It took just under four weeks for the high drama played by the men of inconsequence to reach its drop scene. Both teams were proxies. Neither had any insight, expertise or authority to make the process meaningful. Firing from their hips and quick to capture the airwaves, they talked, and talked and talked. Prime-times from 7pm to 10 PM were booked with the chatter and the illusion that gun toting zealots with jackets were the true saviours of Pakistan. These negotiations were ill-conceived with no preparation and destined to become a joke. As I wrote earlier: ‘haste causes waste,’ and the government realised the futility of its knee jerk policy, choosing to change its plan midway, with another idea. The new idea however, is unclear.
Except the armed forces that have the capacity, methodology and munitions to destroy and hold ground, there is still no complementary policy to win the hearts and minds of the people. There are no visible themes and propaganda to bring a confused, ill-informed and fearful public on one page. The parliament itself is a house ideologically divided and fractured. Use of military force is not the sole solution, as excess state sanctioned violence, collateral damage and psychological scars could leave an enduring and adverse effect. The government is guilty of forgetting that engagement is not confined to ‘military fire,’ but also to the ethics of winning the hearts and minds of people torn by poverty, ideological contradictions, crime and insecurity. If and when the government decides to take out the hideouts of terrorism spread all over the country, this factor will weigh high on the minds of people amongst whom these militants exist. There are no practical pacification and trust building measures in sight.
The National Security Policy adds insult to injury. It does not reflect seven months of hard work and enlightened thought. It is a hasty first draft: ‘everywhere but nowhere.’ It lacks a paradigm and therefore is unworthy of consideration at any international forum. Even our enemies and not so friendly allies would be laughing at the splendid piece of document put together by the government. Without establishing an environment, linkages and the spectrum of policy making, the policy is a limited attempt at forging a counter terrorism narrative. The draft presented to the parliament gives the impression that the policy would keep evolving as time passes. Borrowing from Stephen Cohen, it reminds one of ‘shooting a moving target from a moving platform,’ with no stabilisers. The policy makers lack the wherewithal and motivation to spell it precisely and accurately. The drift is visible.
Had the policy been the outcome of a well thought out and deliberated effort, the negotiations would never have commenced the way they did. Four random names with no access to the establishment and no experience in crises/conflict management in the past ten years were thrown into the arena with no policy briefs. The substance of their discussions in the media indicated that this supposed vanguard was clueless about the policy that led them.
Secondly, the issue is terrorism and not the TTP. The government should have initiated dialogue with all groups involved in militancy through various teams with proven expertise in conflict resolution. It now appears that the government continues to follow its flawed approach by only concentrating on the TTP and not the issue at large. After the dissolution of the negotiation committee, Maulana Fazal ur Rehman has rightly criticised the government’s narrow minded decision likely to forge unity rather than division amongst militant groups.
Thirdly, why the military is meant to fight and follow political directions should become an overt part of the negotiation diplomacy. This reflects governmental inadequacy in which generals are allowed to lead policy; a reflection of the indecision of the government and a desire to remain in a state of drift? Either way, the choices and trade-offs are dangerous. The military though confident of its capability is handicapped by a national synergy and conflict that the majority of Parliament disowns.
Fourthly, the policy suspects the use of biological and chemical weapons by terrorists. Do these groups also have dirty radiological weapons? If this is a smoking gun, where is the fire? Do the government and intelligence agencies have information to this effect and are efforts at hand to confirm this information? If there is information, is it being shared through the foreign office with other countries? Would such an incidence ricochet towards Pakistan’s alleged use of these substances and create a Syria like situation? This is a very serious issue and warrants transparency.
Lastly, if we accept the argument that the current militancy is an off shoot of Arabisation and the Shia-Sunni tussle, then we also need to keep our periscopes focused on the Middle East. As written last week, “given the strong connections with the present government, Saudis could bankroll an intense counter terrorism operation in Pakistan to help subsequently release troops and efforts for the Saudi game in Syria. Alternatively, Pakistan could slow down its operations (particularly Haqqani Group) and leave redressing its vulnerabilities for another day.” It appears that the TTP, by announcing a ceasefire has pre-empted time-buying and stalled military operations till after the monsoons. The operation is unlikely to be conducted in May and June due to elections in Afghanistan followed by Ramzan. In the interim, militants have the time to recuperate, penetrate Pakistan’s urban areas and regroup. The delay also benefits Arab countries and their proxy sectarian war. They would rather have their dissidents rot in Pakistan, than return home and create insecurities.
To meet its ends of policy at home and abroad, the federal government is craftily using the media and its political detractors to parry off criticism and cover its tail. The unchecked media debates have created confusion, divisions and controversies in disregard of national security. Dissenting views within PMLN are balanced out by its political opponents. Anti-war policies of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf directly assist the federal government in its go slow policy with emphasis on negotiations. However, one fact is clear. There is no ends-mean relationship in the manner in which this conflict is being managed.
The unfolding dynamics in the region cannot be ignored. Elections in Afghanistan will impact on operations in Pakistan. In case the USA does not get the strategic agreement of its choice, it may delay its withdrawal. If the Saudis manage to sell their Syrian insurgency plan with a large Pakistani imprint to Obama this month, Pakistan’s role could be reassigned. Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies are angry over Qatari assistance to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. As I write, Bahrain has been rocked by two explosions during protests.
Pakistan can ill afford to be a regional minion in exchange for monetary assistance. If Pakistan does not immediately get its priorities right, instability lurks round the corner.
The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist and a television anchorperson.