Policy paralysis haunts our security

Published: March 21, 2014
Email
The writer hosts a show on Express TV and works as a consulting editor at The Friday Times

The writer hosts a show on Express TV and works as a consulting editor at The Friday Times

Pakistan’s government has appointed a new committee to conduct ‘peace talks’ with the Taliban. The old committee, with journalists acting as peace-brokers, has been replaced by a coterie of bureaucrats who, in spite of their solid credentials, are likely to be men without a mandate. The talks between the TTP and the government in Islamabad will remain in a flux as the right-wing politicians most keen to engage with them still refuse to deliver on what they have sold to the general public — that you can actually negotiate with groups that have killed 50,000 Pakistanis including over 4,000 security personnel. Why do the government’s peace committees have no politician in them?

A recent report by The Wall Street Journal stated that the Pakistan Army has lost almost twice as many soldiers in the conflict with Taliban fighters as the United States (March 10, 2014). Yet, the civilian government and the army are opting for negotiations. This baffles plain logic unless there is a greater strategy at work. The civilian leadership seems split as the interior minister defends the TTP, while the defence minister warns of a military operation. At the same time, most of the demands put forward by the TTP can only be met if the military agrees to deliver on them. Thus, the future of talks remains dogged by this inherent divergence in the power structure within Pakistan.

Assuming that talks succeed and there is a civil-military consensus on the kind of concessions that need to be given to the militants, violence will only end temporarily. The sources of conflict and militancy are structural in nature and require a political shift along the lines that the national internal security policy suggests. Since the 1980s, extremist ideologies have penetrated the Pakistani society. Take the example of teaching benefits of jihad to children. Pakistani curricula guidelines since the 1980s had overtly required that the textbooks teach the virtues of jihad. Almost three generations have grown up imbibing such ideas. Changes under Pervez Musharraf revised some of this pedagogy but still, high school students learn that “Pakistan is an ideological state, and is based on Islamic ideology” (A Punjab textbook for Class X). Thus, the vague ideological frontiers mantra promotes exclusion and acceptance of faith-based narratives as supreme and just.

The TTP has unequivocally stated that they want to impose their version of Sharia and undo the current structure of state almost at gunpoint. The allies of the TTP such as the Laskhar-e-Jhangvi make it clear that their worldview has no place for Shias, Ahmadis and other brands of ‘infidel’ belief systems. This is why the current government is stuck between the imperative of keeping Punjab (where militant organisations have a social base) stable and ending violence in the rest of the country. It has also been stated (later denied) that the Pakistani security apparatus does not have the capacity to effectively dismantle the militant infrastructure across the country.

In recent weeks, I have met several middle-ranking and junior officials of the armed forces (ironically at the Karachi and Lahore literary festivals) who, on conditions of anonymity, expressed their outrage at the way the TTP were killing their colleagues. Most blamed the civilian leadership for not taking a clear stance on the militant networks. It would not be out of place to conclude that a similar sentiment prevails at the senior levels. With 4,000 lives lost and 13,000 personnel injured, the ‘enemy’ for the armed forces would be clear by now. What then prevents a decisive strategy?

The most obvious answer is Afghanistan where major transformations are about to occur. A presidential election next month will be followed by the drawdown of foreign troops. For the Afghan Taliban, this is a victorious moment and Pakistan’s sympathies are well known in this context. We have sufficiently laundered them as ‘good’ militants who have fought the evil ‘imperial’ force. How far would the Pakistani Taliban support them in their quest for power is an open question. In the short term, it is likely that all groups sharing the same overarching ideology will make a joint effort to claim their space in post-Nato Afghanistan.

The prospects of a ‘friendly’ government in Afghanistan are marred by the raised morale of the TTP as they would gain further strategic space to operate in Afghanistan. Their clout and ability to strike at the Pakistani state will increase manifold.

The constrained ability of Pakistani forces to chase them into Afghan territory would only result in more violence within Pakistan. Even the scions of militant organisations from ‘peaceful’ Punjab would be further empowered. In the 1990s, when the Sharif brothers tried to crack down on sectarian outfits, Afghanistan provided sanctuaries to the leaders of these banned outfits. With the increased dependence on Saudi petrodollars and strategic compacts with Bahrain and the UAE, it would be even more difficult to touch the Punjab-based sectarian outfits.

This is why indecision and ‘biding-time’ are strategies that smack of short-termism. Pakistan’s civil and military elite will have to stop viewing the Taliban as diverse, flexible phenomena that can suit our strategic requirements. The good and the bad are all interlinked. Politicians are now debating who among the erstwhile ‘bad’ groups are ‘lesser evils’.

The so-called peace process has turned into a farce exacting a heavy toll on the already dwindled state legitimacy.

Are we wilfully allowing the Taliban network to grow stronger for an uncertain victory abroad? Or are we witnessing a policy paralysis in Islamabad? These are some of the questions that need to be addressed urgently.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2014.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (7)

  • Tayyab
    Mar 22, 2014 - 2:13AM

    What Raza sb fails to mention is that, top 2 parties in election concluded less than a year ago had peace talks with taliban at the top of their agenda. Personally I disagree the notion of peace talks with killers but to deny them their mandate tantamount to fraud with people of pakistan.

    Also Raza sb forgot that even in 90’s when PMLN carried out the operation against sectarian outfits which ultimately fled to Afghanistan, Pakistan was under the same influence of petro-dollars, actually the reliance was even more due to US sanctions in 90’s and Saudi Arabia, UAE being the chief financier of both the Taliban and SSP. It did not stop the government from carrying out the operation then and I do believe that it will not stop it now. However considering the widespread destruction that will follow such an operation, (There was no concept of suicide attacks or mass indiscriminate killings of civilians in 90’s) even if the peace talks are able to dissuade 10-15% of the killers, I will consider it an success.

