Why Antiwar (and a Plan to End Militancy)

May 13, 2009 § 2 Comments

After the recent scrapping of the “peace deal” in Malakand, the Pakistani military launched a massive offensive in order to clear Swat, Dir, and Buner of the Taliban. As a direct result, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee the war zones (with independent reports also indicating that many thousands are still trapped in the areas under bombardment).

All this has triggered serious, protracted debate over the legitimacy of the war. Below is an email written by an APP member to the People’s Resistance listserv, a Karachi-based group that led civil society efforts during the lawyers’ movement. It comes in response to emails sent by the war’s reluctant advocates, who argue that the antiwar argument is “impractical,” as the State must today choose between (1) peace deals that embolden the forces of reaction, and (2) a war that might well claim the lives of thousands of civilians.

dear a—–, f—–, others,

different people have been having this back-and-forth for months and months now, so i don’t want to simply repeat what’s already been said enough. but i understand that you two, in particular, are asking for direct, constructive answers, so let me do my best.

i apologize for the length. as you will see if you reach the end, i got a bit carried away.


but first, a comment.

a—–, you summarize the anti-war argument as primarily an “ethical” one–that the offensive “is bad because it causes civilian casualties.” this is certainly part of the narrative, and it is an important part. however if you re-read what many have said in the course of previous discussions, you’ll find that there is also a “practical” component to the contentions: people have also been arguing that these operations do not work, they have exacerbated the scale of the insurgency and anti-state sentiment pakistan confronts, exacerbated the plight of men, women, children in pakhtunkhwa. with over a million pakistanis festering in underfunded refugee camps and inadequate, temporary homes, devoid of gainful employment and divested of all assets, i really fail to see how the advocates of war propose to convince us that this time it will be different–that these refugees will emerge to flash smiles and fly our flag.

in a recent article, to make the pro-war argument, mosharraf zaidi reads the history of the last few years as a history of “failed peace deals”. but i think the past few years could just as easily be read as a history of “failed military operations.” again, if even a fraction of these IDPs turn their backs on the state in the course of the years to come, as is all-too-likely, we are simply furnishing recruits to the patchwork of enraged insurgent groups that have roots in the area. (this leaves aside the thousands of people still trapped in the “war zones”; after all, lest we forget, the idea that you can evacuate only civilians in order to bomb only terrorists is straight out of the samuel huntington fantasy playbook (and, of course, Vietnam didn’t exactly bear him out)).

so, really, i’d like to, first, turn the question around–to my mind, the notion that the military operation is a “practical” alternative beggars belief. how do you justify this claim–our PM sahib can make it in a television address dripping of choreographed patriotism, but surely you, a—– and f—–, see the holes in this hollywood narrative (drop our bombs and “whaddyaknow”, the bad guys are no more!)?

what evidence do you offer that will lead me to believe that bombs, artillery, and khakis will lead to a decline in “terror”? note that i am making this argument assuming that i ought to accept unreservedly the State’s definition of who these terrorists are. if i begin to dispute that definition, and start to argue that, really, our State has long allied itself with select tribal warlords in these areas that are hardly less mad or misogynistic than the “Taliban,” i think the burden of proof on the pro-war side becomes greater still, as it indicates that our State/Military has an interest in fighting certain forms of misogyny and extremism while patronizing others. (and then, on top of this, of course, there is the small matter of direct State terror).

in sum, what i am arguing is that neither of the two options you are asking civil society to choose between are solutions. in other words, both option (1) peace deal/ceasefire with non-representative mullahs, and option (2) military operation, promise to make the problem worse, not better. they may both deliver short-term benefits (unlikely), but the medium-to-long-term effects on the region and the country will be frightening.

if they represent the only two, “practicable” options that exist, today, this is simply because the problem of militancy in the north-west is not a problem that invites any in-the-box, within-the-system solutions. particularly with the US committing to a long-term presence in southern afghanistan (obama is contemplating sending 10,000 more troops, on top of the 20,000 he has already ordered there), I think, realistically, we will have to come to terms with the fact that the problem of militancy in the NW will plague us for years, if not decades to come.

at the same time, i don’t think we need to over-exaggerate the scale of the crisis that we face–perhaps i’m being too optimistic, but i don’t think that these insurgencies are dramatically different from, for example, the problem of the Maoists in India (who have a presence in roughly 1/3 of indian districts, don’t forget), the problem of paramilitaries in Colombia, or even the problem of street gangs in El Salvador, etc. the hard-on-terror approach will not work for any of them in any sustainable, holistic way, nor will it work for us. (do you think, for example, that Sri Lanka is really solving any of its problems, in any sustainable way, with this recent campaign against the LTTE?)

we are not about to fall to the Taliban. the problem of creeping fundamentalism in our cities, is distinct, sociologically, from the terrorism of the TTP and TNSM (this is why i object to WAF’s recent framing of the issue of the dramatic rise in misogyny as “talibanization”–it is unhelpful and analytically very lazy). bombs in Swat will do nothing to free women or minds in karachi.


nonetheless–you both wanted an alternative, so i will offer it to you. again, i don’t think that what i am putting forth is “practical,” simply because i don’t think that there are any “practical” solutions. progressive forces have very little claim on the State and the Army; they are not about to listen to us.

i do understand the argument that i have heard for more clever, committed, ground-troop counter-insurgency. and perhaps there will need to be some dabbling in these dark arts in order to re-establish some semblance of the State’s writ, before any plan can be implemented.

or perhaps the State will simply have to do an honest job in areas within its writ, before people elsewhere start to believe in it (anyway, after all, for 62 years the Pakistani state has not really exercised its writ directly in many of these areas (esp. FATA), but rather by proxy through tribal elites).

what’s very clear, nonetheless, is that all this demands an end to today’s military operation.

my fantasy plan has 12 parts, presented in haphazard order. feel free to add.

