Another terrorist attack; more death and destruction. The people are angry. The government seems helpless — both because it is not easy to stop every attack and because it comes across as terribly insensitive.
There’s a cacophony of voices and much contradiction in what is being said.
One group says the government has failed. This accusation ranges from it being just a statement to being a political statement depending on where one stands. The PPP sympathisers, while condemning these terrorist attacks, imply that these groups cannot be controlled because some of them are “strategic assets”.
Others simply argue that this government has failed. Implication: when we come to power we will deal with this menace more effectively.
A third group wants to call in the army. Ironically enough, some proponents of this approach are people who also accuse the army, implicitly and explicitly, of supporting these terrorist elements. For instance, the Hazara community in Quetta began making this demand. But within the community, there are also people who accuse the army of sheltering sectarian killers. Similarly, the Shia have been making this accusation for a fairly long time in the Kurram Agency of Fata.
As for the group loosely called “the liberals”, this paradox is a regular feature. Yet, most of these people want to pull the army into this chaos, regardless of whether the army can or cannot deliver.
The very political parties that beat this government with a stick also want to talk to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) — so far, the identifiable foe — even as they condemn these attacks and imply that if they were in the driver’s seat, they would have fared much better than the present bunch of jokers.
Finally, some people are absolutely convinced that these groups are the army’s death squads and this is a game played by the military. In the very off chance that they are right, we are screwed anyway. In which case, we should either migrate or fight this army to save ourselves. The TTP is already fighting the army. But if the TTP is the military’s creation, then we have to fight both. Be that as it may, the state has unravelled, according to this view, and the jig is up. There’s no need for me to write the rest or for you to read it.
There are overlaps among these groups. That makes the confusion even more confounded.
Partisan voices and contradictions are a hallmark of hard times. The threat is clear and present but the enemy is not. Fighting effectively requires identifying the enemy clearly.
The other big problem, and in many ways allied with the first, is the people’s lack of faith in the state itself and the government. I use the government to mean both the civilian principals and the army, the coercive arm of the state. The very fact that the people expect the government to act and save them and simultaneously are bitterly sceptical that it can or wants to do that, is a recipe for defeat. In this, of course, the people are not to be entirely blamed. Terrorism is not easy to deal with. When the soil is good for its nourishment, it tends to stay with states and societies for very long durations. And when a state is placed geographically as Pakistan is, there are reasons for other states to fish in troubled waters. Let there be no doubt in anyone’s mind that such is the case here, too.
Equally, the very people who blame the state of Pakistan — and it should be blamed — need to understand that the threat emerges from the fault lines within, owing to the way this society has evolved, and more specifically because of our placing faith in religion as a binding factor despite a long history of it being a divisive force.
So, here’s the situation. Given societal acceptance for particularistic views, the state’s capacity to dislocate the terrorist from the context which sustains him is, at best, limited. This problem, purely internal in this situation, is also being exploited by external elements. Add to this governmental incompetence and we have a very difficult situation to deal with.
To put it another way, while it would be very difficult even for a competent government to stop all such attacks, the incompetence of the current one makes the problem more wicked.
So, what can be done — if at all?
Effective response requires that we understand what the German jurist Carl Schmitt described as the “friend-enemy distinction”. In other words, the state has to not only ward off external threats but also remain cognisant of and act against internal ones.
This is the starting point of any war. We have bungled this very first step.
To clarify, this is not about talking or not talking to the enemy. This is about identifying the enemy and keeping him distinct from the friend.
Once this strategic decision has been taken, we then get into the operational part of the effort. When and where to employ the army or the FC or the police? How to use the intelligence agencies? What mechanisms to create for coordination? How to control the periphery? What policies to adopt in the urban centres, et cetera?
Let’s be more specific: not every attack can be stopped. (In fairness to the law-enforcement agencies, many have been pre-empted; they don’t get reported). Now if we know this, we should be prepared. What has stopped the government from creating quick reaction forces for all major urban centres where attacks are likely? How difficult or expensive it is to get helicopters so that part of the QRF (Quick Reaction Force), the bomb disposal squad and CSI experts can be airlifted immediately when something like the Abbas Town blast happens? How difficult it is to figure out sensitive areas and place undercover operatives there?
I can list much else but the point is that while pre-emption is the best option, the next best thing is for the government to respond quickly and efficiently. People need the assurance that there is a government and it cares.
This will be a long war; there’s still time for us to get our act together.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2013.