This Article appeared in Daily Dawn on  December 09th, 2008.

THE government’s warning that it would have to withdraw troops from its western border in case of a threat on its eastern frontier with India was not only uncalled for, it was unrealistic as well. The continuous harping on this issue on TV talk shows is creating a negative impact in the NWFP and FATA.

Such tendencies in the past, including an overemphasis on the Kashmir issue, and without any tangible results created negative feelings in the former East Pakistan. Although East Pakistan’s population was larger than that of West Pakistan, not only did the issues discussed concern the interests of the western wing but most of our troops were also deployed in West Pakistan.

Without meaning to sound parochial, the fact is that there are similar feelings in the NWFP and FATA at this point of time. Defending territory and ensuring the security of its people is the foremost responsibility of the state. Unless it is proactive in ensuring that it is fulfilling this responsibility, other countries and non-state actors (an increasing phenomenon presently in FATA and the NWFP) will be encouraged to encroach upon the security foundations of a neglectful state.

Pakistan’s views on the subject of moving troops from one border to the other were meant more for US consumption and discussing these on TV talk shows would be tantamount to encouraging non-state actors and creating negative feelings among the people of the NWFP and FATA.

Meanwhile, the reported views of some security officials that Baitullah Mehsud and Maulana Fazlullah are patriotic Pakistanis are laughable. The kind of demoralising effect this has had on local law-enforcement agencies and elders (who should be in the forefront when it comes to checking the enemy from within) is not difficult to imagine. If Baitullah and Fazlullah are patriots, how should one categorise our law-enforcement agencies and local elders who are pitted against them and are losing their lives to attacks on a daily basis?

The assertion that our tribes will defend the western border is doubtful because they have been overrun by a superior and motivated force. It is no longer 1948 or 1965 when these tribesmen with rustic weapons but superior motivation and fighting techniques in the mountainous area were able to add to our fighting strength. We are living in 2008 and must keep the battlefield of the 21st century in mind. Our tribals are not cannon fodder just to be thrown into these battlefields. If their services are required we must work out a proper plan on how to use these. In any case, they are not available at this point of time and we must not deceive ourselves.

Even after the Mumbai attacks, the threat on our eastern border is not a credible one. Given Pakistan’s nuclear status, India would not want to commit the blunder of attacking the eastern border. Core areas like Sialkot, Lahore and Rahimyar Khan are perilously close to our eastern border. It is no longer possible to have a limited war between India and Pakistan without provoking a nuclear response from Pakistan. Therefore, any threat emanating from our eastern border is largely taken care of by the country’s nuclear status.

In the present day, no country in the world can afford a nuclear war or should even think about it. The real purpose of having nuclear weapons is the deterrent value which these provide and we could exploit this by reducing the deployment of conventional forces along the eastern border.

NWFP and FATA inhabitants ask that if all politicians can unite when faced with a threat from India even when the forces have not been moved, why can’t they sit together to debate the threat emanating from our western border and give it the same degree of importance.

Understandably the Indian government and media overreacted to the unfortunate incident in Mumbai but there is no reason for the same response on our part. The NWFP and FATA are already under attack and the enemy is within our territories. Our complacent attitude towards the enormous threat on our western border is not understandable. Our military and political leadership appears to suffer from some kind of mental fixation and seems equipped to handle only threats from India. We cannot reorient ourselves to respond effectively to a new situation.

US drones are attacking our tribal, even settled, areas and even then we are unable to stop our enemies from whatever it is doing. In case we pull out our forces from the western border they will simply walk into our territories. Therefore the warning that in case of a threat on our eastern border we would have to pull out forces from our western border is not only unrealistic, it is also making the people of the NWFP and FATA feel demoralised. The government must re-evaluate the threats on both borders and carry out a major redeployment of our forces as per this new threat perception.

The writer is a retired brigadier and former secretary, FATA.