Page 1 of 4 INTERVIEW Frontier wisdom
By Syed Saleem Shahzad
PESHAWAR - A year ago, the United States brokered a deal in Pakistan between
then-Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf and opposition parties to
bring Pakistan back onto the path of real democracy, at the same time returning
the military to the "war on terror" front. The goal was to empower the
political parties to defeat domestic militancy through consensus and
broad-based government, with a civilian president.
This happened to some extent following elections in February 2008 and the
subsequent formation of a civilian administration under President Asif Ali
However, on the first anniversary of those polls, Pakistan has changed horses
in midstream by striking deals with militants and
stopping all military operations against militants. In other words, Pakistan is
refusing to fight the American war in the region, as was the grand plan.
On the front line
Pashtun-dominated North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), although the smallest of
the four provinces of Pakistan, is center-stage in the struggle against
militancy as it borders Afghanistan to the north and the troubled tribal areas
to its west.
The man who presides over the province, sitting in Governor's House in the
capital Peshawar, is Owais Ahmad Ghani, previously a successful governor of
southwestern Balochistan province and a former trusted lieutenant of Musharraf.
He took over in January 2008 after four-and-a-half years in his previous
Governor's House reflects some of the rich history of the Pashtuns; its walls
have murals of Alexander the Great's army in battle as some Pashtuns believe
they are descendents of the leader's Greeks. There is also Koranic calligraphy
showing their Muslim legacy.
With his background and given his present position, Ghani is intimately
informed of the intricacies of Pakistan's evolving policy with regard to
militants. In an extensive interview with Asia Times Online, he says that the
move towards peace deals with militants was not the result of any blackmail or
pressure from the side of militants.
Rather, it grew from the realization that the seven-year-long strategy of
military operations only aggravated the situation. Now, with peace deals,
Pakistan is returning to the pre-1979 setup when, under the aegis of the state,
tribes decided their terms of peace through their riwaj (customary
Ghani admits that the situation can at best only be contained as long as
foreign troops remain in Afghanistan. The Taliban and other groups consider
this a reason for jihad, and Pakistan territory is used to fuel this cause.
Probably the most important peace deal in NWFP is the one concluded in February
with militants in the Swat area after two years of fighting.
Asia Times Online: There is a perception of you that you initiate
political negotiations, and then follow with military operations. That's what
you did when you were governor of Balochistan, and some say that is why you
were brought to NWFP.
Owais Ahmad Ghani: This is a perception that you have from the
outside. But let me explain to you in detail. The situation we face has always
revolved around this question: Is this a law-and-order issue, or is it an
This is the first question I raised when I came here [NWFP]. Law and order is
not a protracted activity. It is temporary and there are some immediate issues.
It can be criminal issues and it can also be issues of public agitation. For
example, against [power] loadshedding, against inflation or political issues.
After some debate we came to the conclusion that this is an insurgency in which
there is an attempt to dislodge the state of Pakistan and create space for
another state. So we started from this premise. I can today state with a degree
of confidence that insurgency has now been downgraded to militancy. But
certainly last year in January and February our conclusion was that we were
facing an insurgency, and we designed a strategy accordingly.
Now in such a situation there are two concurring battles being fought. One is
the battle of ideas. The other is the battle of arms. The battle of ideas is
always a lead battle and the battle of arms is always subservient to the battle
of ideas. Please understand this.
Here [NWFP] I found a very strange situation in which the battle of arms had
been joined, but there was no battle of ideas. The battle of ideas is a
political approach. It is the same approach which I have been telling the
Americans to adopt in Afghanistan. In 2003-04, I predicted to various American
personalities, like ambassadors Ryan Crocker, Nancy Powell, their senators etc,
that they were going to fail in Afghanistan because there was an over-emphasis
on a military strategy, and I did not see any robust parallel political
strategy at work.
I said [to the Americans] that what you are doing is that you are trying to
find a military solution to an issue which is essentially political in nature.
So that is the mistake happening there that I felt was also happening here [in
Pakistan]. That's why the Americans have fought in Afghanistan for six or seven
years, and I keep on asking them whether they have improved law and order - no.
