The truth about violence

Published: January 7, 2013
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The writer is a partner at Bhandari, Naqvi & Riaz and an advocate of the Supreme Court. He can be reached on Twitter @laalshah

The writer is a partner at Bhandari, Naqvi & Riaz and an advocate of the Supreme Court. He can be reached on Twitter @laalshah

The year 2012 was of extraordinary violence, not just in terms of the number of casualties but also in terms of the frequency of violent attacks. According to Wikipedia’s entry for “Terrorist incidents in Pakistan in 2012”, there were a total of around 212 separate incidents which killed approximately 3,700 people. And that does not take into account either drone attacks or targeted killings in Karachi!

Just take a minute to think about those numbers. What they mean is that it was statistically abnormal for Pakistanis to enjoy a day without terror. During the Blitz, the Luftwaffe bombed London 71 times over 267 days, or about once every four days. In 2012, Pakistanis were attacked close to two days out of every three.

The standard wisdom in Pakistan is that we are victims of terrorism and that what we need to do is a better job of countering terror. The standard wisdom is wrong. What we are suffering is an insurgency by people using terror as a weapon. What we need to do is a better job of counter-insurgency.

David Kilcullen provides a summary of the differences between terrorism and insurgency in “Countering Global Insurgency”. In brief, a terrorist is seen as an unrepresentative aberration while an insurgent represents deeper issues in society; terrorists are psychopaths, insurgents use violence as part of a society; terrorism is a law-enforcement problem, insurgency is a governance problem.

Let me try to put the above points in the context of Pakistan. We think of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as terrorists, not as insurgents. We think of them as sick, demented individuals who “cannot be Muslims” because of the evil they wreak upon our society. We do not think of them as politicians with a strategy. And that is where we go wrong.

The fundamental truth about counter-insurgency is that it is a competition for governance. In the words of Bernard Fall, “a government that is losing to an insurgency isn’t being out-fought, it’s being out-governed”.

The consequence of this insight is that we cannot think of the TTP either as a mad bunch of psychopaths (the standard liberal trope) or as an extraneous problem foisted upon us by Western imperialism in Afghanistan (the Imran Khan position). The truth is that the TTP are neither loonies nor freedom fighters; they are political adventurists exploiting the failure of our governing structures.

There is a further consequence. If you think the TTP are psychopaths, then the remedy is to kill them. If you think the TTP are a consequence of our poor alliances, then the remedy is to disengage from those alliances and let the tribals alone. But from a counter-insurgency perspective, both of those options are wrong.

The ‘kill them all’ approach is insufficient because a) eradicating the ideological basis for jihadism is not feasible; b) military operations cannot — and should not — last forever; and c) so long as the virus remains alive, the conditions exploited by the TTP in the tribal areas will always remain open to be exploited once military operations cease.

Similarly, the Imran Khan approach is wrong because it both misunderstands the nature of  ‘support’ for the TTP as well as the extent to which the TTP is driven by the war in Afghanistan.

To explain, Imran Khan assumes that the TTP are strong in the tribal areas because people support them. This actually places the cart before the horse: as explained by Kilcullen, “insurgents aren’t strongest where people support them: rather, people support them where they are the strongest”.

That conclusion may seem counter-intuitive but it actually follows from a very simple insight: the truth about violence is that it works. Beat a dog often enough and it will slink away in fear rather than attack you. Threaten someone’s life and the odds are that he will shut up. Kill enough people and the rest will obey. Or, in Kilcullen’s words, “people will do almost anything, and support almost anyone, to reduce fear and uncertainty”.

Second, Imran Khan is wrong in assuming that removing Pakistani support for the US in Afghanistan will automatically defang the TTP. Again, as noted by Kilcullen, insurgent theatres can become “self-sustaining” if given enough time and energy. In our case, the TTP reached ‘critical mass’ because our foreign policy wizards in the GHQ deliberately cultivated the precursors of the TTP. Now, even if the US quits Afghanistan and even if Barack Obama apologises on bended knee to Mullah Omar, the TTP will not be satisfied. Like all insurgents, what they want is power.

