In Pakistan, terrorist attacks are no longer news. What the government will do to stop them is. So the news now is that the latest ceasefire offer by the TTP has prompted the government to end the deadlock with them. The government will also form new committees to conduct the dialogue. Apparently, it will ask the TTP to do so too. The government seems to believe that committees involving the TTP shura members, and bureaucrats, politicians and retired generals can deliver peace better.
Terror attacks rain death and destruction upon Pakistanis. Hence, citizens expect consistent and effective action from their government that will protect them from this. On March 3, when terrorists struck in the heart of the capital at the Islamabad courts, all eyes and ears turned towards the elected government. How will it make us more secure?
Significantly, in recent weeks, millions of Pakistanis have watched with shock the videos of beheaded soldiers, paramilitary personnel and the police. Deadly bomb blasts have devoured hundreds of innocent women, men and children. Routinely, some militant group will take responsibility and give its usual justification for turning Pakistan into an expanding killing field; justifications range from wanting to impose ‘real sharia’, extricating Pakistan from a US war, to asking for an end to drones.
Unfortunately, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s sheer unpredictability on how to counter terrorism is not helping stem the rising tide of terrorism. Admittedly, the chronic and complex problem of terrorism cannot go away easily but the government’s confusion in tackling it is making it worse. Its recent approach to engage in a dialogue with the TTP points to its overall inadequacy to even comprehend the challenge that terrorism poses. Vacillating between his impressive vows on zero tolerance for killers and the ever-changing position on dialogue and operations makes a parody of policy on the most critical problem we face.
From what the government says and does, there is no evidence of any realistic and comprehensive calculation of outcomes from adopting particular policy options –– whether engaging in a dialogue or conducting a military operation or a combination of both. Instead, it seems that the elected leadership huddles draw on endless chatter, desires, hope and fears that fill the popular air and indeed, the airwaves in Pakistan.
Elected leaders seem to have adopted free-style policymaking on countering terrorism –– a version of Urdu poetry azaad shayri, which gives licence to be poetic outside the rhythm and metre of poetry. It is incredulous that the prime minister and the interior minister would refer to the TTP’s statements as evidence of their involvement or absence in a major terrorist attack. Should intelligence agencies not provide information on those responsible for terrorist attacks? Similarly, the prime minister and his cabinet’s endless statements on the TTP, on groups within the TTP, and on their intentions, etc. are incomprehensible. Hardly any meetings of the newly formed Cabinet Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy have been held to hammer out facets of a viable counterterrorism policy.
Little wonder then that people often question why the government does not have a policy as effective as that of the TTP. It seems the terror syndicate is more successful in achieving its objectives. However, can the same be honestly said for the elected government and the state?
The government is facing criticism for its vacillation and confusion. Almost every day, it faces stinging criticism from political parties, including the PPP, the MQM and the ANP. The JUI and the Jamaat-e-Islami remain largely comfortable with the government’s adhocism on counterterrorism. Meanwhile, PTI leader Imran Khan also remains confused. One day he declares he will fight alongside the army against those who kill innocent people. The following day, after a deadly attack in the heart of Islamabad, Khan declares external forces enemies of peace –– most likely the US –– and claims they were behind the attack.
For now, the people of Pakistan seem to be drawing a virtual blank from the leadership that must rescue the country from the scourge of terrorism. People want to feel at home in their country, not feel as if they are a diaspora in their own homeland. Too much is at stake for the government to continue with its approach to policymaking in an azaad-shayri mode. We cannot afford this blundering mode of policymaking.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2014.
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