The recent military campaign ‘Zarb-e-Azb‘ by Pakistan Army in Afghanistan bordering tribal areas against Taliban, Al-Qaida and their Pakistani, Central Asian and Arab fugitive recruits continues to occupy news and analysis. Like previous ones, this recent military campaign was of no significant result, thus compelling the United States to drone strategically important “Punjabi Talban Headquarters” on July 19. Due to the changing complexion of religiosity and terrorism in Pakistan, a review of the military move is needed in the perspective of Talibanization in Southern Pakistan.
A fruitless move
There are some commonalities in the recent and the previous military campaigns launched in the Pashtun tribal areas. The campaign, like previous ones, has been selective, in which certain terrorists were targeted, meanwhile the rest were given space to flee into adjacent tribal, semi-tribal and provincial areas of Southern Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa, Sindh and Balochistan provinces. A larger part of the terrorists were Punjabi Taliban, hence was deliberately excluded from the campaign through political tactics of negotiations. The campaign also caused a massive human displacement and, like in the past, it was used as a safe passage for establishment’s ‘blue eyed boys’.
The army avoided or failed to touch the hardcore infrastructure of terrorist coordination in the tribal areas, of which a large number of secular citizens from Southern Pakistan believe is run by Punjabi Taliban. They are considered to be the recruiters and strategists behind the tribal Pashtun Taliban. They were droned by the United States, which were called a concrete achievement by the vernacular media reports in the decade-long history of droning at Af-Pak borders. In fact, the Punjabi Talban is the real culprit of the terrorism in Central and South Asia, and is deceptively protected by the security establishment.
Why is the menace of Talbanization and religious extremism, despite many efforts, dominating Pakistani scene? The answer is simple: the military establishment is playing a microcosmic game of strategic deception aimed at creating a strategic swamp on the both side of river Indus. It’s a bid to create another virtual Shat-al-Arab, or a highly modulated warfield in Pakistan on the lines of Iraq, a kind of strategic swamp against NATO, India, Afghanistan and the Central Asian States, probably with the support of Petro-Riyals.
Many know in Pakistan, however reluctant they are to speak out, that Pakistan’s military establishment itself creates Taliban and religious extremists, uses them and finally separates the experts and the most loyal “terrorist assets,” and gives them safe passage whenever the world outside pressures Pakistan to launch a military offense. This microcosmic game is generally expressed by the political circles of Southern Pakistan, especially Sindhi and Baloch as “creating ten Taliban, killing five upon international pressure to acquire external military support”.
Sindhi and Baloch nationalists believe that Talbanization of Southern Pakistan and military offensive in northern Pakistan are strategically connected for transporting Salafi terrorists en masse to the natural resource-rich and culturally diverse Sufi Sindh and Balochistan. It is a common view among Sindhi and Baloch that the military as well as espionage technology that is acquired by Pakistan from the West, particularly from the US, is mostly used against Sindhi and Balch nationalists, secessionists, uncompromising journalists and the vocal civil rights activists.
The indigenous people of Southern Pakistan believe “Quetta Shura” is the strategic deception for the “Rawalpindi Shura.” The Pakistani army wants to use this deceptive propaganda to protect extremist hardcore leadership and launch offense against the Baloch movement. The July 15 New York Times story by Saba Imtiaz and Declan Walsh mentioning thousands of extremist seminaries in Southern Pakistan is also indicative of that microcosmic game. It can be assumed that Pakistan is now gradually shifting its anti-India infiltrative terror machinery from Pakistan-held Kashmir and Punjab to India bordering Sindh.
Demography and Talbanization
Federalism in Pakistan is the monopoly of Punjabi and the Urdu-speaking Muhajir elite over the rest. This ethnic monopoly has the peculiar trait of changing demographic complexion, particularly through settlements of Punjabi and their allied ethnic groups in Sindh, Balochistan and Siraiki South Punjab. The sixty-seven years of demographic internal-colonialism in Pakistan has alarmed Sindh, Balochistan and Siraiki South Punjab, where the indigenous and local population is gradually being turned into minority. It has also been used for countering anti-military dictatorship and secessionist movements. Sindhi and Baloch, traditionally Sufi and secular, understand that the injection of Salafi extremism into their lands are the proxy infrastructure similar to Salafi Al-Shams and Al-Badr outfits in Bangladesh that may be used for controlling their natural resources and countering secessionist movements.
Transformation of Pakistan from a militaristic state, and northern Pakistan especially Punjab from epicenter and importer of Salafi terrorism into a moderate society, is the biggest challenge for international security. Eliminating the roots of religious extremism and terrorism from Pakistan essentially requires a cleansing of Punjabi-dominated military and security establishment in Pakistan, which would be impossible without engaging and strengthening the utmost secular Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun and Siraiki nationalists.