How then does one fight an insurgency? The short (and flippant) answer is, “with great difficulty”. Somewhat less flippantly, the answer is that one needs to have a comprehensive strategy, one which combines the hard task of finding and killing terrorists via military and law-enforcement action with the soft task of good governance. This, in turn, means that counter-insurgency cannot be left to the military. To repeat, counter-insurgency is a competition for governance. And there is no reason to believe that our military will prove any better in governing the tribal areas than it has in governing the rest of Pakistan.

The one thing I do know is that we cannot defeat the TTP by isolating the tribal areas; that is an approach which has been tried and failed. Instead, we must integrate the tribal areas into Pakistan. People who live there must be given access to the full range of human rights.

Second, we cannot continue to shrug our shoulders when it comes to corruption and misgovernance. Governmental incompetence isn’t something that can be substituted by private initiative, like replacing Wapda with a private genset. Instead, it is a disease that threatens the integrity of the state.

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not — repeat NOT — trying to justify a Bangladesh-style technocratic coup. As I have repeatedly written, we have no option but to continue with democracy. What I am saying though is that criminal incompetence of the sort preferred by the current PPP regime is a recipe for national suicide.

Pakistanis will hopefully soon have the chance to exercise our right to vote. For all of our sakes, we had better use that right wisely.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 8th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (28)

  • ali akbar
    Jan 7, 2013 - 11:25PM

    Feisal, Pakistan is no more of a (politically) failed state than Nigeria and Mexico. Your argument that governance failures create a vacuum that is filled by the likes of TTP is not very sound. And no, the local mob does not count. Sometimes it exists in spite of (decent) law enforcement.

    And if you term them ‘insurgents’, why can’t they be defeated ideologically? For one, we entered into someone else’s war (FACT), something that does not go down well with a large chunk of Pakistan’s society. If Pakistan had a half decent we-have-a-spine stance, TTP wouldn’t be half as strong and dominating as it is today. Also, it doesn’t take a political scientific to figure out that rampant illiteracy and back breaking poverty in ‘TTP dominated’ areas are not helping things (I took the liberty of assuming that by ‘governance’ you meant law enforcement)

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  • GS@Y
    Jan 7, 2013 - 11:35PM

    Great article, and a balanced opinion. I do believe structures for sustainable and accountable governance must be erected in Pakistan’s troubled regions, and revoking the FCR would be a first step towards that. The long hard task of improving governance in all of Pakistan cannot be ignored; democracy and accountability at every levels are the ways to do it.

    However, violence against the TTP in the meantime is also critical. Building the political will and the operational capacity to target top leadership, bring cadres on the ground to heel, and keep the organization as a whole on the run are important parts of the strategy. After all, part of how Sri Lanka stamped out a MUCH more vicious and longstanding Tamil insurgency was the ruthless and relentless use of force.The government of Pakistan too should heed Kilcullen’s words, and be the strongest to win the largest support on the ground. A clear policy of no-tolerance will enable that.

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  • Falcon
    Jan 7, 2013 - 11:38PM

    I might not agree with everything the author has written, but I must say this is one of the best pieces I have ever seen on the subject.

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  • sabi
    Jan 7, 2013 - 11:40PM

    There is only one solution to end religion based terrorism,is to eliminate religion from state affairs.Who made poor,innocent children,savage are the people who gave them wrong idealogy.First and formost step is to bring these top most clerics under tough scrutiny and eventually bringing them to justice.Catch them by there foreheads and let them clarify their deadly ideaologies on the basis of Quran and sunnah.Prove them wrong (definetly they are wrong).This is a tough task involving lot of resistance,but there is no other way.

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  • Jan 7, 2013 - 11:44PM

    Well explained, but such articles need to be translated in Urdu for the common street man. I have told on of my senior about such issues that such articles needs for common people so they will finally reach to the realities, in our urdu news papers you will never see such explained pieces.

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  • Ricky
    Jan 8, 2013 - 12:01AM

    A scholarly Op Ed by FS and ET. I think the next govt would be a coalition as well. But the big difference would be that the generals and SC judges would be off its face and let it work full five years without looking behind their shoulder. It should start with the interim govt (a neutral setup) to come up with a clear policy and actions against the terrorists. This way the nation would be united against the terrorists and order the army to do its job. Currently ANP/PPP are the only target and victims of terrorists, while the rightwing parties are free to politick.
    Education is not our strength and FATA is behind the rest of Pakistan which says a lot about it. Education, integration and democratic rights would do wonders for the uplift of FATA people and they would take care of the terrorists themselves.

