Holbrooke’s Visit: Hopes And Expectations

I cannot tell whether the Taliban have been destroyed or dispersed as a result of this operation until I go myself, But one thing that is quite obvious is that security forces regained Swat and Buner from the Taliban, which itself is very significant.” – AP, said Holbrooke, US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This is Holbrooke’s fifth visit to Pakistan since his appointment in January’09. The first after the reported death of Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, in a US missile attack earlier this month. An event considered to be the most significant blow to the Taliban regime till date.

Mr Holbrooke’s top priority for the trip is peace during the Afghan polls. The US diplomat is expected to visit Kabul before the elections. He is expected to urge an increased security on the Pak-Afghan border to ensure safety during elections.

But the concerns of the people of Pakistan regarding Holbrooke’s visit are quite different. Talks of launching a full fledge operation doesn’t seem to be appropriate, especially while the idp crisis is in its recovery phase. The swat crisis displaced over 3 million people who seem to be slowly recovering and making their way back home. Although most seem happy to be able to go back to their homes, but returning to normalcy seems a long way ahead. Just two months back Holbrooke made his first visit to the IDP camps in Swabi. The highest ranking US official to visit the camps of the displaced in swat. During his visit he surveyed the living conditions and interacted with the people:

“Are you glad the army came in, even though you were driven out of your homes?” Holbrooke asked a group of men gathered to greet him.

“We will be happy when there is peace,” one answered. A gray-bearded elder shouted from behind him, “We want this thing to end so we can go back to our own land. We are fed up with living like this.”

“America has given a lot of assistance and food,” Holbrooke said. “But it’s up to the Pakistan army to give you security. That’s not our job.”

In a recent interview to voice of America, Holbrooke recalled his experiences of the people in the IDP camp in Pakistan. He was

Photo Courtesy:BBC -The map illustrates the spreading strength of the Taleban in Pakistan's north-west, something both army and government officials have vowed to combat.
Photo Courtesy:BBC- The map illustrates the spreading strength of the Taleban in Pakistan

amazed to see that unlike other displacement crisis, the internally displaced people of Pakistan were well aware of the situations and continued to back the military actions. The only thing the displaced people were concerned about was their security. People of swat are the first hand victims of Talibanization and their strong backing for the military action makes a bold statement of determination and willingness to end the barbarism. This is indeed a vital sign that people in Pakistan are willing to co-operate with the military and join hands against the Taliban.

Drone fury divides public opinion:

A recent survey shows that  over 87%  Pakistani’s are against suicide bombings. According to Washington’s Pure Research Centre, only 5 percent Muslims support attacks carried out on religious ground. The number of such people was 41 percent in 2004. On the contrary a survey by Gallup Pakistan, commissioned by Al-Jazeera gives out some disturbing details.

Fifty-nine percent of Pakistanis believe the United States poses the greatest threat to the nation, despite the billions of dollars of military and development aid. About 18 percent of those polled said they felt most threatened by India. Only 11 percent thought that the Taliban were the greatest threat. To a separate question, some 43 percent supported dialogue with the Taliban. A massive 67 percent of those polled said they opposed U.S. military operations on Pakistani soil.

Quite disturbing considering that India has been considered the biggest existential threat to Pakistan, in the past. Despite a large percentage of people opposing suicide bombings by the Taliban, the majority considering US is a threat is worrisome. It might very well be ‘drone fury’ and the constant dictation on military strategy, which most people consider as meddling with Pakistan’s internal matters. Moreover the recent killing of Baitullah Mehsud by a US led drone attack doesn’t seem to make an impact in favour of the drone policy. It might be fair considering drones are responsible for killing over 600 civilians while successfully targeting only a handful of militants.

Photo Courtesy: Reuters - Protests agaisnt drone attacks
Photo Courtesy: Reuters – Protests agaisnt drone attacks

According to sources:

The Prime Minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, said such strikes remain a matter of public concern in Pakistan.

“They were counterproductive to the government’s efforts for isolating the terrorists and the collateral damage of these attacks were exploited by the extremists for fuelling anti-Americanism in the country,” he said.

Gilani urged the US to instead provide drone technology to Pakistan to enable its armed forces to take action against terrorists. He also plans to take up the issue on Hoolbroke’s recent visit.

The constant warnings by the Paksitani’s authorities against drone attacks don’t seem sufficient. While analysts argue about mutual agreement over drone attacks (also pictures of drones parked inside Pakistan’s territory), the authorities keep issuing statements against it. It’s only fair that the double game being played by the Pakistani’s authorities is leading to confused opinions. Most Pakistani’s are compelled to hate and condemn the drone attacks provided that the attacks are continued even though the authorities in Pakistan are apparently opposed to it. This raises a sense of disrespect and violation from the US not only against the people but also the authorities.

While the fact is that Pakistani authorities need to come clean. They need to be honest to their people and define the extend of their co-operation with the US in the war. Clearly denying and repeatedly issuing statements against drone attacks while taking no action is only worsening the situation.

Leadership and its role:

Photo Courtesy- The Guardian
Photo Courtesy- The Guardian

While the authorities continue to play the blame game, new threats might surface. Threats that could cause further instability and come from within Pakistan rather than overseas or across the border. according  the survey over 42% people are not satisfied by the President’s actions. While only Around 11 % approved of his leadership and another 34 % had no strong opinion either way. Provided the lack of trust in the country’s governance, expecting further instability is not far-fetched. Holbrooke’s recently visit to Pakistan also includes his tour of Mingora, after which he is expected to issue official statement regarding the swat offensive. But clearly this doesn’t end here; the US has shown great concerns on the insurgency in Waziristan. It is expected that a full fledge operations should be launched immediately. The concerns seem valid considering the ‘strike while the iron is hot’ strategy. At this point in time where reports of Taliban infighting are pouring in, an operation seems likely to damage the Taliban hold further. The question is, are the people of Pakistan ready to allow another full fledge operation? Considering, the exodus that was created during the swat offensive. This time the authorities need to be much clearer on their strategy, realizing the importance of taking the majority into confidence. Further displacement crisis and increased drone attacks are bound to cause a significant increase in Anti-American sentiments, indirectly bolstering the Taliban cause. When questioned about one thing he would like to say to the people of Pakistan Richard Holbrooke stated that “America is your friend”. It is time for our friends to come clear on their strategy and define the extent of their “alliance” with the state. After all the people of Pakistan have all rights to know what is in store for them. Holbrooke and the Pakistani authorities need to ponder over the spirit of the displaced people of Pakistan. The world needs to see the resilience of our people and the determination with which they continue to fight the battle despite the odds. Coming clean will only help combat the militants more strategically and rid the people from the constant feeling of being violated by their first hand ally. In the end it will be the people who will bear the brunt and struggle to make sense amid the crisis. Our main threat remains from with in the country and not outside. It’s the insurgencies and deep rooted ideologies that need to be tackled. While the military fights it battles on the ground, the authorities have more vital roles to play.


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