War and sex have one thing in common: neither can afford doubt. If you are fighting, you should be clear about why you are shedding your enemy’s blood. There’s nothing half-cocked about it.
Yet, that’s precisely what we have done over the past decade even as we have fought — often reluctantly. The initiative has been with the enemy. We have reacted and continue to, while being weighed down by narratives grounded at best in half-truths and at worst in outright lies.
I have written much on the subject and I am not sure if it bears repeating. But what does need repeating is a simple truth: the state is threatened by an ideology which the majority of this country does not share. So, what’s the problem? It’s a straightforward one: we lack clarity of thought as much as action because of confusion sowed by multiple actors, charlatan politicians no less than religious demagogues.
On September 9, the political parties were in a clutch trying to figure out a course of action. Their over six-hour deliberation threw up a resolution from which resolve is conspicuously absent. In Pakistan, it’s called consensus. Consensus, as any straight-thinking person would know, is a unicorn. No one has seen it. Yet, that’s what we are looking for before we will even do the necessary and minimum, perish the thought of doing the sufficient.
Some would say consensus is crucial in a divisive polity and on an issue where we stand divided. Bollocks, I say. If you stand divided on action, you will stand divided on talks about how to act. In fact, history makes a strong case for the argument that when there are divisions, resolute action is the only way to bring people together. Nothing, as the darned cliche goes, succeeds like success.
Also, anyone who thinks that this is a war that can be brought to an end easily or quickly either lives in the Garden of Eden before the serpent appeared, is a plain moron or is lying shamelessly. Simmering conflict is what the world will see and is witnessing. The best-case scenario will be to reduce it to being a diabetic condition that one can learn to live with.
Like states, non-state actors will use and are using globalisation to share information and knowledge, pool resources and strike. There will be periods of relative quiet, broken by violence and often periods of war. It is not a matter of choice. The world has changed and we have to accept that. Wars will be fought at multiple levels, with guns as much as with other tools.
The irresolute resolution that we now have, another document in a succession of such resolutions, has at least one important point: it places the responsibility on the federal government to take all measures to deal with the situation.
This means only one thing: there’s no further room for hemming and hawing. Beyond this point, the federal government, as also the provincial governments, will have to sit down and work hard at formulating not only a National Security Strategy (NSS) but also the various policies under it, keeping in mind the guidelines given in the NSS.
The steps that need to be taken will have to be simultaneous. The security forces, civilian and military, will have to be reformed. If the political parties have decided to talk to the terrorists, that does not mean that this task can be cold-storaged. Threats are countered through capability and enhancing capability is a function that does not rest on the imminence or otherwise of a threat. In this case, of course, the threat is not only imminent, it is present and unfolding.
The civil-military tensions have to go. The National Security Council must be an active body and must meet regularly so both sides of the state are on the same wavelength. Parliament should have specialised committees and sub-committees dealing with issues of defence, foreign policy and intelligence. These committees must also meet regularly and monitor developments closely. They must have a system of getting feedback from outside-the-government experts through hearings and briefings. Some of these committees are in place but their working needs to be streamlined.
Why is this important? It is instructive when Imran Khan requested a meeting with the prime minister and the army chief. He wanted to get the lowdown on the situation. As the leader of a party that is in power in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, this was a legitimate request. It shows clearly that important people are in the dark about what exactly is going on. It also shows that Khan built his entire electoral campaign on the issue of terrorism without the information necessary to make sense of the situation. Other political parties are in the same boat.
This is why, as I have argued in this space before, it is important to restructure the national intelligence set-up. The civilians are totally dependent on the military for national intelligence while being responsible for making things work. It is just not possible to act responsibly — or be held responsible — without the authority to perform one’s functions.
At the conference, the civilians were briefed by the army chief and the DG-ISI. Good, but not enough. The civilians still do not have any means to corroborate independently what they are being told. No one does. But that’s not the only problem. Another problem is independent analysis of the intelligence one gets. This means that even if we were to believe that the intelligence is credible, that does not in and of itself mean that the analysis based on that intelligence and done by the very agency that is gathering intelligence is credible.
Intelligence agencies suffer from biases and entrenched perceptions. There’s a lot of work on these problems that lead to what is sometimes referred to as ‘analytic pathologies’. That perceptions are quick to form and resistant to change is a common enough problem and is widely known. Hence, the need for both in-house monitoring and evaluation as well as independent analysis.
There’s much else the government will now have to do. The specifics are outside the scope of a newspaper op-ed. But now that the ruling party has had its conference, it will have to actually work on the specifics. Resolutions can afford to be vague; action cannot.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 11th, 2013.
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