[Editor’s Note: there is an interesting new post by Hamid Hussain on Saudi Debate about the current strife in Pakistan and its relation to the situation in Afghanistan. Here is an excerpt from the end of his commentary, the full version available at http://www.saudidebate.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=952&Itemid=181.]

In general, Pakistani society is in a state of denial refusing to acknowledge the looming threat to the very national fabric of the society. Majority see current conflict only through the prism of anti-Americanism. In the absence of reliable information, opinions are being formed on the basis of rumors, suspicions and conspiracy theories. On one end of the spectrum is the opinion of use of overwhelming force to crush the challenge to government authority and on the other end some are advocating that government simply abandon its primary responsibility and pull out all security forces. Everyone is mute about what will happen next; i.e. after large scale destruction from a sledgehammer approach or after pulling security forces out without any mechanism in place and giving free hand to militants. Average citizen wakes up every morning to see another horrific case of brutality and wanton violence.

Confused public is unable to decipher the dynamics of violence and essentially a spectator.

There are a number of causes of this apathy of general public but two most important ones are a general sense among people that no matter what they do, it will not change things and second is the fact that they do not see this as their own war. As far as first factor is concerned, average citizen is at the mercy of the coercive power of both the state and non-state actors. If he speaks truth to the powers, state’s intelligence agencies can take him away without any due process of law. If he condemns extremists, then an assassin’s bullet is not very far. In such circumstances, it will be too much to expect from general public to come openly in support of any given policy.

In case of second factor, majority of the population see this war as being waged only for the benefit of America and government has been unable to articulate the difference between Pakistani and American interests. The most damaging effect of this general apathy has been on the morale of the security forces, which has plummeted. One can disagree with any given policy of the government but can still honor those who are risking their lives. Nation can not expect its soldiers to sacrifice their lives on a daily basis when public even does not have the decency to condemn the most brutal violence and acknowledge the sacrifices of the fallen security personnel. Internal security is a difficult task in any circumstances and given the current situation, large scale military operations can not be sustained indefinitely.

There is some link between violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas but local dimension is being completely ignored. Regardless of what happens to Afghanistan, the crisis in Pakistan’s tribal territories will have its own dynamics and Pakistani state and society will bear the brunt of violence. If a holistic approach with involvement of all segments of civil society is not attempted quickly, then we may see further erosion of state authority in tribal areas and adjacent settled districts. This vacuum will encourage various groups to carve out areas of influence and deal directly with local and international players. Traditional tribal chiefs, clerics, militant leaders, smuggling mafia and other small players are positioning themselves in tribal territories to take advantage of the uncertainty and chaos. There is no perfect solution to any given problem and every given policy has its benefits and risks. The test of leadership is to pass through a difficult phase with least damage. Even if one does not have the wisdom or means to address a problem, the least one can do is to make sure not to add new complexities which will make the task difficult for his successors.

In current circumstances, all available resources of crisis management and conflict prevention need to be used. On military front, robust intelligence and covert action will bring more dividends to neutralize the extremist fringe. Risks and long term side effects clearly outweigh the benefits of use of large number of troops along with heavy artillery and air assets. Every effort should be made by the government which should be visible to assist local tribesmen who are displaced by military operations. Local foot soldiers of militants need to be weaned off by other means and that is a long process.

Pakistan may learn something from Saudi Arabian experience (several rehabilitation programs are run by Saudi government where clerics, social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists work as a team to engage militants in different settings) but it will need financial resources and convincing Washington that in the long run this approach is in the best interest of Islamabad and Washington. Time has come for Pakistan to start a frank debate about fundamental measures to maintain law and order using various methods. All options including negotiation, reconciliation, rehabilitation and covert actions to neutralize the lunatic extremist fringe need to be put on the table. A collective effort by government and civil society (ordinary citizens, clerics, intelligentsia, and women) to address serious issues is must to stop the downward drift. Military leadership has more responsibility in this regard as they have to engage political forces to tackle this difficult problem.

Even genuine efforts by military which are not broadly supported by general population will not bring long term stability. The real burden is on Pushtun civil society and their leadership. One civil war has already destroyed the homeland of Pushtuns in Afghanistan and there is a clear and present danger of loss of another generation of Pushtuns on the new killing fields of Pakistan. All ingredients of a very brutal civil war are in place and local, regional and international elephants along with their proxies will fight on the lands of Pushtuns and the bill of human, social and economic costs will be paid by Pushtuns. There is an urgent need for genuine dialogue among various stake holders in Pakistan with special attention to violence perpetrated in the name of religion against co-religionists.

‘Destiny is a saddled ass; he goes wherever you lead him’. Pushtu proverb

Dr. Hamid Hussain is an independent analyst based in New York. For comments and critique humza@dnamail.com