New America Media, News Analysis, Jalal Ghazi
Editor’s Note: Arab media are disappointed with Pres. Barack Obama’s Pakistan-Afghanistan strategy. The U.S. focus on the Taliban’s assault on women’s rights ignores the fact that the military attacks are actually helping to unite Pashtun tribal groups under the Taliban banner, says NAM contributor Jalal Ghazi.
The specter of a Taliban takeover of Pakistan has been haunting Western media. As the fighting between Pakistani forces and the Taliban intensifies, Arab media are pointing the finger at the United States. The Obama Administration does not understand Pashtun cultural traditions, say the media. It is using force first, just as the Bush administration had done. In fact, the air strikes killing many civilians are actually creating more “Talibanization,” say Arab media.
Western media’s major focus is Taliban’s treatment of women. A video of a Pakistani teenager being whipped on her buttocks was played by Western televisions over and over, turning the Swat Valley crisis into women vs. the Taliban.
“This is how the Taliban dispenses justice,” said an ABC report. “Whipping a teenager 13 times because they say she was alone with a man who was not her husband.” “The video of the flogging has galvanized women and civil society groups to protest against ‘Talibanization,’” reported the BBC. CNN featured a woman who had fled Swat Valley out of fear of the Taliban.
Arab media, however, regard the collapse of the Swat Valley peace agreement as a catastrophe. Many Arab televisions focused on the suffering of the hundreds of thousands who were forced to flee from the fighting areas to poorly prepared camps lacking food and water. Arab media do not condone the Taliban’s treatment of women, but they see what is happening in the Swat Valley as much bigger than women vs. Taliban.
Arab political observers believe that the U.S. decision to oppose the agreement showed a lack of understanding of the Pashtun tribes who make up the backbone of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Arab observers warn this will only increase the Taliban and al Qaeda influence.
Political analyst Hasan Abu Ghaniya told Al Arabiya, “Implanting Islamic Sharia is not a wild idea that is newly introduced by the Taliban, Sharia is rather widely accepted in the region and it is the major uniting factor between all tribal leaders there.” He added, “Different leaders emerge in different regions of the tribal area of Pakistan and take on the responsibility of leading the area. It is well known that these leaders are responsible for implementing the Sharia law and Islamic courts.”
In order to help women in Afghanistan and Pakistan tribal areas, a coordinated international effort must be made to build the infrastructure and empower women there with better economic and social opportunities. Abu Ghaniya told Al Arabiya, “The infrastructure must be built in the region which is desperately needed, and schools must be opened.” Force, he said, was the “wrong strategy” and should be the last resort.
Obama apparently wants to be tougher than Bush, which is evident in the increase of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and the escalation of unmanned drone strikes against the so-called “valuable targets,” including recent ones that killed more than 100 civilians in the Afghan province of Fara. That has strengthened the bond between al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban.
Abu Ghaniya explained that, unlike the Taliban in Afghanistan, which has one supreme leader – Mullah Omar- the Pakistani Taliban have many local leaders. In some cases, these leaders are at odds with one another, but after the U.S. air strikes and repeated Pakistani government military operations, they have become more united under the Taliban banner.
Pakistani political observer Abdel Ghafar wrote on Al Jazeera’s website that different local Pashtun leaders decided to join the Taliban after U.S. attacks in their areas when they realized that the Pakistani government would not defend them.
For example, local leaders Baitullah Mahsud, Nazer Ahmad and Mullah Gul recently pledged allegiance to Mullah Omar and declared Osama bin Laden a religious mentor.
According to Al Arabiya, Mahsud, the leader of the Taliban in Northern Waziristan, has threatened the United States and Europe with attacks. This shows that local leaders in Pakistan are not only joining ranks with the Taliban but also they are drifting closer to al Qaeda’s international agenda by threatening to expand their attacks outside Pakistan.
Like many Arab analysts, Ghaniyah said that the solution is political not military. Obama must use “soft power.” A road map must be made to deal with economic and social crises in the region. Peace agreements must be respected, and local autonomy must be given to local regions.
Ghafar wrote for Al Jazeera that “negotiations have led to peace agreements between armed groups and the Pakistani government, but strangely all these agreements were criticized by the American administration and destroyed before being implemented.”
It is as if the United States insists on adding Pakistan to list of failed states, which now includes Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Of course, the United States would also do well to remember that the Pashtuns have defeated other empires, including Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the armies of Alexander the Great.