Has security improved? No. Has political stability been achieved? No. Has
socio-economic development taken off? No. So obviously they were doing
something wrong. We need to step back and review as exactly the same questions
can be asked of Pakistan.
For three or four years, we [Pakistan] have been fighting in the tribal areas.
Have we reduced violence? Have we brought in political stability? Have we
brought in security and law and order? Is social economic development taking
place? No ... no .... no. So let's step back and let's review. Where are we
going wrong? And according to our analysis - you need to understand this
analysis, only then will you be able to understand the strategy - that it is
not 9/11, it is 1979, which was the trigger which brought instability to this
Before the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, there was a two-power
environment in the tribal areas. One was the tribes themselves, the other one
was the government of Pakistan. The entire administrative system and the
law-enforcement system were designed according to this two-power environment.
[In the Pakistani tribal areas] you had the maliks [tribal chiefs], you
had the political administration, which I will explain later. However, post the
1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, we were supported by the West and the
United States and we used the tribal areas ... Federally Administered Tribal
Areas [FATA] ... as the launching pad for the Afghan jihad against the Soviet
Whatever happened after that is the fallout of an unintended consequence of
that conflict. Those jihadi organizations morphed into militant organizations
[at the end of the Afghan jihad in 1989] and therefore a third power emerged
and the old equilibrium was disturbed.
Our administrative systems and law-enforcing agencies were not designed to cope
with this three-power environment. A steady decline was there, but it was the
shock of 9/11 which brought out the total inadequacy and the weakness of the
system. And therefore as a temporary measure to bring about some control and
stability, the army had to be inducted.
But the main challenge is to reform our administrative and law-enforcing
systems to cater for this new environment, which is going to remain for some
time. This is our reading because everything is dependent on Afghanistan. If a
certain degree of normalcy returns to Afghanistan, normalcy according to Afghan
standards, only then can the issues the tribal areas and our provinces and
Pakistan face subside.
To correct the situation and to bring about stability and control, we fell back
on old traditional systems. We had the original power-based tribes, but they
had become weakened. Why? For three or four reasons. The militant
organizations, they are highly organized because of their background, they are
battle-hardened and heavily armed and very well funded. And very importantly,
while tribal influence is limited to its own area, its own people, the militant
organizations have cross-tribal linkages, cross-border linkages, international
linkages. And while tribes are bound by their tribal traditions and customary
laws [riwaj], the militant organizations are not. So they have
out-gunned, out-funded and out-organized the tribal malik and his tribe,
and that's why that system could not respond.
So our strategy was very simple, we needed to prop up the tribes because the
real strength is the people. No government, whether a civilian government or a
military government, can really function or succeed until it has brought public
support behind it ... sentiment behind it.
For us to prop up the tribal system again, this could only be done by weakening
the militants, militarily, so that at a certain point we could make the tribes
strong enough. This is the basic approach - the state of Pakistan owes its
first loyalty to its own citizens, and its own citizens are the tribes.
There were previous agreements, previous to my tenure, but they were flawed. I
was sitting in Quetta [as governor of Balochistan] and I said these were flawed
and could not succeed because they were between the military and the militants
[for example, one signed in September 2006]. The agreements should have been
between the government of Pakistan and the tribes.
Our approach has been that it is the government of Pakistan dealing with the
tribes and making agreements with the tribes. For example, we have conducted
only one written agreement, and that is in North Waziristan [tribal area].
There is no other agreement in my period [as governor of NWFP]. On February 17,
2008, we signed an agreement in North Waziristan. Over 380 tribal maliks
and tribal elders signed that agreement.
ATol: Do the tribal elders matter?
OAG: They do. Obviously, we understand that 20-25 of those tribal
leaders are very closely aligned with militant elements. I would not call them
the Taliban because that has a different connotation altogether. They were with
these militants because they were in that society. But we are talking to them
on the basis of them being tribal leaders, and they have a certain
relationship. Let me explain that relationship.