By Saleem A Sethi, WEEKLY PULSE MAGAZINE, January 27, 2014
The long-brewing law and order situation in the country finally seems to be entering its logical next phase. And that may turn out to be the worst so far. Looking at the growing terror attacks against security targets, the leaked details about the much talked-about national security policy and statements of important government officials, the December 27 words of Asif Ali Zardari seem prophetic: ‘war is in the making and I can see it coming’.
It will be stating the obvious to say that the civilian and military sides are coming on the same page and to the same conclusion that the immediate threat can be diluted only through military means. And though the government should not be discouraged to take some decision, even if that is unpleasant, to save its people and secure its territory, the next questions must be asked to make sure the civilian decision makers and military planners know what lies beyond the immediate. This is necessary because jumping into a bitter war without quantifying the ultimate objectives can lead to even gloomier consequences for the nation.
Questions are countless but first and foremost are; does the leadership (both civil and military) want to bring an end only to terrorism or to do away with extremism and sectarianism as well? Does the government think that initiating military action against terrorists is the last step on road to peace or does it consider it to be the first on a long, complicated and hazardous journey? Have our military and civil institutions evaluated their respective roles and realized their mistakes in the making of this monster? Have they learned their lesson well not to use militants in future to attain foreign policy and security goals no matter what?
It will be imperative for the nation to know answers to these and such other related questions before the government embarks on a military operation. It is because on the one hand it will be helpful in obtaining long-term popular support and on the other it will guarantee a better and prosperous future for the state and its people. To begin with, the war will be comparatively long and painful, maintaining public support for which will be an uphill task. Secondly, it will not bring an ‘absolute end’ to terrorism phenomenon in the short term. And thirdly, if the objectives are not clear even at this belated stage and bringing an end to extremism and sectarianism is not part of the overall scheme of things then the state may find itself in an even worse situation in not very distant a future; because terrorism basically is the effect and not the cause of growing sectarianism and extremism in the country.
The signals coming out of the power corridors are mixed at the moment. Though some of the indications are encouraging, others still suggest a confused and simplistic approach to the most complicated and confusing problem this nation has ever encountered. The leaked details of the long-awaited national security policy, for example, tell that emphasis in once again on the immediate. Or its approval by the cabinet – and making it public for general debate – wouldn’t have got delayed at the eleventh hour on Monday, January 20 last. Though it is not bad on the part of the government to focus on the immediate threat, yet national security can’t be confined to coordination among the secret agencies, improving the capacity of law enforcement authorities or other such security and law and order issues. At best, this can be termed addressing the logistical side of the current law and order situation. The ‘strategic’ and ‘secret’ parts are still secret and nobody knows what they contain.
A desirable national security policy, at the moment, must contain the following;
- Foreign policy, economy and security matters (both internal and external) are considered equally important elements of national security.
- Formulation of policies regarding the above three elements is considered a sacred prerogative of democratically elected civilian government.
- Indoctrination through curriculum is accepted to be the root cause of our current national predicament and growing societal extremism to be dealt with accordingly.
- Madrasas and madrasa-curriculum are vowed to be brought into the mainstream education system and under strict state control.
- Sectarianism is officially recognized as the other side of the terrorism coin.
- Non-state actors of all religious and political hues are declared an anathema to the state to be permanently banished.
- Long-term steps enumerated to minimize the role of religion in running the affairs of the state – to ultimately separate spiritual from the mundane.
- Pakistan is treated as a nation-state, subject to international norms, and not as a religious movement that is at cross-purposes with established international order.
Ideally speaking, everything at such junctures should be civilian-owned. But the severity of the problem, the complications involved in its resolution and the dominating role of the armed forces in policy-making during the past so many decades suggest that meaningful input from the military must be sought and accommodated in any policy that is devised to deal with terrorism, sectarianism and extremism phenomena. Or it simply won’t work.
The most daunting of the tasks in the eventuality of a showdown with terrorists and militants would be the acquisition of constant support of the political parties and people for the government and its armed forces. Here comes the important role media can play to sustain the government and the armed forces in its resolve to fight to the finish. It is only the media that can do it. Its role is crucial not only in maintaining support at public level but it can also make the people understand that;
- Blaming the government for Taliban attacks in Bannu and Rawalpindi is a manifestation of extremism – or sympathizing with extremists’ cause.
- That attack on Shia pilgrims in Mastung and killing of 25 people is the dirty face of sectarianism that is equally harmful to Pakistan’s integrity just like the scourge of terrorism.
- That attacks on innocent civilians and armed forces are direct terrorism which are weakening the morale of all, posing a great threat to our existence as a nation-state in its current shape.
But media also has its limits. Firstly, there is a soft corner for and misunderstanding among the journalists about the militants’ cause. Secondly, there are commercial and sensationalism factors involved in twisting things for self-interest. Thirdly, there is no editorial control currently in force, particularly on TV’s side, to guide and manage things coherently. And last, but not the least, media itself is on the hit list of the terror groups. In case it behaved unfavorably once the full-fledged action started, situation for them is likely getting worse in the days ahead.
The past few days were particularly ominous in which scores of innocent civilians, security personnel and Shia pilgrims were killed and which have apparently forced the government to revisit its current approach and policy vis-à-vis the terror threat. PML (N) is probably faced with the biggest problem of its political life. And it is likely to stumble upon even bigger problems in case it decides to start a military action against Taliban and in case it delays it any further. Imran Khan is waiting at the gates to eat Nawaz Sharif alive the moment he steps out in his hunt for Taliban. Likewise, JI, JUI (F) and other religious parties and elements will try to teach him lesson of a lifetime if he started action against their ideological brothers. A right-leaning media with all the tricks in the bag will not be lagging behind.
But moving into action is something the government cannot avoid anymore. Circumstances have coerced it take a decision. Now it has to lead the nation. It may still try to find a negotiated settlement of the issue if it wanted to, but at its own peril. Taliban claim they have carried out most of the recent attacks. And they vow to continue with their onslaught. The Right is pressuring the government hard to talk to Taliban and appease them by surrendering territorial chunks. The left-leaning political parties mock Nawaz Sharif as a tiger that grown dinking the same milk which was fed to Taliban.
In the meanwhile armed forces are absorbing bloody blows from the terrorists day in and day out and both them and the people are running out of patience at the continuous blood-letting of innocent teenage boys and brothers in arms. Let’s see how the Prime Minister steers the country out of the dire straits. And let’s wish him and the country good luck.