“An archer letting off an arrow may or may not kill a single man, but a wise man using his intellect can kill even reaching unto the very womb.”

Chankya Vishnugupta Kautilya

The All Parties Conference in Islamabad finally declared that terrorism is Pakistan’s war; a declaration yet to manifest its credibility in intention and robustness. With each day, the hollowness stands exposed. The twenty counter terrorism points compiled in  the brainstorming session lack coherence, priorities and ends-means relationship. At best, these can be termed guidelines for a policy paper or a directive. There is no visible effort to shape a cohesive broad spectrum policy.

For rightist and centrist, the consensus was made in duress imposed by the presence of General Raheel Sharif. The consensus evaporated and fissures resurfaced when the 21st amendment to the constitution was tabled. Religious parties stayed away while PTI abstained from entering the parliament for want of a promised Judicial Commission. Outside, Asif Ali Zardari made heavy weather and a PPP senator wept in grief rather than resign in moral courage. Religious parties led by JUI (F) and JI have inserted enough ifs and buts to wriggle out of the ownership. Interestingly, JI is the party whose members gave refuge to most terrorists arrested from the cities. Armed groups of political parties will not fall in military purview. How it will be possible to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds is ‘wait and see’.

If one gets the drift or makes sense of the counter terrorism intentions of the civilian establishment, military courts and tribunals appear as miracle panacea for conflict resolution. The moratorium on death penalties was swiftly removed and Pakistan’s War on Terror officially began ‘bottoms up’. This debate has stolen the limelight and no one cares to discuss ‘hands on’ methodologies on how this war has to be fought on multiple fronts. The civilian establishment forced by the military made a timid declaration short of war without reading the battle. After a long denial, PTI adjusted its template. A lot will depend on how political parties will read this battle. In all probability, it will be coloured by perceptions of each to extract a pound of flesh for an exit strategy. In all probability, the military, knee deep in sludge will be abandoned midway. The only exception is civil society that over a year ago, stood in beelines to affect a change and now detest political parties. Even their vigour will be adulterated by vested groups.  This multi-dimensional conflict sounds ominous but how does it interplay with Pakistan’s political economy?

Way back in 2007, I wrote in a daily, “The war has already begun. The question is: when did it begin?” The statement resulted in heated discussions but then the Rip Van Winkles of Pakistan and the general adept in model room strategies dosed off. I qualified my question with an explanation that read, “India with its new found allies has decided to maintain a constant vigil and coercion of Pakistan over a prolonged period of time but well below a Fire Break Point. The obvious targets in tandem with its allies will be addressed through diverse instruments like control of rivers, economics, diplomacy, international pressure, internal law and order, military intimidation and even insurgency”. Seven years down the line all this has come to pass and our establishment refuses to read the battle. The US and UK insist that India will lead a policy in the region. Both even ignore international resolutions of Kashmir to give India the edge. The war actually began with 9/11, but all tiers of the state remained in denial. Elusive narratives created perceptions that cannot be undone. The military has understood the script but others could not care less.

Two successive democratic governments never grasped the urgency of a multi-dimensional threat, rather helped the inevitable to take the predicted course. Pakistan’s bubble economy began to sink in 2007. Law and order worsened. A franchised movement in the name of justice began. In 2008, the entire higher judiciary was subverted. Accountability and transparency came to an end. India exercised initiatives in Kashmir and control of rivers. Militancy with external controls proliferated. In an environment where it was difficult for the army to even maintain a status quo, a research organisation was funded to initiate a fruitless and vociferous debate on civil-military relations. Finally, controversial elections continue to destabilise Pakistan. Parties that attempted to break the shackles were handled by raw force, violence and deceit. National consensus was used to diffuse street protests. All this leaves one to question whose side the political dispensation actually was on; Pakistan or the tentacles of the invisible enemy? Even now, the government fails to read the battle, else Pakistan would have had full time foreign and defence ministers. Callousness pronounced! A country, creeping on war footings suddenly run out of fuel.

Despite a cosmetic consensus in APC, most parties remain in denial. The only person who has read it correctly is General Raheel Sharif who pursues a decisive mission before his tenure ends. Scattered segments of civil society brave it out despite threats. Politics Pakistani style being more self-centred and cantankerous can afford to wait and see off two years. Their support will always be subjective with hands to pull the rug when deemed. The pun in two years’ tenure of military led tribunals assumes significance. Unprecedented bloodshed for over a decade is no priority.

With shrinking space on a strategic canvas, General Raheel Sharif is running from pillar to post to salvage Pakistan’s position and defeat all forces of terrorism. His urge to craft a military victory is not matched by political vigour to make Pakistan less dependent. Unfortunately he represents a country holding a begging bowl and is constrained by state actors who feed it. Secretary of State John Kerry did not budge from the stated US position. Pakistan through counter terrorism must create more enemies and ultimately start a large scale civil war. Short of that, the mantra of do more will not end.

General Raheel Sharif’s extended visit to the US and now to the United Kingdom is not without reason. The objectives are not merely post withdrawal Afghanistan, or a role Pakistan will play in AFPAK or a domestic victory over terrorism. It is diplomacy for safeguarding Pakistan’s core interests through self-reliance. Notwithstanding international dynamics, the biggest challenge remains national reconciliation. Those who wish to keep it on a ventilator will not let it happen; nor did politicians who lack urgency read the battle. Otherwise, there is no reason why Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif travelled to a diagrammatically opposite direction to please his King.

The journey from a vassal to a self-reliant state is indeed arduous. All Pakistanis must walk the talk.

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.

The author can be contacted at: samson.sharaf@gmail.com