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  • Arifq
    Jan 8, 2013 - 12:20AM

    Totally agree with Feisal, this is a battle for ideological supremacy unfortunately the insurgents appear to be better equipped when it comes to ideological clarity, propaganda and the use of violence. Every day members of the Shia sect are being targeted across the country and the state appears to be either paralyzed or oblivious of the massacre carried out in the name of religion. I like Feisal firmly believe in the democratic process, but the federal and provincial governments have failed miserably to defend their citizens leave alone fight this insurgency. If the political leadership does not have the authority to take action then they should come out and tell the people who is responsible for this mess, enough is enough!

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  • Ahmed Ibrahim
    Jan 8, 2013 - 12:36AM

    Excellent article… exactly as I say that we need to provide better governance to beat Taliban not just call them crazy, demented sick people

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  • Pan Mat
    Jan 8, 2013 - 1:03AM

    @ali akbar: For one, we entered into someone else’s war (FACT), something that does not go down well with a large chunk of Pakistan’s society.

    It went down pretty well with masses when Pakistani proxies were fighting USSR using USA help. In fact even till today you can find occasional security expert on a TV panel claiming laurels of strategy deployed in 80’s.

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  • Rex Minor
    Jan 8, 2013 - 2:00AM

    The author should stick to his job in the supreme court representing the victim or the perpatrator, and leave politics to people who after cricket playing and a full life of a play boy have decided for public service in Politics. Imran Khan knows about the Taliban force, the most lethal in the world and has explained it several times on Internatioal forum. I as a foreigner understand his fears as well as having seen the plight of the yankees and the international forces who have been defeated on the battle ground. The authors first mistake is to underestimate the stregnth of the Talibans who live as tribes and families as ONE and not as idividuals cavaliers. Enough with idiotic emotions and sentiments and the religion; peace is what people want all over the world and the leaders who suggest the use of force should re-examine the stregnth of their military which is weak, uncommitted and canot defend the land from its own citizens. Pakistan needs to build its institutions including reforms in education, judiciary and military. People are the stregnth of a Nation and Pakistan should first learn to become a Nation from a country of people who speak different laguages and follow different cultures. The author should become conversant with the languages of Pashto and arabic before he makes a judgement of what Pakistan Govt should or should not do.

    Rex Minor

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  • sabi
    Jan 8, 2013 - 4:05AM

    @Rex Minor:
    “I as a foreigner understand his fears as well as having seen the plight of the yankees and the international forces who have been defeated on the battle ground.”
    What foreigner? From islamic republic of waziristan!

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  • John B
    Jan 8, 2013 - 5:52AM

    Voting to elect a proper government which has a backbone to go after the various flavors of violence that plagues PAK today is hard to come by unless various political parties with their respective vote banks come together that curbing violence is their main priority at policy level rather than election manifesto.

    I am sure in the coming elections, all political parties will say that along with their populist programs. The voters will elect their favorites and are left with same old leaders with redistribution of the majority in government and same old state machinery to approach the old problem.

    Voters all over the world never consider the domestic insurgency related violence issues as an election issue unlike foreign threat, unless it is full blown and the violence is at their door step. At that time, the voters don’t care about their diversity of opinions exhibited in their votes and will accept draconian measures, even if it is ruthless.

    The people who make or break PAK elections are rural poor and for them the present violence problem are not theirs. It is an urban political problem and is irrelevant for their vote.

    The present problem of violence in PAK is multifaceted and has become a political agenda and that is what paralyzing the governance.

    I am afraid that any government who comes to power through vote will also face the present situation without concrete plans and elected government without the one voice of all political parties cannot persuade the populace.

    The day the PAK machinery arrest and prosecute and punish all the banned outfits is the beginning of curbing violence. I do not see that happening any time soon so vote makes no difference.

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  • Feroz
    Jan 8, 2013 - 7:14AM

    This is the millionth article that asks the State to wake up and take on the insurgents through an effective counterinsurgency strategy. The ideology that feeds these obscurantists is that of “Islamic supremacy”. They have sold stories of some real and imaginary glorious past of the Islamic World. With such a reference any government will keep getting attacked for mismanagement. The Government cannot sell a story of some make believe Utopia which is what the insurgents are doing. Since Pakistan has also sold its people some make believe stories it is as much culpable as the Taliban like groups. The Education curriculum also preaches hate against some religions and countries which really fuels the militant narrative. Pakistan is hoist on its petard and does not know how to extricate itself.

