and the military establishment of Pakistan.

The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Gender Research, University of Oslo, and a member of Aryana Institute for Regional Research and Advocacy. She can be reached at bergen34@yahoo.com

Source: Daily Times

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