    Recommend

  • polpot
    Mar 22, 2014 - 8:47AM

    “With 4,000 lives lost and 13,000 personnel injured, the ‘enemy’ for the armed forces would be clear by now. What then prevents a decisive strategy?”
    ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
    The Army is bearing the brunt of its own role in fostering these Jihadis for subversion in India and Pakistan. Now the shoe is pinching the wearer. Dig holes for others to fall and…….

    Recommend

  • shahid
    Mar 22, 2014 - 9:44AM

    >> The old committee, with journalists acting as peace-brokers, has been replaced by a coterie of bureaucrats who, in spite of their solid credentials, are likely to be men without a mandate.

    Just because the committee does not contain some “American Totay” therefore it is not credible. It comprises of some of the most experienced officers from the area who have served in the area and know it well; it has been appointed by the prime minister – prime minister, please note – and there fore is working on his behalf and therefore carries all the wait and gravitas which is needed to pull off such a complex negotiation. Its mandate is as powerful as the prime minister of the country. But you will not understand: you just do not want any negotiated settlement. You want a military operation because that are your instructions. That it will involve Pakistan in an unending, generational internecine war is none of your concern. People who will be killed, made refugees, left to the winds to suffer in the IDP camps will be the people of FATA/KPK and not such as yourself. You would probably be in some paid trip to some so called international conference or some other gravy train.

    >> A recent report by The Wall Street Journal stated that the Pakistan Army has lost almost twice as many soldiers in the conflict with Taliban fighters as the United States (March 10, 2014).

    Not according to the interior minister of Pakisan, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan who in the national assembly released a formal statement in which the number of causalities is much less, 12,795.

    http://tribune.com.pk/story/596243/war-on-terror-terrorism-claimed-12795-lives-says-nisar/

    Also you never talk about the killings that have occurred as a result of the dozen or so military operations that have bee/KPK. Go and check with Rustam Shah Mohmand, Ayaz Wazir both former high officials from that area and ambassadors of the GoP.

    >> The so-called peace process has turned into a farce exacting a heavy toll on the already dwindled state legitimacy.

    No, it has not. You have been charged with making it appear to have failed for you have to see to it that more blood flows and a lot death and destruction takes place that has already happened. Have you ever cared to go and check the status of the hundreds of thousands who were made IDP’s as a result of the last operation in South Waziristan? Do you even care that those are also Pakistanis and there seems to be no end to their miseries, thanks to you and your cohorts.

    >> Are we wilfully allowing the Taliban network to grow stronger for an uncertain victory abroad? Or are we witnessing a policy paralysis in Islamabad? These are some of the questions that need to be addressed urgently.

    No, you will not rest till you accomplish your goal. But there are plenty of saner minds in Pakistan and they will ultimately prevail to your chagrin. Pakistan will come out of this trap of death and destruction that you are bent upon pushing her into. She will succeed as she has no other alternative, you and all others with dictated agendas will not be able to stop Pakistan from returning to normalcy and surviving as a free, united and prosperous country in the world.

    Recommend

  • Mar 22, 2014 - 11:55AM

    “Pakistan is an ideological state, and is based on Islamic ideology”

    What is wrong with this? This seems perfectly true. Only the Pakistani liberals have a problem with the truth, the funny thing being, they quote from one single speech, ignoring the rest and accuse the Right of being wrong. The irony.

    Insurgency is like a disease. And, it is at an advanced stage in Pakistan, where insurgents have their network and sympathisers at all levels of the state and in all the main cities and geographies of Pakistan.

    Is it not true their reach extends to all major cities and towns of Pakistan?

    What do you do when a gangrenous leg threatens the whole body?

    Pakistan has to be partitioned, even a de facto one, to achieve piece. It has to give its pound of flesh to the Taliban, which means they will effectively control a whole province of Pakistan, while the Punjabis and Sindhis can live in peace.

    There is no other go.

    Its hard to defeat insurgencies in the first place, impossible to defeat one which is this advanced. Years of ignoring and, even supporting, Islamic Fundamentalism has come to haunt Pakistan.

    Recommend

  • zoro
    Mar 22, 2014 - 12:26PM

    Obviously the Government of Pakistan takes orders from the Pakistani Army and the ISI…
    So who is to blame the Government ?? So it concludes the Army is shielding the so called Good Taliban… for very obvious reasons which are known all over the world … The New York Times Report says all about what Pakistan is about Taleban and the other Terror outfits … So it is a simple answer …for who is to be blamed …
    Hope good sense prevails … but lately it seems Pakistan has sold herself again to Saudi for 1.5 billion … Hope all goes well for both the countries for the time to come…
    Some bombs from Syria on Saudi Oil Installations …. and it will be “Game Over”

    Recommend

  • Muhammad Hani
    Mar 22, 2014 - 5:10PM

    Excellent piece!
    Same thoughts but well composed.

    Recommend

  • Waqas
    Mar 22, 2014 - 10:24PM

    The writer has absolutely no idea where his words are going. He just felt like putting his hatred on paper, so he picked some words and did that. This is one liberally ignorant and pathetic pieces that you write when you start hating your own people and country. He shows his allergy to religion, but fools like these never realize that this country WAS made in the name of religion and will remain so!

    Recommend

More in Opinion