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  • Jan 8, 2013 - 9:46AM

    Need to fight the radical ideologies which is been advocated very much in the heart of Pakistani areas( in addition to the Tribal belt). Ideology make deep impression in the nascent age of education. So remedial steps at that stage will help stop breeding future extremists/ insurgents and or their sympathizer.
    successful use of force in the stronghold of the extremists will help to re establish trust in the law enforcement power of the state and reduce the support (a mix of fear and sympathy with the ideology of militants)

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  • kanwal
    Jan 8, 2013 - 11:19AM

    @Pan Mat
    You mean the masses who “elected” General Zia? yes you can find an ocassionalgeneral or journo praising those times. How is that the mistake of the masses though?

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  • Usman
    Jan 8, 2013 - 11:58AM

    I don’t understand how people can term the PPP government incompetent. They have been competent enough to extract more privileges and advantages from our ever shrinking resources than any other government in history, leaving behind minimal money or document trails. They have the most competent head of their party helping them do so.
    .
    Again, we cannot call them a failed government either as they have succeeded in every objective they had coming into power ie. suck the life out of the Pakistani economy and systematically destroy every functional civilian institution in the state, something Musharraf started but they are finishing it. Good governance was never their objective. Why fool ourselves?

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  • Aijaz Haider
    Jan 8, 2013 - 12:39PM

    “Pakistanis will hopefully soon have the chance to exercise our right to vote. For all of our sakes, we had better use that right wisely.”
    I am not wise enough. Who should I vote for? Mr.F.H.Naqvi please explicitly name the the party.

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  • DoTheTwist
    Jan 8, 2013 - 1:10PM

    Great article. I moved back to Pakistan after 15 years and am flabbergasted by the fatigue and selfishness that has swept the nation. Acting for the greater good no longer exists. This isn’t a lament, this is a wake up call. We must open up and show each other that we all have self-worth in order to build the confidence as a people to defeat ignorance and violence. We’ve taken this nonsense for too long, time to take this country back!

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  • polwala
    Jan 8, 2013 - 4:55PM

    Mr Naqvi has highlighted the issues extremely forcefully. The insurgencies can be fought successfully provided there is the collective will of the masses, the government, the security agencies and the media. An agressive approach is what is needed. It is not a jihad as TTP and many others would have you believe. It is simply a course adopted for gaining power at the centre of Pakistan. It has roots since 1977. Soviets provided an opportunity and a motive and the insurgents tasted power of the gun and a few war lords tasted wealth they could never dream of before. The mullah, the taliban in general and the likes of TTP will not go easily. You have to fight them in every way. Army or police alone will not succeed. A strong media support translated into public support and judiciary only, will erradicate this growing threat to the state. Otherwise an Afganistanised Pakistan racing to achieve societal parity with Somalia is not going to remain just a threat. Talk to TTP for five minutes and read them the riot act. Then go after them with the full might of the state giving them no quarter. In such campaigns the nations do not let the (collateral damage) emotions get in the way.

    After a few successes, the atmosphere will change and it will become relatively easier. Once a critical mass situation develops in favour of the security agencies it would be a case of rapid demoralisation of these insurgents. Pakistan could learn from the Indian experience in Panjab plagued by serious terrorism in the 1980s. First they let the problem deveop and the society became traumatised. But once the politician and the security agencies genuinely developed convergent views and strategy, the success in eliminating the terrorists was rather quick (though 2 years is hardly quick). Media at that time was not particularly strong.

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  • Omer Yusuf
    Jan 8, 2013 - 5:06PM

    Superb analysis….the best so far on this issue and I am sharing it on FB

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  • Tribal Manto
    Jan 8, 2013 - 6:56PM

    Excellently written and a very balanced Op-ed. I couldn’t more with one of the best legal minds of Pakistan. The way you referred to the work of David Kilcullen, in no way, the current prevailing situations in Pakistan, better than this. Especially this reference, in the context of tribal areas, “insurgents aren’t strongest where people support them: rather, people support them where they are the strongest”. I’m from a tribal area and i have been an eye witness to, how the hapless and innocent people are dragged along by the Frankenstein forces over the past 4 years.

