For an umpteenth time, Pakistan’s civil and military leadership huddled together in a knee jerk reaction to an incident of terrorism in Karachi. The apex committee reasserted its resolve to fight back. But there was a glaring difference; the Prime Minister looked blank. The Interior Minister, supposed to lead the way and provide political impetus, was missing. At the lowest point General Raheel Sharif presided over the provincial meeting attended by the under siege Sindh Governor and ineffective Chief Minister. Orders of suspending and removing officials were cancelled. The ISPR followed with suggestive tweets exposing the incompetence of civil administration. Short of a Governor’s Rule or a limited Martial Law, this is all the military could do within the constitutional constraints.

The message this series of events conveys is shameful. Counter terrorism operations in urban areas lack political support. Law enforcement agencies and armed forces cannot operate in absence of political direction and support. This dysfunction and disconnect place the people at the mercy of terrorists who swim like fish in water and strike at soft targets of choosing in a city long robbed of its cosmopolitan spirit.

Sargent Blake a US Vietnam veteran once commented, “Any plan that works to perfection must be relentlessly investigated”. Simpleton’s logic, but he was accurate. All plans need reappraisal and reinforcement due to unforeseen impediments. In the words of Clausewitz, danger, physical exertion, intelligence, and unforeseen coalesce into a medium that impedes activity and accumulates to produce friction. Friction is more profound in a social conflict like counter terrorism conducted in a societal context. In Pakistan, due to bad governance, proliferation of opposing ideologies and lack of political will, this friction is a super-retardant.

Friction was once thought to be a purely military problem. With technology and the involvement of people it became part of the political domain. In Pakistan, as the canvas of military operations shifts from conventional to counter terrorism, the absence of a political direction reverses military successes. Consequently, the people at the mercy of terrorists are disconnected from the fighting arms due to the inherent limbo in the political dispensation that connects the two. Political rhetoric creates more schisms and permanent wounds.

Why Pakistan’s political establishment is so stunted and with an infertile mind is a billion dollar question with uncertain answers. Below the surface lie misguided notions of power, a carte blanche for an unchecked abuse of power with regressive internal and external support.

Does the political establishment lack the ability of statecraft? Surely when delusions dictate objectives and rulers act as puppets to ambitions and strings, this is bound to happen. Statecraft is an exacting human activity full of distinctive moral dilemmas to discern objectively, avoid a wish list and take affirmative decisions within concrete realities. All great statesmen in history had the ability not to postpone, procrastinate, and waiver when faced by friction. Sir Winston Churchill’s leadership in WWII provided the resilience and moral surge in Battle of Britain. Mahathir Muhammad of Malaysia and Lee Kuan Lu of Singapore provided the moral edge to ride out the crises of Malaysian insurgency.

There is no doubt that Pakistan’s armed force and law enforcement agencies are fighting the biggest counter terrorism operations in world history. The multi directional threats make this conflict nastier and challenging. Yet these operations are deprived of political support. Expediencies, delusionary benefits and out of context notions of civilian supremacy run counter to the objectives. The operations will remain futile in a vacuum where terrorism shall grow.

Pakistan lacks a comprehensive policy towards counter terrorism. Given that Zarb-e-Azb could not be delayed, the reality is that it still lacks political sanctification. The military is starved of funding while displaced Pakistanis have become squatters. The promised funds to NACTA are withheld. In urban areas, the civilian administrations continue to drag feet. Local administrations are politicized. Karachi, the world’s third biggest city lacks basic governance. Due to diversity of violence it is a hot spot that could fast become a supernova. Doors to Balochistan will open and expanses west of Quetta and Karachi will become a mess.

The support or lack of it thereof, came in the form of a twenty point National Action Plan that flows from nowhere to nowhere. This checklist is not a comprehensive policy paper to execute the world’s biggest counter terrorism operation. Compare NAP for its nothingness to the US Homeland Security Policy for its detail. Blank spaces provide for indecision. Whatever sanction exists is being denuded through political inactivity and higher courts. Sentences of military courts are stayed by the Supreme Court. The interior minister shies away from important events. In the absence of a mechanism that creates synergy, the military has to repeatedly intervene to recreate the short lived balance, while the nation waits for the next tragedy.  It is tragic that a country fighting terrorism has no full time foreign and defence minister. The most important ministry of interior is captive to tantrums of a self-admiring narcissus.

So while Rome burns, the rulers play the flute. This flute is the CPEC blown out of proportion. It may make a case for reelections in 2018 but its fruits are illusionary. A corridor for the transit of foreign goods is no development. To reap the harvest Pakistan must prepare to transit its own finished goods to China and Central Asia. The federal and provincial governments are displaying criminal neglect and complicity with international cartels in failing to exploit integral resources. Peshawar-Lahore-Faisalabad motorway is a case study where no industrial infrastructure development took place in fifteen years.

Though foreign intervention is real, blowing it beyond proportions is leading to a mindset of denial that camouflages the internal accomplices. Counter-terror operations are an expression of political directives. Their grammar may be punctuated with military precision but the logic remains political. It is high time the political parties in Pakistan take the ownership of this conflict and fight it the manner it warrants. Else dreams of EPEC, Metro and reelection will dwindle into the insignificance of a pipedream.

 The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.