Originally Published 2014-02-14 07:12:59 Published on Feb 14, 2014
Far too many times, states make the mistake of not recognising that they are confronted with insurgencies. Fearing the supposed legitimising effect of affording 'miscreants' the title of insurgents, they prefer to describe violent movements as law and order problems, situation, the troubles, and of course, terrorism.
There is an insurgency in FATA
" Far too many times, states make the mistake of not recognising that they are confronted with insurgencies. Fearing the supposed legitimising effect of affording 'miscreants' the title of insurgents, they prefer to describe violent movements as law and order problems, situation, the troubles, and of course, terrorism.

In a recent series of articles titled There Is No Insurgency In FATA (published in The Friday Times on January 17, 24 and 31), Prof Ijaz Khan argues that the decade long violence in FATA is not an insurgency. Wrong diagnosis, he follows, has led to counterproductive counterinsurgency policies. Taking a contrary position, I argue that there are many forms of organised violence that are conventionally typecast as 'insurgencies', and that the movement in FATA appears to share many of their characteristics.

Prof Khan's argument can be summarised in four points. One, insurgencies involve groups of people taking up arms 'with the purpose of secession or control of territory'. Two, they enjoy limited support from the people and exert territorial control. Three, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan's (TTP) goal of protecting foreign terrorists from government harassment does not resonate with the cross-section of the local population, which belies its labelling as an insurgent group. Last, the policy of collective punishment is archaic and has proved counterproductive. Prof Khan correctly notes that the TTP does not have separatist ambitions. The movement remains nationalist in its rhetoric. It does not lend support to the Pashtunistan cause and despite claims of receiving aid from India, has pledged to fight alongside Pakistan Army in the event of a war with its rival.

That being the case, secession is one of the many causes espoused by insurgent groups. Broadening the historical aperture, insurgencies are fought for reform in government policy (land reforms in El Salvador), to capture the capitalist state (Naxalism, Peru's Shining Path), and regime change. Resistance to 'occupation' (Iraq and Afghanistan) is not distinct from insurgencies but another instance of it.

Second, it is misleading to assume that insurgents' goals remain fixed throughout the duration of war. Frenchman David Galula stressed how war creates its own reasons, a view supported by recent theories of intrastate war (the most prominent being the Logic of Violence in Civil War by Stathis Kalyvas). Reasons that lead to insurgencies are analytically separable from causes that come to be espoused during its course.

Far from being academic, this phenomenon is writ large over the tribal areas. True, the movement began as a reaction against US invasion of Afghanistan. Over the years, however, it has adopted strategies to increase membership and embed itself to existing forms of social competition. The Taliban support the local clergy in wresting control over the tribes from the Maliks, the traditional tribal leadership. The Mullah-Malik conflict has historical roots and it appears that the Taliban have widened it. Its application of violence against civilians is selective; more than a thousand Maliks have been assassinated while the movement assimilates the clergy class. Just as Bethany Lacina terms the Indian north east as a collection of localised autocracies, Pakistan's north-west may well have become a collection of localised theocracies during the war. A cause that did not start the conflict nevertheless emerged out of it and is now sustaining the war.

Third, in similar vein, TTP's goal of changing the nature of Pakistan's state by revising its judiciary, foreign policy, education system, gender relations and other aspects of state-society relations should not be undermined. Mullah Fazlullah's predecessors made no mention of implementing the Sharia when the first US bombers flew over Afghanistan. Since 2007, however, each successive rebel leader has emphasised the organisation's aim of replacing the Westminster system of justice with Sharia. This is indeed an outlandish goal, but it is a goal nonetheless. For perspective, the improbability of the Naxals capturing the Indian state, or the PKK forcing Iraq, Turkey, and Iran to accede to an independent Kurdistan does not foreclose the existence of these goals and the insurgents who fight and die for them.

Fourth, Prof Khan suggests that the problems facing FATA germinated before 9/11, that the 'socio-economic changes eroded the basis of Pashtun tribal traditions on which it was based'. He adds that 'by 2001, it had become an ungoverned territory and an administrative vacuum?' This is novel, since the status of Pakistani state presence in FATA immediately prior to 9/11, traditionally exercised through a combination of the Political Agent, the Malik and the Federal Crimes Regulation, is not very well known. Unfortunately, he does not provide us details about how the state ceased to exist in practice. Be as it may, stateless regions seek aspiring state makers. Absent political order, different social organisations fear for their security and reinforce their defences, leading to internal arms races. Life, as Hobbes remarked, becomes 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short'. It is not surprising that local state-makers and political entrepreneurs (read- the Pakistan Taliban) filled this vacuum and competed with Pakistan for state control when the military attempted to dislodge them through punitive means. Having won the competition in pockets throughout FATA, there is little reason for self-interested Taliban leaders to renounce hard fought control and stop fighting. That targeted military operations and negotiations make for sensible policy flows from this.

Fifth, besides exercising coercion, the Taliban perform a variety of other state-like functions. One generally associates proto-states or 'bases' with Marxist wars of liberation in which violence is preceded by years of patient mobilisation by rebels. Mass civil action - delivery of services, dispensing justice and collecting taxes, and support for peasant and working classes - are common traits of Maoist insurgencies. Class consciousness, being what it is, requires to be mobilised. Insurgencies where ethnicity is salient, however, require lesser degree of mobilisation by virtue of high levels of pre-war political support (think Kashmir and Afghanistan). Upon reflection, one notices that despite being located on the opposite end of the political spectrum, the Taliban practice each one of these programs. Their Sharia courts, while normatively unsettling to progressive Pakistanis, are considered more effective than the one offered by the state, even by the residents of 'mainstream' Peshawar (Anatol Lieven). They police 'bases' governed by them and levy taxes on civilians and local (contraband) traders. In the case of Swat, they even recognised social class stratification, sided with the peasantry, and forced landlords out of the valley. One wonders if the works of Mao and Guevara are available in Waziristan!

Last, going beyond state-making and mobilisation, let us not forget that participation in wars is a life changing experience for rebels and soldiers. As Sidney Tarrow puts it eloquently, the experience of viewing the state 'through the sights of a rifle' and equally, via its barrel, in the company of fellow rebels is a socialising process whose effects should not be dismissed.

To conclude, The Pakistani Taliban might not have begun as an insurgent movement, but it certainly has evolved into one. I agree with Prof Khan that coercive measures such as collective punishment and bombing of towns have contributed to this. The mechanisms that transformed an uprising into a full-blown insurgency will be systematically understood only after the conflict is over. In the meantime, let us call things by their right name.

(Kaustav Chakrabarti is an Associate Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

Courtesy: The Friday Times, February 14, 2014

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