Saturday, August 8, 2009

After Baitullah

While Baitullah Mehsud's death will provide a breathing space to the Pakistani establishment, it is a minor victory given the extent of the challenges facing the government in this region. Jason Burke of the Guardian details some of the deep rooted structural problems for which the TTP is simply a part of the response. He notes the marginalization of the FATA population which will continue to give rise to many more Baitullahs:
The Pashtun tribes of the FATA have the lowest levels of literacy, economic development and infrastructural development of anywhere in Pakistan. They are not considered full citizens. Pushed to the margins, they are, in one sense, trying to fight their way into the centre of national political and economic life.
... this marginalisation is reflected within the society of the North-West frontier too. The militants are often men who would normally be consigned to the edges of a tribe in terms of status, wealth and power. Mangal Bagh, a major militant leader in the Khyber Agency, is a former truck driver. Mullah Fazlullah, who masterminded the recent Taliban take over of Swat, worked as a labourer on Pakistan's only ski lift. In Bajaur and Mohmand agencies, the pattern is repeated with senior militants including mechanics, small shopkeepers, itinerant religious teachers.
Under different circumstance such marginalization would lead to spontaneous uprisings which would quickly be quelled by authorities. But now, Burke points out, there is an ideological and logistical support which provides the uprisings with staying power. This support is from what Burke calls the Deobandi complex.
There is religious homogeneity: the conservative southwest Asian Deobandi strand of Sunni Islam that has established itself with its system of mosques and free schools across the region. There is ethnic homogeneity: the Pashtuns. There is a commercial sector of big businessmen involved in smuggling, transport, timber, drugs and a range of legitimate businesses. There is political representation: parties such as Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Islami. There is diplomacy with connections to the Gulf and elsewhere in the Islamic world. There are significant flows of cash in and out, often through remittances from overseas workers. There is a broadly accepted culture: the conservative, rural, religiously-infused values of the Pashun hill tribes. And there is a military: the various Taliban groups.
Musharraf's government allowed these marginalized people to feel power. Not just in FATA but throughout the NWFP and even (through the Lal Majid) in the heart of the capital. The memory of power does not fade easily. This is not something that will disappear anytime soon.

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