This Article appeared in Daily Dawn on December 02nd, 2008.

Pakistan is caught in the eye of the storm in the so-called war on terror between the US and its allies on one side and Al Qaeda and the Taliban on the other.

Due to America’s faulty strategy in Afghanistan, the US and its allies have not been able to eliminate Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In fact the conflagration has reached dangerous proportions and can threaten the whole region. Sensing failure other regional powers have been advancing their own agendas in Afghanistan. The fallout from the situation in Afghanistan on Pakistan, the only Muslim nuclear state and one with a weakening system of governance, not only has the potential to destabilise the Pakistani state but also carries dangerous implications for South Asian peace and security.

Unfortunately Pakistan’s rulers are underestimating the gravity of the situation. They have not worked out an effective strategy to deal with it. On the other hand Al Qaeda and the Taliban have wrested control of most of the tribal areas from the government. The NWFP government has been rendered ineffective.

Its police and other law-enforcement agencies have been targeted and the political leadership has been discouraging as far as organising resistance to the steady growth of Talibanisation is concerned. Society is being terrorised into submission. Mosques, hujras, jirgas and marriage and funeral gatherings are being attacked. Anyone who tries to oppose the radical elements, be it a religious scholar, a politician or an elder, is either eliminated or threatened with serious consequences. The rules of engagement are simple and clear.

Society leaders dare not speak out against Al Qaeda or the Taliban in the NWFP. Meanwhile, US drone attacks in Pakistan’s territory are making a mockery of the country’s sovereignty and violating the sanctity of its borders.

The suicide-bombing strategy employed by Al Qaeda is not a new concept. It is rooted in history. Al Qaeda has carefully advanced it in order to capture control of Islamic societies particularly in Pakistan. A suicide bomber causes maximum damage because he knows he doesn’t have to get away from the target and therefore can get as close to it as possible to inflict maximum damage. This tactic works well in a Muslim society where he can mix with others without being suspected. This has not worked well in the US or Europe or Israel, even Chechnya. So Al Qaeda’s suicide bombing tactic is based on a Muslim-kills-Muslim philosophy.

Al Qaeda believes that killing Americans through suicide bombings will not cause the US to become a Muslim state but if more Pakistanis are killed the resulting anarchy might create conditions for a global khilafat (caliphate). According to its thought processes, if it kills more Pakistanis through suicide bombings, Pakistan will become a stricter adherent of Islam and that will be the first building block of a khilafat.

On the other hand, US-led forces in Afghanistan, according to their misconceived strategy, think that by eliminating Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri they will be able to quell this ideological movement. They deliberately or otherwise cannot understand that the solution lies in stabilising the region through a major development strategy and by strengthening the system of governance in Pakistan.

Many think tanks even in the US feel that this so-called war on terror is more of a ploy and the real intentions lie somewhere else. They feel that the US has no intention of pulling out of this area in the immediate future for other strategic reasons. The continued US presence in the region must be a source of concern for the Russians and Chinese. The Central Asian Republics must be worried. Iran must also be feeling threatened. India, a budding regional power, has also joined in. With this great game unfolding in Afghanistan, Pakistan should understand the implications. After all the operations by the local Taliban in Pakistan need finances and meticulous planning. Ignorance can be a blessing but not always. The US drone attacks in Pakistan are tantamount to weakening the state in the face of the open onslaught by Al Qaeda and its surrogates.

Understandably India is Pakistan’s enemy and given half a chance will not hesitate to undo the state of Pakistan. However, this threat receded to a great extent after we became a nuclear state. There is a tacit understanding that if a certain threshold is crossed Pakistan may be tempted to use the nuclear option which would have devastating implications for India, Pakistan and the region.

In view of these circumstances there is an urgent need for a re-evaluation of the threat that Pakistan is facing on its western and eastern borders. The threat that is originating from our western borders is far more complex and dangerous than the one along our eastern border. The threat is far more serious and real than our realisation and understanding of the situation at this point of time.

At present we have only one corps located in Peshawar and another in Balochistan. All other seven or eight corps are focused on our eastern border. If a deeper and more comprehensive reappraisal of the threat along our western and eastern borders is carried out in a realistic manner without any bias, prejudice and pre-fixations, it will become apparent that the situation calls for the reorientation of our forces and posture. This may involve shifting three to four corps from our eastern frontier to the western borders. This will have a positive effect on our population and will go a long way in restoring the confidence of the people in the Pakistani government and state.

Keeping aside the allegations that the government and its agencies are playing a double game and that the military is shadow-boxing, the people seriously doubt whether our armed forces have the capability or capacity to fight the ragtag force of the so-called Taliban. The people of the NWFP are ready to take them on but lose confidence when they see a lacklustre approach by the government and state. This is the time for a major rethink regarding our threat hypothesisation and strategic orientation to deal with the complex situation on our western borders.

The writer is a retired brigadier and former secretary Fata.