Dissent into dystopia

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The land of the pure is unlike any other. Birthed amid anguish and blood, the road to the Promised Land, was from the very beginning, beset with crises. And though Pakistan was but one of several other countries that were extended the gratuity of Westphalia in the third wave of democracy, it has remained woefully behind.

Today Pakistan finds itself slipping down a slippery slope that its leaders carved for it in the name of national interest. Several lessons that should have been learnt long ago seem to have evaded our collective conscience, the notion of the collective itself a contentious topic. But I digress.

The general elections this year were reminiscent of Obama’s first election campaign. Change and prosperity dominated the political discourse of, at least, the urban populace. All parties vowed to deliver Pakistan from the sink hole it appeared to be sinking fast into. They had different prescriptions for the great deliverance, but popular mandate decided that it was the economy that needed to be fixed first.

Thus enters the Pakistan Muslim League- Nawaz in a whirlwind of budget proposals, more taxes and IMF loans to bail out the sinking economy. But the government’s empire of tall claims has a rotten foundation. The economy cannot flourish in an environment riddled with insecurity and terror.

One doesn’t need to look far for possible solutions to the termite infestation in Sharif’s empire. Sri Lanka, fraught with brutal violence from the ethnic separatist insurgent group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for almost three decades, managed to quash the movement and usher in political reconciliation. The government’s Machiavellian incursions within the state managed to stamp out Velupillai Prabhakaran’s support in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. It’s popularity cemented by political reconciliation with the estranged Tamil population. Indian Defense Review author V.K. Shashikumar believes that the following principles (of Sri Lanka’s counter insurgency doctrine) helped the government chew away the Tamil Tigers:

  • political will
  • ignoring domestic and international criticism
  • no negotiations
  • regulate media
  • no ceasefire
  • complete operational freedom
  • accent on young commanders
  • keeping neighbors in the loop

The LTTE was South Asia’s most formidable terrorist organization and had great advantage over the government and weak military.  It had a well-developed militia and carried out many high-profile attacks, including the assassination of Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The group pioneered the use of suicide belts in its attacks and frequently used light aircraft in many of its incursions. The LTTE were formidable foes because they fought on near equal footing with the military as far as capabilities went.

For twelve years, Pakistan has grappled with insurgency, unabated acts of terrorism and violence with a Hydra monster. The monster’s many heads however do not attach themselves to a single body. The various militant fragments have an equally large variety of demands, ideologies and writs to impose on the state. They war against each other when their motives appear to clash and also join forces against a common enemy- the state. Their tactics might be ingenious but they were trained three decades ago by those they call now their enemy. Their superiority lies not in terms of capability, tactical ingenuity or highly trained militias, but in their scale of propaganda penetration and ability to meld into their environs.

While Sri Lanka’s victory against the LTTE presents a valuable case study for Pakistan’s own war against its multifarious insurgents, the operation in Swat presents an equally solid case for Machiavellianism.

The Swat operation was considered a success because it had political cover. Over two million people were evacuated from the area, 80% of whom were housed in the homes of friends and relatives. The UN was not called in for aid because the pre-op stage, endorsed by politicians across the board, was covered smoothly. The success however ended with the operation. The Taliban retreated from Swat, as did the political will. Had the government moved in the area and begun the healing process through exemplary governance, that the Taliban was fabled for, Swat would have become a model for counter-insurgency strategy in Pakistan. But that did not occur. And we still lack a national counter-terrorism strategy to this day.

When Pakistan joined hands with the US to defeat the enemy ‘beyond the wall’, it should have laid clear policies vis-à-vis non-state actors and perpetrators of violence. Instead an amorphous evasive strategy was concocted which neither pleased the US nor the Taliban. This not only led to collective cognitive dissonance on the matter, it made it near impossible to develop political consensus and completely impossible for any consensus to seep into the populace.

When the Jews took Christ to the Pilot for sentencing, he found him innocent of all charges but washed his hands in a crucible to show he had nothing to do with the matter. So it is with our government that washes its hands and the nation’s eyes with talks of All Parties Conferences on terrorism and press releases condemning terrorist attacks.

Policies do not require unanimous support in the government, consensus among a few major parties is sufficient. The current government has a mandate that is heavy enough to provide the political cover needed by the military, civilian law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies. The TTP’s terror syndicate grows by the day due to its capacity for initiative, while state organizations fail to realize that they hold the key to stamp it out.

The government also needs to realize that terrorism is but one weapon in the TTP Hydra’s cache. The triple menace of insurgency, terrorism and extremism must be dealt with in a mutually exclusive fashion. Dealing with insurgency (an organized rebellion aimed at overthrowing a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict) lies in the purview of the Army. The strategy to counter any incursions on Pakistani soil must be harsh, swift and must be designed by the body that will carry it out and given political cover by the government. Terrorism, used to instill fear into the populace, lies in the exclusive domain of the government that must empower its law enforcement agencies, amend the Anti-Terror Act 1997 and ensure coordination among state institutions. The Abbottabad Commission Report revealed recently touted unwillingness to share intelligence as one of the reasons behind OBL’s long sojourn in the country. That must be rectified. The third menace has tentacles that make inroads into the heart of the country and provide the melting pot cover for terrorists to carry out their vile operations: extremism. This intangible threat must be dealt with on priority and in line with the other counter measures. The onus of this lies with the society, media and government.

Not surprisingly that government features heavily in the three-pronged strategy to secure Pakistan against the threat of terrorism. There needs to be no confusion as to whether the terrorists are our friends or foes. This is a fight for domain, territory and ideology and a struggle to render the state dysfunctional. Allowing room for tolerance against these perpetrators allows them to chip away the writ of the state slowly but surely. Nawaz Sharif has announced that an All Parties Conference on terrorism will be held to decide on a national strategy against terrorism. If the country is once again treated to an outpour of ifs and buts and hollow condemnations, then a lesson in statecraft is surely in order.

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