The blowback of militancy suffered in the third week of February by the country was new in that it covered all four provinces. All the provinces had been hit before, and there was no new pattern to the targeting, but the closeness of the attacks showed that the rhetoric about the end of terrorism was at best premature, at worst a falsification. The wide dispersal of the attacks showed that the militants still had the ability to strike virtually at will. Perhaps most dangerous is the fact that the destruction of militant hideouts in the course of Operation Zarb-e-Azab in North and South Waziristan did not stop the militant attacks. The ability to operate in large conurbations indicate that support is enjoyed among the general populace, a support which will not go away merely by administrative measures.
While it may be too early to predict the demise of the state, it is certainly too early to celebrate that of militancy. There is also a problem for the state: what solution is now to be put forward to end militancy? In the course of the militancy, the military and the two major parties have been tried, and have failed to end the militancy. There are two major solutions being propounded at the moment: the National Action Plan (NAP), and military government. Both have already been tried, and have failed to produce the desired result of law and order. Will the NAP yield the desired result?
What will? A military government presided over the development of the problem. Elections led to the PPP taking office, but the problem remained unsolved. The PML(N) has now completed three and a half years of its tenure, but the problem remains unsolved. Will it be solved by the time of the next election? The government hoped so, for then it could count that a factor contributing to re-election, but there is no sign of this happening. Will the PPP be able to bring matters under control? If that was the case, Sindh should have been safe. However, the Sehwan blast at the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar indicates that it is not, and the PPP is as much at sea as the other political parties. Will military rule do the job? Its past record does not indicate that it will. As it is, one of the areas the military did not relinquish when it gave up power was in the area of counter-terrorism. The political parties might well claim that they have not been given a chance, but they dare not. The alternative is to elect the PTI, but there are two factors against this. First, giving it office in the centre would mean giving the military power. There is no reason to believe that the military would be able to do indirectly what it failed to do directly. Second, the PTI’s record in KPK is less than hopeful. One of the attacks last week was on a van carrying judges. True, no judge was killed. However, the death of a van driver is a blot on the record of the PTI. The PTI might try to argue that it needs to get power at the Centre to be able to implement an anti-terrorist strategy, but so far it has not indicated what that strategy might be.
The PTI and the PPP might unite on the claim that a full implementation of the NAP is needed. Indeed, that is the nearest the military comes to a solution. However, the NAP is perhaps too complex to be implemented by any government. The situation is that the only solution might not work, so it is not a matter of finding the right implementer of a solution that all agree on. The extrajudicial killing of suspects might satisfy atavistic urges, but it does not stop terror. Even the military courts, which raised questions of whether justice was being done, have not been a deterrent.
Perhaps there is a need to find another solution. The possibility of giving the militants what they want has to be put on the table. It would go against the grain of the state to acknowledge that it has lost, but the real problem with this solution is that it would not necessarily be a simple task to know what the militants are fighting for. The militant organisations do not have a clear agenda, and there is some suspicion that they are merely fighting for the agenda of one foreign power or the other.
Contemplating a surrender involves the answers to two questions. Will the bloodshed stop if the militants are given whatever they want? What is the price they ask, and is it worth paying? It is unlikely that the militants will stop killing even if given the reins of power because their purpose is, among other things, to end certain forms of religious expression which have large numbers of followers. Whether the price is worth paying or not would find large numbers of people opposing them, including large numbers of the establishment, which clearly is working on an agenda opposed to the militants’ goals.
This brings up the issue of support for the militants. It should be noted that their goals might have support even if their methods might not. This is the basis of the claim that the state should have developed a counter-narrative and that attitudes have to be made to change. The problem is that attitudes are deeply ingrained, and have resisted change by the colonial power. This may well be because basic changes are needed, so basic that they are personality-shaping. It should be noted that the Raj wanted to change attitudes, but could not do so. The neocolonial reality also demands a change, but it has not been forthcoming.
This is not due to some kind of perversity, but because the colonial and neocolonial narratives are ones of subordination, of inferiority, while the militant narrative is one of liberation, of equality. The alternative to defeating the militants is thus to turn to those elements which share their goals but not their methods. The catch is that the goals themselves are not clear. If they are simply the implementation of Islam, that is something that the three major political parties agree on, as does the military. The problem might be that the parties and the military have distanced themselves from society so much that the implementation of Islam has been replaced by lip service.
Religious beliefs cannot be placated merely by lip service. At the same time, society as a whole does not want to abandon the fruits of modernity. It does not want to give power to the religious parties. This may be because people seek more control over religion, and to hand over control to religious scholars would be anathema.
Another significant dimension is that militancy is not limited to Pakistan. The ferment is international. It should not escape notice that the blasts in Pakistan were accompanied by a massive car-bomb blast in Baghdad, in which 51 were killed. That was claimed by the Islamic State. Thus any solution of the problem in Pakistan would have to be part of a general solution. It is perhaps not so much suspicious as inevitable that all the international Islamic parties, such as Al-Qaeda, Hizbut Tahrir, the Islamic State and the Ikwanul Muslimeen have all been labelled fundamentalist and militant. After all, whoever wins power and solves the problem of militancy, it is the West that will lose out. Its problem is that it cannot win. After colonialism and neo-colonialism, what? Trump? That will not stop Muslims from following their instincts.
While it may be too early to predict the demise of the state, it is certainly too early to celebrate that of militancy.