The elected PML-N government has done well in recognising that sustaining democracy requires development that provides a stake in the system to the citizens. However, what the government has yet to realise is that you can neither have democracy nor development without a state. The attack on the Central Jail in DI Khan earlier this week, claimed by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, is a harsh reminder that it is precisely the state of Pakistan that is threatened. The carefully planned and professionally executed military operation by a non-state entity was aimed, not only to effect the escape of their cadres from the custody of the Pakistani state, but to demonstrate its weakness in fulfilling the fundamental function of establishing order: a function in terms of which a state establishes its legitimacy.
The facts of the case are now clear and make a sorry tale: 1) Over 100 militants armed with heavy weapons, including rocket launchers, reportedly mounted a three-pronged attack on the Central Jail in DI Khan at night after establishing pickets in various parts of the town to facilitate the movement of the attacking groups to the target and then exit after the operation. 2) They blew up the walls of some of the prison cells with explosive charges and enabled around 248 prisoners to escape, including persons from their own cadres. 3) While five policemen were killed, there was no serious resistance since the Elite Force that had been deployed to defend the prison apparently withdrew just before the attack. 4) The signature brutality of beheading four inmates thought to belong to the Shia sect, with the heads of two of them being taken away as trophies.
The PTI government of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which was playing its maiden innings, cannot be said to have covered itself in glory. The honourable chief minister first denied that any prisoners had escaped, and when the fact became undeniable, propounded the second fiction that it was an “intelligence failure”. Later reports made clear that, for once, the intelligence agency concerned had given ample warning of the attack to all the officials concerned in the provincial administration and had given specific details of the group planning the attack and its modus operandi. It even revealed the fact that the power transmission line would be blown up to give cover of darkness to attackers, who would be equipped with night goggles. Of course, the police and local administration officials went through the motions of preparing a defence in response to the actionable intelligence provided by both the federal agency concerned and the ministry of interior in Islamabad. But there was neither the determination to defend the state, nor was a clear chain of command established to conduct the impending battle, nor the necessary firepower brought to bear through interfacing with the military. It is not surprising then that the defence collapsed under pressure.
Three key lessons emerge from this fiasco. 1) A well-organised, well-armed and highly motivated coalition of extremist groups has demonstrated once again their objective of undermining state authority with the aim of disrupting the functioning of the Constitution, establishing their own writ and thereby capturing the state of Pakistan. 2) The failure to defend DI Khan shows the lack of the will to fight when attacked, not only at the local level, but also at the provincial and federal government levels. 3) If the government thinks that negotiations with the Taliban are necessary, then it must clearly specify the extent of the concessions it is prepared to make. Surely, we must not compromise on the Constitution and determine a limit to the extent of territory the government is willing to cede implicitly to the Taliban.
If negotiations are not to be mere appeasement, then they must be backed by credible deterrence in case the other side violates the terms of the agreement. For this, an integrated national defence system against militant extremism must be put in place.
The challenge of governance is to simultaneously pursue development and defence. Without defending the state, development and democracy would be just a cry in the wilderness.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2013.
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