New America Media
Editor's Note: Anti-Taliban sentiments are growing in Pakistan, but this doesn't necessarily push the country into the arms of the United States. Most Pakistanis view the United States as an even bigger threat, writes NAM contributor Hamid Mir. Mir is the only journalist to have interviewed Osama bin Laden before and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He is a terrorism expert and security analyst based in Pakistan.
The leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan met with Presudent Barack Obama in Washington, D.C., this week. The three agreed to come up with a joint strategy against the Taliban and al Qaeda. But there is still a major problem.
The majority of Pakistanis does not see Washington as part of the solution. In fact, many Pakistani newspapers, TV channels and political pundits view Washington as part of the problem. They think that the growing militancy in Pakistan is a result of the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.
U.S. military advisor David Kilcullen admitted that drone attacks have killed about 700 Pakistani civilians and only 14 terrorists. The killing of innocent civilians has infuriated Pakistanis. Many believe that the United States only wants to use Pakistan as a safe supply route for NATO forces in Afghanistan and that it will abandon Pakistan after completing its mission in Afghanistan.
Pakistanis view the United States as an even bigger threat than the Taliban because they fear that the Americans are after their nuclear program. Only the United States, they reason, could conspire to take control of Pakistani nuclear weapons with the help of India and Israel.
Like Americans, Pakistanis want to defeat the Taliban. But they also want to be rid of U.S. influence. After all, U.S. forces have been present in Afghanistan for the last eight years, and there is no peace there.
Pakistan is increasingly looking to Saudi Arabia and Iran as examples of countries that have been more successful at defeating terrorism. Presidents Asif Ali Zardari and Hamid Karzai of Pakistan and Afghanistan, respectively, will meet with Iranian Pres. Mahmoud Ahmadinijad in Tehran on May 19 to learn from Iran’s experience of combating terrorism.
The grand cleric of Al-Haram Mosque in Makkah, the most populous province of Saudi Arabia, also plans to visit religious leaders and scholars in Pakistan to declare that suicide bombing is not permitted in Islam. His statement, no doubt, will be more helpful in reducing terrorism than the U.S. dollars that have been pouring into the country.
Meanwhile, anti-Taliban sentiments continue to grow in Pakistan. The peace agreement in Swat province between the Pakistani government and pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Muhammad three months ago did not last. The Taliban sabotaged the agreement by kidnapping police officials in the Buner area.
About 600 schools and colleges were closed in Swat three months ago due to conflict between local Taliban and security forces. More than 200 schools were destroyed in the fighting.
In an unprecedented protest, residents of Swat and Buner called on Pakistani forces to take action – and more than a week ago, Pakistan responded with military force against the Taliban.
Thousands of residents of Swat and Buner are migrating to safer places. The fundamentalist group is now finding itself in a panic because the locals are not ready to become their “human shields” in the name of Islam. This is the first defeat for the Taliban.
This time, the majority of locals are not blaming security forces or the government for their problems. They are blaming the Taliban.
This is also the first time since 9/11 that all of the political parties in Pakistan have condemned the group. Indeed, it’s an opportunity to transform a broad-based political consensus into a national counter-terrorism policy.
It is time for Pakistani Pres. Zardari and Prime Minister Syed Gilani to call for a national conference on security. They should invite all of the political leaders and other stakeholders and come to a consensus to override their political differences and to defeat terrorism.
The future of Pakistan is at stake.