In a presentation to General Pervez Musharraf in 1998, I had recited a few versus written by me. The theme was that, ‘like my country, I am at war within myself. I am my biggest enemy’. Those were that days when the COAS was a chum of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and ready lock, stock and barrel to back the government in fast track socio-economic development.

Pakistan had recently become a declared nuclear power. Delivery systems were being tested with remarkable frequency. Pakistan’s hopes of political autonomy were laid to rest by freezing of foreign currency accounts. Pakistan’s economy was plummeting and the country was under international nuclear sanctions.

Within the region, Pakistan’s backing of Afghan Taliban and inducted fighters in Kashmir continued relentlessly. During in house discussions I singled out Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan and use of non-state actors in Indian held Kashmir as acts that would return like demons to haunt. Nuclear Pakistan was behaving irresponsibly filliping the choice of operations other than war against an ambitious but a politically and economically unstable self. International research organisations were churning out papers on crises management if a nuclear armed state went unstable. To compound matters, nuclear Pakistan with a declared ‘First Use’ deterrence initiated the Kargil Conflict; a limited war under a nuclear shadow. Pakistan proved to the world that a limited conventional conflict between nuclear rivals was possible that later opened gates for armed intervention like cross border incursions and drones. Pakistan found Kargil too hot to handle and abandoned ambitions of exploiting a vacuum in Indian held Kashmir. The misdeed was reciprocated by a cantankerous dismissal of a COAS and the resultant coup by a coterie of generals whose memories were still fresh with the Kargil guilt. Pakistan’s isolation engineered by its very own was complete but for Twin Tower attacks.

Many saw 9/11 as a blessing in disguise for Pakistan with an opportunity to break away from past policies and concentrate on nation building. The Kargil planners were still around and would ensure that a paradigm shift if any would be a camouflage for a new word inserted into strategic glossary, ‘Assets’. The state with a multi bipolar disorder continued to follow a policy of shielding and preserving its assets. The strategist’s key word was no more Kashmir but Afghanistan.

In this prolonged conflict the so-called assets have run lose and jeer at the faces of their past mentors. Pakistan’s interests have narrowed down to supporting one group within one ethnicity in Afghanistan. All others are either enemy or potential ones. This in turn has created crises of ethnic and sectarian vulnerability within. Growing radicalism has helped gel extremist elements in a society where no one is safe. Militants have permeated every sinew of society with threats hanging like Damocles Swords over the heads of national leaders. Anyone anywhere can be assassinated. The conclusions are grim.

Within Pakistan’s politic body, cognition of impending threats is opinionated and diverse. The perception does not flow from the dangers to the nation but personal or political vulnerability. Methodologies to deal with this menace are divided, leaving a gaping hole in the national reconciliation. The lack of consensus and abundance of political jargon thereof has resulted in creating a National Crisis of Cognition, leaving the field wide open for militants to exploit. This phenomenon inhibits recognition of impending dangers and consensus in dealing with the menace of terrorism. While some political parties safe in their hideouts continue to demand swift military action against terrorism, others hold out an olive branch drenched in blood each time the terrorists strike. Lost within their fantasies of a fantastic self, the typology and dissection of the real issue is a subject all parties deliberately avoid.

Notwithstanding General (Retired) Kayani’s belated admission that it is ‘Our War’ the military or a part of it still sees the Afghan conflict as a brinkmanship that will succeed. With dates of US withdrawal approaching and US rapprochement with Iran, somebody will have to get down to the serious business of counting how many eggs are left in the basket. If Pakistan succeeds in its walking on the edge policy in a post US withdrawal Afghanistan, it would have once again performed an impossible Houdini Act. But the multitude of internal kinetics suggest otherwise.

Afghanistan poses another dilemma. The prolonged conflict in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa with diverse strains of home grown and foreign militants has paradoxically helped identify foreign support bases comprising both state and non-state actors outside the traditional rant of US global ambitions. Would it be astute on part of Pakistan to get involved in a proxy sectarian conflict that majority of Pakistanis do not support but which the governments in the past are guilty of. So if the matrix of trade-offs and choices are exercised, chances are that it will be another shot in the foot with the hunter becoming the hunted.

Realistically, it is not FATA but Karachi that gives a measure of what Pakistan could become. The diversity of crime and lawlessness in this city is beyond description. Most political parties in the province either have armed militant wings or get support from militant group. To perpetuate their activities, TTP is a convenient punching bag. Sectarian and sub sectarian groups operate with remarkable abandon. Mafias, extortionists and criminals criss-cross within these organisations with convenience. The police and local administration is highly politicised. This lethal brew has not reached a boiling point because the interested parties have more stakes in the limbo than outright anarchy. Yet it could,if any one of the interested party pulls the trigger. With a compliant local administration, the same scenario can be replicated in major urban centres of the country.

As predicted, the APC on terrorism is proving to be another stratagem and farce to fool the people of Pakistan. Despite intelligence agencies, a credible messenger has yet to get any message across. On the other hand the starting point of negotiations if any are related to stopping of drone strikes by USA and release of prisoners who have their hands soiled in the blood of thousands of Pakistanis. Knowing that both are equally improbable, the stalemate continues to add to uncertainties within us.

Civilian institutions in the Swat Case Study have yet to develop the capability to supplement military operations with effective passive peace keeping. The same would be true of other urban centres where violence could hypothetically conflagrate. Military and LEAs in their present capacities and capabilities would provide limited defensive shields. The absence of an urban counter terrorism apparatus and quick reaction forces would denude the reaction capabilities of the existing law enforcement structure. Even if such a structure existed, the biggest compromise would be the integral and affiliated militant wings of political parties; Hence the reluctance to formulate a comprehensive counter-terrorism policy.

Military action against the militant hideouts in FATA would be complete in three to four months but result in only a battle won. Who will win the war? Victory will only come if the state, its machinery, judiciary and political parties move in tandem; something that does not appear probable in the existing state of affairs.

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