Though the counter-terrorism operations may be reaching the fag end, the unseen dynamics to destabilise Pakistan are intensifying in fire and fury. In military strategy, these are called operations other than war (OOTW) or non-kinetic offensives.
These unseen operations are lashed at soft underbellies and usually too late to realise that the enemy is within. As Chanakya Kautilya, the famous strategist from Taxila wrote in Arthashastra, ‘into the very womb’. Pakistan with pliant foreign policy, economic dependence, corruption of ruling elites and friendships with intrusive allies has ceded many internal spaces to set such dynamics in motion. Pakistan’s war is fighting this conflict within its womb. It is against its turncoats.
The latest turn of conflict is between Pakistan emerging as a self-reliant and independent country against forces that wish to see a discredited, poor and pliant country at the mercy of corruption, greed and international politics.
Like destabilisation plans against Pakistan were continuously updated, the counter-thesis warranted regular reviews. Somehow these agents of anarchy continued to rule and damage the country. Had it not been relentless efforts of Imran Khan, these self-styled leaders referred to, as Sicilian Mafia would have continued to call shots.
Just one example of how this seesawing battle has been going on.
Pakistan remained under sanctions for 13 years. As foreign currency accounts were frozen, the result was massive devaluations. Hence fiscal difficulties got worse. This caused accumulation of external debts and pushed Pakistan into an IMF-World Bank trap. Here was a nuclear power with a begging bowl. Somehow from 1997-2004, Pakistan not only survived but seemed like getting out of the woods.
The counterstroke came in the form of devaluations and trickle-down mantra of a consumer economy. Now the same individuals who deliberately wasted the foreign currency boom of 2004 are seen advocating an immoral Tax Amnesty Scheme. On the eve of the Undeclared Asset Laws, the scheme provides a loophole to corrupt individuals to legalise their offshore interests in exchange for pennies. The PML-N government is hell bent to create unresolvable issues for Pakistan before its term expires. The Presidential Ordinance is hurried, not deliberated in Parliament and violates the budgetary principles. Even if the ordinance is not approved by the next Parliament, or is not struck down by the Judiciary, its retrospective effect would remain. Pakistan’s economy and future will be made hostage to yet another bottleneck.
As regards counter-terrorism and its tricky fallouts, a twenty-point national action plan was too sketchy to address the socio-economic dimensions of the conflict. In my view, this inaction was deliberate to keep the military in check and destabilise Pakistan. But why was the opposition sleeping? Does this reflect part connivance and part incompetence? I reckon both.
Pakistan’s War on Terror that culminated with Operation Zarb e Azb was devoid of any political purpose. However, this lack of purpose was not a reflection of the military operations but the absence of larger national policies reflected in pacification operations to win hearts and minds while offsetting divisive and parochial tendencies. In Punjab, the determination of military against terrorism was greeted by the massacre of unarmed civilians in Model Town.
But there should be neither doubts nor complacency in ranks and files of Pakistan. This malaise is far beyond military’s capability to handle. It needs a collective national effort. Counterterrorism operations that provide tangents for divisive plans warranted a well-articulated and synergised response. The government never formulated such responses. As events unfold, this was deliberate. The lethargy suited international actors who were desperate to shape a particular environment within Pakistan.
In many articles, I had criticised the absence of a broad counterterrorism policy that would create such a situation. It is now evident that the government inaction was deliberate. According to Imtiaz Gul, the ‘Cacophony of Triumphalism’ riding a military success is a hollow claim because political success never complemented military objectives through providing political bombast. Nothing was done to address susceptible pacification matters.
The government is yet to release over 45 billion for resettlement of the people of FATA: a deliberate act that promotes public discontent. This is adversely affecting lives of people in a very easy, deprived and violent environment. The civilian establishment is nowhere in sight.
This plan at destabilisation stood exposed through different actions by the government. The merger Plan of FATA was insensitive. It ignored nationalism, nation building and devolution. In tandem, the hyperactive and notorious Punjab police started harassing Pashtuns in Punjab. An opportunity was created for the forces of disintegration and ultra-nationalists to reopen the Pashtun Question. The twin and simultaneous actions were aimed at opening scars and ensuring that the blood keeps oozing. For more details, refer to Nation: Sociology of Conflict, 4 March 2017.
Clearing North Waziristan was a good idea from a military point of view, but devoid of any socio-political and socio-economic policies to offset effects of squatting millions of people, their relocation and subsequent rehabilitation. Because the political government failed to address the genuine issues facing the main battlefield, divisive matters are a logical consequence. Thus PTM emerged. Not addressing the demands of the movement and its leadership will only add to the difficulties that the state finds itself in.
While PTM keeps shrieking in FATA and KPK, there is another genie growing unchecked in Punjab. Labaik is a ‘force in situ’ riding an extremely sensitive religious issue. It was facilitated and set out from Punjab with full escorts. They held the federal capital hostage over an issue that was created by the federal government. It is over a week that this force holds most parts of Lahore hostage. There should be no doubt that this force will be used to challenge the main pillars of Pakistan’s stability.
So the Order of Battle is now redrawn. The solution does not lie in more military action but in gearing the government to meet the challenges. The Supreme Court and NAB are already on the right course. ECP will have to assert and ensure that the next elections are fair and transparent. Scrutiny of each candidate will have to be made in light of the Supreme Court verdict of lifelong disqualification. This will be tedious and time-consuming. Delays will be inordinate.
The caretaker government will have to handle much more than it is designed to. Questions of law will arise. At some stage, the Supreme will have to exercise its powers in tandem with the Election Commission to ensure that the rot is stemmed and people of Pakistan forge a new social contract.
The writer is a political economist and a television anchor person.