Good governance is the answer

We don’t need a counter-narrative to defeat terrorism

M Ziauddin March 03, 2017
The writer served as Executive Editor of The Express Tribune from 2009 to 2014

We don’t need a counter-narrative to defeat terrorism. Perhaps we don’t even need a surfeit of military campaigns for the purpose. Good governance immediately following one single focused all-compassing military mission, can do the job. But that is what we have been lacking — good governance. And that is the reason why even after so many military campaigns we are still living under constant threat of terrorism.

The basic physical ingredient of good governance is the irreducible minimum governing unit at the grass roots. This is called local government. Powers devolved from the federal government through the 18th Amendment, even after the passage of more than half a decade since have either been denied by the bureaucratic red tape or whatever little that has been devolved has been monopolised by provincial governments.

Lack of local governance system for decades has given rise to exploitative forces that have virtually taken over power at the grass roots. Weak governance and its effects on the quality of services to the people have been denting public trust in the ability of the state and its institutions to deliver which in turn has been conceding moral space to those that use religion to package their militant views.

If the people of a state are living a good life with all the fundamental rights and the basic necessitates secured, they would themselves ensure that their lives are not disrupted by violent ideologies. A state when healthy at the grass roots would also be healthy in its defense and politico-economic outlooks.

However, terrorism has been on the boil in Pakistan for the last 36 years because the country has been suffering from an acute governance crisis since long. People at large have been denied for decades affordable education, affordable health cover, affordable transport and affordable housing. This has led to citizens losing faith in the state and losing as well any sense of belonging to the country. Such people readily embrace ideologies that promise a better life, no matter how militant these appear in nature.

The governance crisis has resulted in the declining public health, illiteracy and poverty creating conditions conducive for the militants to sow their disruptive terror seeds. Another important way to judge the crisis of governance in Pakistan is the weak state institutions and mismanaged state-controlled enterprises. The law enforcement agencies, administrative institutions and judiciary all have been politicised and serve the executive branch like servile minions. And there has always been a rift at some level in civil and military leadership of country. This accounts for a major factor behind the crisis of good governance in Pakistan which comes in shape of clash between the state institutions thus adversely affecting their performance.

While governance was shrinking in Pakistan multiple factors had kept spreading radicalisation which was occurring on three levels. Firstly, among lower income groups, mainly in poorly governed areas including the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and nearby districts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), as well as parts of southern Punjab and interior Sindh, where poverty, inequality and loose administrative structures spurred radicalisation and terrorism. Madrassas and networks of militant and sectarian organisations in these areas acted as catalysts, exploiting these factors to further their extremist agendas, leading to radicalisation and sectarian violence.

Secondly, the levels and trends of radicalisation were different in middle-income groups. The drivers of radicalisation in urban and semi urban areas, including central and north Punjab, Karachi and Hyderabad, in Sindh, the settled districts of K-P and Kashmir are mainly political. Thirdly, growing alienation from society is the major driver of radicalisation among upper middle class and the so-called elite in the country.

Above all, the two 10-year long wars that we fought between 1990 and 2001, simultaneously, one on the side of Afghan Taliban against the Northern Alliance and the other on the side of freedom fighters in the Indian held Kashmir with the help of the so-called non-state actors had turned radicalisation into some kind of national phenomenon.

This was the period when governance was gradually conceded to radical elements in areas where the reach of state’s writ was already too inadequate or deliberately withdrawn in places where there was the possibility of clash, to allow radical powers the space they required to set up their own kind of rule which they claimed was Sharia compliant.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2017.

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