Manan Ahmed in The National:
Musharraf’s dictatorial regime sought to polish over any internal incoherence with a unified foreign front aimed primarily at operating militarily in Afghanistan, NWFP and Baluchistan. The influx of cash, some $6 billion, into the coffers of the military propelled the army to new-found heights as the country’s largest landlord, largest employer and largest business. But maintaining this new oligarchy came at a steep price for Pakistan.
The two main post-2001 theatres, the states of NWFP and Baluchistan, have born the brunt of military overreach and dwindling civic engagement. It is these sub-nationalist discontents – and not the phantom “Taliban” threat – that pose serious problems for the unity of the state, and they cannot be answered by military escalation. In Baluchistan, since 2004, a low-grade civil war emerged after brutalities committed by Musharraf’s regime, hearkening back to the Baluchi nationalist struggles of the early 1970s. NWFP remained the “frontier” both ideologically and developmentally. Besides being a military staging-ground, its people were denied even rudimentary access to health care, education or a functioning judicial system. The call for Islamic law in 2008, which elicited such alarm around the world, should be seen against the backdrop of such neglect – an attempt to reassert local control and not merely an example of rampant radicalisation in Pakistani society.
Rather than addressing the legitimate needs of Pakistan’s various regions and groups, one government after another has, for half a century, taken power from citizens and provinces alike. If the state is indeed incoherent today, it is the consequence of decades of military rule. The greatest threat facing Pakistan today is not a ragged band of armed Pashtuns. It is what follows the deployment of indiscriminate firepower to defeat them – mass displacement and a rising toll of civilian deaths.