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Preserving Internal Peace

Three decades (or so) ago almost to the day on April 13, 1975, unidentified gunmen killed four Phalangists during an attempt on the life of Pierre Gemayel, founder of the Lebanese (Maronite Christian) political grouping called the Phalangist Party. Suspecting that the assailants were Palestinian the Phalangists retaliated later in the day by ambushing a bus passing through the Eastern Beirut suburb of Ain al Roumanneh, killing more than two dozen Palestinian passengers. This incident initiated a cycle of revenge killings that led to all-out civil war that was supposedly between the Palestinians and Maronite Christians but in fact became a religious strife between the Sunnis, Shias and Druze Lebanese aiding the Palestinians and the heavily Christian Lebanese Army (alongwith their heavy weapons) splitting mainly in favour of the Maronites and Catholics.

By the time the civil war ended 15 years later in 1990, many thousands and thousands of combatants (and multiple more innocent caught in the crossfire) had died in the fray. The “civil war” allowed Syria to creep in as an “arbitrator” for “peace-keeping”, creating a stranglehold over Lebanon that has only recently been vacated after the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the Lebanese (and world) mass reaction to Syria’s suspected involvement. Given refuge in Lebanon since 1969 the stateless Palestinians (led by Yassar Arafat’s PLO) had earlier been involved in bloody civil strife in Jordan from where they were unceremoniously evicted in 1970. Attempting to evict the Palestinians from South Lebanon, the Israelis launched a massive invasion, the massacre of Palestinians at Sabra and Chattila refugee camps just outside Beirut were carried out by Maronite Christian allies of the Israelis, who remained as onlookers, intervening only after mass killings had already taken place.

While moves to end religious strife and return to pre-1975 centuries-old amity had been going on, the Hariri assassination dramatically brought the Lebanese together. The Muslim (mainly Shias through the Hezbollah party) and Christian communities have some latent tension simmering under the surface, nowhere is the peace more symbolic than in downtown Beirut in the Hariri-created “Solidaire” area. Next to a newly built mosque and church standing together, Hariri lies buried alongwith all those who perished with him in the bomb blast that destroyed his car and escort vehicles. Driver Nadeem, a staunch Maronite Christian who was our guide in Beirut, was from the mountains close to Beirut and had to move with his family to a Maronite area north of Beirut when the Druze militia made life untenable for them in 1975. He was eloquent in his praise of the late Sunni Prime Minister.

On April 11, 2006, the 12th of Rabiul Awal, a suicide bomber attacked a mosque in Karachi during Maghrib prayers, killing 56 and injuring many dozens of others, succeeded also in killing members of the Sunni Tehrik leadership. As news spread through the city, mobs hurled stones and set fire to vehicles in mindless violence. With widespread violence and shops mostly closed, vehicular traffic was almost at a standstill. Karachi remained completely shutdown on Friday April 14, the strike was partial in the other cities of Pakistan. While the Rangers and Police maintained order in the streets, the Army was called out in sensitive areas to back them up. This is a short-term solution, are our local political and religious leaders upto it in the long-term, can they afford anarchy if things are not kept in checks? There have been repeated questions for the past months about an internal security breakdown in Pakistan, some have opined that matters have gone beyond state control and we are already headed for anarchy. This is far from the truth, the danger is that if we remain complacent it may well take place. Without becoming unduly pessimistic, pragmatic “damage control” needs to be initiated to avoid further erosion in the situation.

Widespread Shia-Sunni strife is most glaring in Iraq where things are rapidly spinning out of control. The carnage that took innocent lives in Karachi was professionally planned and meticulously executed, it was not only Sunni–specific but was specifically meant to create a blood cycle of Sunnis reacting against Shias. A civil strife in the (at the moment) only port of Pakistan would be disaster for an economy that has only recently started to grow exponentially, the masses still awaiting for the benefits to “trickle down”. A slanging match going on between the two major parties in Karachi, the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) intensified after the bomb blast, both the parties need to cool it and cool it fast. Their vested responsibility to look after the interests of millions of their constituents will not be served if civil strife breaks out. The Musharraf regime has to distance itself from any militancy, it may be of religious or ideological nature, it doesn’t matter. No governing authority can afford to be allied (or even indifferent) to those who operate outside the laws of the land. No governing authority can afford to abandon its writ to the streets, a slide into Iraqi-type anarchy. With its myriad number of inherent socio-economic problems, Karachi (and Pakistan) cannot afford a Baghdad-type situation.

The other area of concern is the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). While a relentless military campaign to rid the border areas of militants, mostly foreigners, was necessary a dramatic long-term initiative is required to get the tribals whose only means of income are both outside the pale of law, viz (1) as hired gunmen and (2) smuggling of all goods including heroin. Who can blame them if they have no means to feed their families? The  Govt  of Pakistan must (1) stop Afghan Transit Trade and (2) Declare FATA a Free Trade Zone (FTZ), calling it a Special Tribal Economic Zone (STEZ) or whatever. Anything required by Afghanistan or the Central Asian States can be supplied from STEZ warehouses and factories. Change may not take place overnight, and it will take some time to implement the plans. The entry of millions of our citizens, literally still in the Dark Ages, into the 21st century is at stake. Laws must be implemented to protect the interests of tribals, like in Dubai only the locals should be allowed ownership. Look at how the US protects the Red Indians reservations even now. Let the tribals become sponsors of businesses! Taken into confidence and educated about the economic possibilities that will change their lives for the better the tribals will have a vested economic reason for ensuring the peace.

The government has done well by taking action against the tribal sardars in the Dera Bugti and Marri areas of Balochistan. There should be no negotiation with the Sardars and that too until they have voluntarily disarmed. Those captured in battle should be treated as anyone would be who causes damage to the State and its citizens. Those who followed their hereditary rulers but came back voluntarily and have not taken part in causing casualties or damage should be allowed to pursue their rightful place under the Pakistani sun, albeit under parole for good behavior for sometime. There is no way the tribals could ever be educated, get medical assistance, education, etc with the Sardars heavily dependant upon their continued ignorance for their continued loyalty. A significant portion of the royalty/profits must go to creating more economic opportunities for the locals, towns/industrial parks being planned on the pattern of the FATA initiative.

Pakistan has been successful in the “war against terrorism”. While we were similarly successful during the Afghan War,   complacent  in  the victory  of  the Mujahideen we did not prepare for post-war trauma. This time around we need to be prepared for the machinations of those who have a vested interest in destabilizing Pakistan.

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