Biting the bullet

Published: December 31, 2014
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The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

The horrific incident at the Peshawar school jolted the nation and the civilian and military leadership came together to reclaim its neglected priorities. We were assured that now there is a broad consensus among political parties, and between them and the military, to combat terrorism. Hopefully, the concept of consensus as envisaged by the civilian leadership does not remain confined merely to reacting to the army’s demands, but to take initiatives and demonstrate the ability that it is a part of the transformation process. So far, the army has taken most of the major decisions. Lately, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is trying to seize the initiative and the broad-based action plan to fight terrorism covering both the ideological and the security aspects is a manifestation of the government’s commitment. Of course, people will be closely watching the plan’s implementation because our history is full of grandiose plans that were seldom executed or at best partially implemented.

The greatest challenge today is of transforming mindsets. In this, the role of clerics, madrassas, media, political parties and the mainstream education system is critical. How is the government going to deal with those madrassas that are known for spreading hatred and resist any scrutiny? Research institutes dealing with madrassas have assessed that about 10 per cent fall in this category, which is a substantial figure close to about 30,000. These are operating as autonomous units and are like sanctuaries that have remained outside the ambit of law. The prime minister’s action plan is emphatic that these madrassas will be reformed. In the enforcement of its writ, the government’s resolve will be measured. In addition to reforming madrassas, the government should open additional schools on a countrywide basis and make them attractive enough for parents to prefer to send their children to them. After all, what does the future hold for those students who continue to be subjected to rote learning and are deprived of modern education except to be exploited by the jihadi market? How can they contribute to society when their education fails to relate to the demands of the employment market, where physical and social sciences are key subjects and form the foundation of a progressive nation? With such acute limitations, they will continue to be exploited by unscrupulous forces as is happening now. We find that the very forces that are attacking the Pakistani state are those elements that were once nurtured by the state. Similarly, the religio-political parties that are supportive of radical madrassas may find that their students turn against them for being not sufficiently jihadist in the years to come. Moreover, if madrassa managements have nothing to hide, then why are they avoiding government oversight? The reality is that some of these seminaries have become dens of militants in urban centres.

The decision to establish military courts to handle cases pertaining to terrorism and lifting the moratorium on the death penalty has invoked criticism both inside and outside the country. The government’s position is that extraordinary conditions demand special measures. There is no doubt that these are unusual times and the civilian courts have miserably failed to provide justice for reasons well known — the state unable to provide protection to judges, witnesses and prosecution lawyers. As a result, the entire judicial machinery, fearing for its life, has been practically paralysed while many acquitted terrorists are roaming around freely, committing multiple murders of innocent citizens. And those who are awaiting trial are languishing in jails for years. The army is justifiably very disturbed and insists on setting up military courts for expediting cases. But there is a flip side to this proposal that cannot be overlooked. The civilian leadership, by its inadequate response to terrorism and other related matters, is gradually yielding space to the military that already heavily dominates the political and security landscape. Civilian leadership has to rise to the national challenge if the current ‘consensus’ has any substance. If consensus translates into handing over most major responsibilities of law and order, dealing with terrorist cases, taking decisions on strategic matters to the army, then it should be noted that such a state of affairs will have its own dynamics — militarisation, further weakening of state institutions and a playback of our history. In this cycle, democracy would be the first casualty and militant and radical forces the likely beneficiaries.

The prime minister’s current resolve is encouraging. History will, however, judge him and the provincial chief ministers on how they contribute towards strengthening civilian institutions, developing a national policy, improving governance, and above all, tackling terrorism. The leadership and courage that has been demonstrated by General Raheel Sharif has been inspiring. But it would be a folly to overload the armed forces with tasks that plainly fall in the domain of civilians, whether these pertain to the development of areas cleared by the army in Fata, resettling of internally displaced persons and dealing with the appalling law and order situation of Karachi and other major urban centres. It is through bank robberies and hostage-taking that criminal activity and terrorism feed each other.