  1. announce a radical land reform program (no compensation, no exceptions) effective immediately.
  2. announce an end to the political and State patronage of maliks, khans, walis, etc. in fact announce a program to confiscate the luxury assets of all elites, including our various royal families. re-distribute these equitably to those militants who agree to lay down arms, as well as to working-class people everywhere (i’m sure we can find more than enough for everyone.).
  3. announce the end of all research and development expenses in the army budget. end our nuclear program, dispose of our nuclear bombs. cut the rest of the military budget as drastically as is plausible (but raise salaries of sepahis). redistribute army bungalows, army lands, army hospitals, army companies to a transparent, democratic authority, which will decide how they will be further distributed. reform the army’s hierarchy. abolish the ISI.
  4. announce a comprehensive legal reform package that includes the decolonization of FATA (repeal of FCR, for example), protection of minorities and women. promulgate an order requiring all stalled cases to be heard and resolved within 6 months, across the country.
  5. propose a holistic anti-corruption policy (including raising of lower-level police salaries and aggressive prosecution of corrupt elites)
  6. rehabilitate our peasantry by crafting a policy aimed at achieving food sovereignty. if this requires aggressive subsidies and our fantasy gov’t is running out of money, fund the program with reparations the US will pay us for having implemented, historically, strategic and significant subsidies and tariffs in industry and agriculture (and/or for their murderous foreign policies, and/or for the ecological unsustainability of their development model. let them pick).
  7. announce an aggressive pro-poor pricing policy for all utilities. in other words, their “decommodification”–the more you use, the (much) more you pay. until the point that basic needs are met, though, they will be free.
  8. nationalize the madrassas, integrate them into a revamped public education system. ban private education; redistribute the assets of private schools to the public system. propose a plan to integrate education across classes, so the sons of bankers go to school with the sons of unemployed polio victims. convene a transparent committee (comprising especially of minorities and women) to draft a comprehensive new curriculum. (if you’re having trouble funding this, demand reparations from Britain for multiple decades of intentional underdevelopment and brutal colonial rule–remember to give a good chunk of this to bangladesh. officially beg forgiveness for 1971).
  9. convene an assembly radically more democratic than our parliament (seats reserved for peasants, minorities, and workers) to write a new, minority-friendly, secular constitution.
  10. formulate an industrial policy that prioritizes the building of internal linkages within the space of the nation. with this announce the radical overhaul of trade union legislation in consultation with genuine working-class organizations. announce a living wage policy.
  11. announce a free/single-payer public health system. like with schools, expropriate the assets of all private health facilities and put private doctors to work in public clinics. desegregate the health system, focus on preventative care.
  12. announce a massive literacy campaign enlisting especially elite youth in a 6-month campaign, modeled on the cuban or nicaraguan experience.


i cannot go on any longer. it is too much fun, and i simply am setting myself up for disappointment when i wake up in the morning.



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§ 2 Responses to Why Antiwar (and a Plan to End Militancy)

  • […] fundamental critique of the Pakistani military campaign. On Action for a Progressive Pakistan, a post from “Adaner” reads: … if even a fraction of these IDPs [the one million or more […]

  • Arif Ishaq says:

    @adaner: APPLAUSE!!

    A note on the side. This an excerpt from William Reich‘s historical text, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, which I highly recommend, if you haven’t read it yet. It is even available online at http://www.bibliotecapleyades.net/archivos_pdf/masspsychology_fascism.pdf (though I’m not sure if it’s the latest edition).

    We will condemn as irrational the authoritarian strictness of a mother toward her neurotic child. We know that this strictness makes the child ill but we cannot overlook the fact—and this is the cardinal point in the fight against authoritarian education—that a child, once made neurotic and living in a neurotic family situation, can be made to do things, say, go to school, only by authoritarian means. That is, the mother’s authoritarian strictness has also a rational aspect, even though limited and conditional. It is not fundamentally rational. We shall have to admit this conditional rational function if we are ever to convince the educator, who adheres to the authoritarian principle as a makeshift measure, that the authoritarian principle can be eliminated by the prevention of neurotic illness in the children.

    The conditional rational function is also present in the authoritarian state, as painful as it is to admit this fact and as dangerous as this statement could become in the hands of a mystical dictator. …

    I see some parallels with this. The supporters of the military option can probably claim the conditional rationality that can be seen in the mother’s actions. With the the obvious danger of a mystical dictator (our army?) abusing it.

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