Good governance to tackle non-state actors

The crackdown on banned outfits has sparked a new debate, not only in parliament but also in various discussion group

Syed Akhtar Ali Shah March 20, 2019
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Action against proscribed organisations, their subsidiary trusts and violent non-state actors has purportedly been initiated under the pressure of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The propelling force behind the action was the placement of Pakistan on the grey list and the fear of being plunged into the black list. Such an escalation may lead Pakistan into further international isolation, having negligible international trade and a disastrous effect on the already capital-starved economy. The recent crackdown on banned outfits has sparked a new debate, not only in parliament but also in various discussion groups. In this context, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, along with others, has aptly said that there was a need to combat the mindset of terrorism for the future of our generations. He also posed important and fundamental questions: what happened to NAP? What happened to combating hate speech and reforming our curriculum? What happened to the action against the Taliban and banned organisations? What was meant by mainstreaming of militant organisations? Such questions of national importance are mind-boggling and beg diagnostic analysis and answers. This brings to fore the fault lines of governance which brought the country to such a pass.

Governance assumed increased importance as a result of events set in motion by 9/11, with proclaimed links between international terrorism and fragile states. Seen in hindsight, fragile states were perceived as states that could succumb to the possibility of being breeding places of anarchy and abodes of non-state actors, with freedom to act free from rules and laws, causing disruption to global security too. Popular opinion among scholars is that challenges of militancy and extremism are the result of the failure of governance. This realisation is because ‘failed-states’ are considered as breeding grounds for global terrorism, as apparently they have all the potential to disrupt the global security apparatus. It is therefore prudent to understand governance based on those assumptions and finding the fault lines of governance is imperative.

Most scholars argue that the foremost and perpetual crack in the existing system of Pakistan is the age-old tussle to determine the exercise of political authority and the fractured political system, alternating between civilian rule and the Army. The second fault line finds its origin in ethnic and provincial differences. A third fault line is rooted in the ideological divide to determine what should be the place of Islam in society. It is widely acknowledged that most of Pakistan’s religious factions are armed to the teeth and are alarmingly well-financed.

Some authors also highlight that the national policy of Pakistan has been driven by the fear of India either to annihilate or to checkmate Pakistan’s influence at all forums and particularly in Afghanistan. It is also a sad legacy that the Islamic militants were not only used as a foreign policy tool after the Soviet Union’s entry into Afghanistan but were also used as irregular warfare pawns when we gained independence in 1947. Stephen Cohen, for instance, writes that Pakistan began an intensive study of guerrilla warfare during its exercises with the US military and developed a penchant for using such tactics to achieve its long-term strategic goals in the region. This led to our tribal areas getting labels such as safe havens and epicenters of terrorism from foreign governments and authors.

Other factors contributing to extremism in Pakistan are the absence of genuine opportunities for representation of citizens, prevalence of poverty and repression; corruption and identity crisis which provide social space to extremists who succeed in exploiting disenfranchised population by providing assurances against the perceived injustices of life.

While we have a host of governance issues to address and settle, we spent our energies more in playing great games, in imitation of the British colonial rulers. We, however, conveniently forgot that we are not a superpower, as Britain was at the time of the Great Game. Bilawal’s concerns are not misplaced as the mainstreaming paradigm is not fully clear. Question arises what would happen to the stockpiles of weapons which these organisations possess and how deweaponisation would be carried out? With no clear details on the anvil, many like Bilawal rightly apprehend that such a move would further embolden fundamentalists who will have a field day. The unarmed law-abiding citizens will be left with no other choice but to succumb to gun-toting groups under the poorly-devised mainstreaming policy.

What is needed is to address the poor governance issues and remedy the fault lines so that common people feel more empowered and there is little social space for extremists and terrorists to make their presence felt.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 20th, 2019.

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