Where writs don't run.....PAKISTAN'S WILD WEST


Borderland Pakistan is the old west reincarnated, and ignorant outsiders won't force change.
Peter Preston The Guardian
America has seen enough John Ford movies to get the point. Britain, too, had its fill of John Wayne. So why are we all so infernally slow to realise that borderland Pakistan is the old west reincarnated - except that we're not talking Apaches or Sioux now, just Bugti, Swati, Jadoon and Tareen in the realms of the Pashtuns and Baluchis?

Such parallels bound out only a few miles from Peshawar. If this were Nevada, you'd find casinos down some desert road, run as a matter of restitution by the tribes. That big, lushly watered house on the hill would be where the chief lives, counting his cash. And here the feeling is just the same: no slots or blackjack, maybe, but gun supermarkets, smugglers' paradises, walled mansions and the rest - ritually patrolled by the tribes' own internal police. Ten yards off the Khyber Pass, Pakistan's national forces' law and order give up the ghost. Their writ doesn't run. Reservation self-preservation.

Yet still, Washington doesn't see the similarities. It wanted elections, even after Benazir Bhutto's assassination, but now it can't abide the result. Yousuf Raza Gilani's fragile PPP-led government seems more feeble than Musharraf at bringing the tribes to heel. Even more cross-border flits for the Taliban; even less hope of catching Bin Laden. A bomb in Kabul kills 58, and renegade extremists in Pakistan army intelligence must be "weeded out". This country has just got to do what it's told - otherwise (shades of Barack Obama) the White House will send its cavalry in. After you, General Custer ... And nobody sees the challenge whole.

That shanty city along the main route out of Peshawar is Afghanistan by another name: more than a million who fled the Russians and haven't gone home. In Baluchistan far to the south, the tribes have been fighting each other for centuries - and, much more recently, the troops Musharraf sent in to try to bring some semblance of order (they want independence, not devolution). The North-West Frontier Province has a population the size of Iraq, and the religious far right in control. It's a dusty, rugged, rock-strewn terrain, perfect for using the Stingers you bought on your last trip to the supermarket.

Telling Gilani, far away in Islamabad, to order his army to crack down on this chaos is empty foolishness. The army - mostly born and nurtured in Punjab - has scant stomach for rumbling civil war. It has lost too many of its own on these killing slopes already. Meanwhile, slipping and slithering back and forth, the enemies we call the Taliban - or al-Qaida, in our more facile moments - are part of the landscape, simply unstoppable except by the kind of massive, sustained surge nobody has the will or resources to mount. Musharraf couldn't do it when he was really in charge. Random, passing politicians are even further off the pace.

And the danger, time after time, is seeing Pakistan's far west in the way that ignorant generals from the east were expected to act (until James Stewart showed them what a fine chap Geronimo was). This is a deep and often deluding mix of race, many tongues, acute poverty, tradition and religion. It isn't some simple terrain where the word of the PM goes. Nor is it a territory invaded and held by alien terrorist forces. What you've got, instead, is something fiercely autonomous but also anarchic - a world where the state called Pakistan barely exists.

There's suspicion and duplicity lurking in these ravines, to be sure. Army intelligence, like some corrupt trading-post keeper, is used to playing both ends against the middle: and was hailed in heroic terms when the Red Army was one of the ends it ran ragged. But the greater game far outweighs small, if bloody, plots. Gilani, and the heirs of Bhutto, barely in power and already buffeted by food shortages and energy costs, are the best democratic hope Pakistan has on offer. It's politicians or the generals again, and the braided ones haven't really gone back to base yet after their last failed spell. The frail balance of turn and turnabout between democrats and soldiers is perilously out of phase.

Pakistan as a whole voted against extremism a few months ago: but Pakistan is not a whole. Indeed, in many places, the central government is disregarded. Gilani - widely advised - has tried to take off the pressure, to reassure the Baluchis and Pashtuns, to bring gifts and pipes of peace. That's not good enough for the long knives from DC, perhaps. They want crackdowns and action: they've got a war against terrorism to win. But we know, from too many seats in the stalls, who truly wins in the end. And it's not the ignorant, impatient outsiders raining death on a people their "civilisation", in its careless way, cannot comprehend.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Popular Posts