A significant improvement in relations with Afghanistan has also been steered by the army leadership. The major military operation in North Waziristan and a paradigm shift in our policy of denying space to the Taliban, the Haqqani network and Hafiz Gul Bhadur have helped in improving relations with Afghanistan and the US. Recent plans for coordinated operations with the Afghan military to clear sanctuaries on both sides of the border, if conducted without any past prejudices coming in the way, should put pressure on the TTP and Afghan militants.

If we would also abandon support to the Jamaatud Dawa and focus on dealing with Kashmir and other issues with India politically, we will unlock tremendous potential and resources in fighting terrorism and militancy. It would be unwise to allow radical and extremist elements to flourish to keep the Kashmir cause alive. This strategy has not worked in the past and will not be beneficial in the future. We need to revisit our major policies to be at peace with ourselves and with the world.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 31st, 2014.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • MSS
    Dec 31, 2014 - 12:52AM

    Good write up and suggestions. Thanks Gen. Masson Sir.

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  • Santha
    Dec 31, 2014 - 1:09AM

    Well written, Mr Masood. I have seen Mr Masood on Indian tv as a guest and always impressed by his cpmmom sense and practical approach. He never lets shrill and loud people intimidate or silence him. We need more columnists like him on both sides of the border.Everybody (almost) wants to live in peace and that is what we should aim for

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  • Rex Minor
    Dec 31, 2014 - 7:12AM

    there is no salvation for the military through the approval of the parliamentarians of their crimes against the civilians nor is there the legitamacy for the democracy to approve military regulations and procedures against civilian population.

    Rex Minor

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  • Dec 31, 2014 - 7:27AM

    How true thinking of this great Pakistani Gen. Masood? So many Pakistani Generals favor the terrorists to stay in business that keep them in luxury life at the expense of little sepoys. Thank you Gen. Massod.

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  • raider
    Dec 31, 2014 - 11:59AM

    when democratic elected govt will ruin the institutions by napotism and dynasties then writer s’ argument about weaken of intitution althoughs carry weight will nothing to do with institutions when are working as tissue paper any one can use and throw them

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  • ishrat salim
    Dec 31, 2014 - 4:22PM

    Every one seem to be obsessed with Gen M & pointing of fingers towards his god dammed policies which has brought us to where we are in, that every one speaks their mind, when pointed toward the menace we are in TODAY. If that is the case, then why in the world, the civilian govt of the past 6+ years did not rollback those un-wanted policies of Gen M. Has Gen M coming in their sleep as nightmares, than that means, Gen M is so powerful that he has influenced these god dammed leaders to just keep his god dammed old policies & yet criticize him. Is this fair. While our political leaders have conceded that we have failed to properly use ATCs as it was intended to, than what does it speaks of ? our collective incompetence, is not it ? then on what moral ground are we standing ? just to live on tax-payers money, loot & plunder. Joining APC & agreeing to all 20 points of NAP, then coming out in the open & dis-agreeing to formation of military courts ? what do these politicians think of themselves that they have made a fool of the high military people in the APC ? if they continue to live in such an illusion, time is not far when these politicians will force the military to step in, declare emergency & form ” military courts “…they do not need civilian nod….the politicians should not live in fools paradise nor make public fool any more. The public will not either accept them as ” Political martyrs “, if that is what they have in mind, no Sir no, not any more…people are more aware now than they were before….thank you IK / TuQ….

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  • harkol
    Dec 31, 2014 - 4:59PM

    Author’s is one of the sanest voices from Pakistan. Kashmir can be resolved through a spirit of dialogue and reconciliation that can lead to peace, instead of a solution that will only foster further bitterness and bloodbath. And such a solution can’t emerge by giving a handle to extremists.

    Thus, a solution that is fully satisfactory to Pakistan or India is unworkable. Thus, it has to be a middle ground of give-and-take, that doesn’t alter borders but, works within existing lines.

    And if Pakistani citizens realize that their army needs to be firmly under firm civilian control, most of its problem with lawlessness & terrorism will vanish.

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