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Will Pakistan's Border Settlement Work?

By David Warren

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has done something outwardly like the British imperialists before him, in negotiating a form of peace with the tribal elders of north and south Waziristan -- two of the many districts in Pakistan's perpetually lawless North-West Frontier. Having tried bombing and strafing them into submission, he now agrees that the national government and military will mostly retreat to the border posts. In return, the elders undertake to stop sheltering and assisting the foreign-born jihadis, who use the districts as extra-territorial retreats for their frequent incursions into Afghanistan.

Gen. Musharraf will be in Kabul today, explaining this agreement to Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president. The legitimately-elected Afghan government has lodged one complaint after another about Pakistan's porous borders, and the welcome jihadis raiding into Afghanistan enjoy on the other side. It has expressed alarm, repeatedly, about the proliferation of fanatic indoctrination, throughout the North-West Frontier and Pakistani Baluchistan, that is turning these regions into little Talibanistans. The Waziri districts are only a small part of the whole.

A distinction is worth calling attention to, here. President Musharraf was negotiating with Waziri tribal elders. He did not reduce himself to formally negotiating with Taliban and Al Qaeda directly. NDP leader Jack Layton, and Liberal opposition critic Ujjal Dosanjh to the contrary, one does not negotiate with terrorist forces that, among many other routine atrocities, shoot little girls for the crime of going to school. For that matter, decent men in their political positions do not undercut our Canadian soldiers, risking their lives in the field to destroy this monstrous enemy, by suggesting such things. Much can be said against Gen. Musharraf's hypocrisies and double-dealings (most of which are necessary to his own political and physical survival), but he is not as low as Messrs Layton or Dosanjh. For they would have to enlist in the Taliban itself, to sink any lower.

Will the Waziri settlement work? Can it work?

The British Raj -- whose century-old anthropological, military, and political reports from the frontier districts are now being dusted off in Pakistani military academies -- partially tamed them by carrot and stick. The carrot was seldom sweeter than, "If you behave we won't kill you." The stick was employed selectively, but brutally, in a pedagogical way. An example would be made of an especially uncooperative tribe, "pour encourager les autres". And as the distinction between civil and military can seldom be found in tribal cultures, it was seldom observed when attacking them.

Of course, those were other days. They will return, because, so far as we can see through history, they are the only tactics that work against tribal peoples anywhere, who persist in troubling the "peoples of the plains". A better "carrot" is to hold out the prospect of assimilation into bourgeois civilization, on bourgeois terms. Such a visible prospect helps us divide and conquer. And while there is much to be regretted in the loss of the primitive tribal virtues, in the last analysis, it is us or them.

Against this, it must be said that peace agreements, or more precisely, mutual non-molestation pacts, that rely on tribal honour, will sometimes be kept, and we can hope this one will. It might have been, a century ago, when the tribal outlook was unmixed with partial experience of the modern world.

My view is that it can't work today, for the very reason that fanatic Salafist doctrines out of Arabia have spread through the frontier districts -- adding aggressive ideological aspirations, together with lethal modern weaponry. The nice Pakistani distinction between "foreign-born" and "native-born" jihadis has ceased to mean much, after a quarter-century of proselytizing by Osama bin Laden and company. By now, the whole tribal concept of honour has been subverted to serve that "foreign-born" ideology.

In reports from the ground, especially from our own brave troops in the wilder parts of Afghanistan, I am interested to read the same pattern repeated almost everywhere. People do not behave as individuals, nor can afford to do so within village and semi-nomadic cultures. Instead, whole villages either "go Taliban", or "go Western". Even without advance intelligence reports, our soldiers can tell friend from foe as they approach a village, for if it is friendly, they are welcomed, and if it is not, they watch the spectacle of women and children ululating, and running into the hills.

This single fact strikes me as the key to allied victory. It is to make the price of "going Western" very low, and the price of "going Taliban" very high, and let the hearts and minds sort themselves through the bargain.

There is no middle ground, and we can't afford to seek any. Nor can we pretend to neutrality on some other plane. Our job is not to make the enemy love us, but to make him change sides. The war will end when all the villages have "gone Western".

© Ottawa Citizen

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