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  • Zalmai
    Jan 8, 2013 - 7:41PM

    “The one thing I do know is that we cannot defeat the TTP by isolating the tribal areas; that is an approach which has been tried and failed. Instead, we must integrate the tribal areas into Pakistan. People who live there must be given access to the full range of human rights.”

    Pakistan needs to change its policies vis a vis Afghanistan and towards the Pashtun people to defeat these insurgents.

    You can start by changing your language in reference to Pashtun people by addressing them properly as opposed to using colonial terms like tribal people. Stop manipulating Pashtun people into forming Lashkars to fight each other and their Afghan brethren across the border. Stop promoting the false jihadi culture and pitting Pashtuns against other Pashtuns.

    Stop using their territories as training grounds for Jihad Incorporated and above all give them the full range of human rights by repealing federal crimes regulation laws.

    Pashtun people in Pakistan live in colonial reservations set up as a buffer zone, which prevents them from integrating with their Pashtun brothers in Afghanistan and also isolates them from the rest of Pakistan.

    This colonial policy of isolating the Pashtun people to keep them powerless has backfired on the Punjabi dominated Pak military. 65 years of following a colonial mind set has not worked and any future military operations without the implementation of policies addressing deep rooted issues of Pashtun nationalism will be an utter failure and disastrous for the region. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity.

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  • atif
    Jan 8, 2013 - 8:22PM

    Feisal,
    You write well. Keep doing it.

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  • Jan 8, 2013 - 9:16PM

    nice. you guys would do well to start listening to people like rahimullah yousafzai and saleem safi and read the late saleem shahzad’s book rather than listening to conspiracy theories of zaid hamid and incorrect jurisprudence of jihadi cum nationalists of JuD.
    (everything onice. you guys would do well to start listening to people like rahimullah yousafzai and saleem safi and read the late saleem shahzad’s book rather than listening to conspiracy theories of zaid hamid and incorrect jurisprudence of jihadi cum nationalists of JuD.
    (everything of the three journalists I mentioned is online. if you can’t find it, hop onto my blog)f the three journalists I mentioned is online. if you can’t find it, hop onto my blog)

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  • Jan 8, 2013 - 9:17PM

    nice. you guys would do well to start listening to people like rahimullah yousafzai and saleem safi and read the late saleem shahzad’s book rather than listening to conspiracy theories of zaid hamid and incorrect and misleading jurisprudence of jihadi cum nationalists of JuD.

    (everything of the three journalists I mentioned is online. if you can’t find it, hop onto my blog)

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  • Parvez
    Jan 8, 2013 - 10:16PM

    An excellent analysis.
    What I gather you have said in a nutshell is that for the TTP to achieve their objective is for them to ensure the PPP get another term in office.

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  • ali akbar
    Jan 8, 2013 - 10:44PM

    Pan Mat, Zia’s era is one of the most ridiculed eras of our short history, and rightly so. Everything from politics to economics was messed up. Pk Studies 101 will tell you that was the time when we saw an influx of afghan refugees, drugs and weapons. These so called ‘security experts’ are lap dogs of our army which has hardly got anything right. Then, the great Enlightened Moderator rented our army out to the Yankees (something he admits in his book).

    Also, how is law enforcement not a part of governance?
    “terrorism is a law-enforcement problem, insurgency is a governance problem.”

    And how did we come to the conclusion that TTP devises and executes strategy like politicians? Surely we are not commenting on their level of intelligence now, are we? Just because our law enforcement is stupid, lazy and incompetent does not mean they are smart. Even a draw is a victory for them. That’s how bad we are.

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  • Moeen F
    Jan 8, 2013 - 11:19PM

    Totally Agree, well pointed out. Don’t forget in the area of the Taliban there is extreme deprivation. No roads, hospitals, schools. for the past more than 60 years of this country, those areas have been grossly neglected. This is a revolt, a proper insurrection. The poor have picked up arms, and have latched onto Islam as an ideological force. The Maoists in India, the Marxists in Cuba took up similar ideologies. The root cause is extreme inequality and injustice.

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