After one month of the deadly attack on Army Public School in Peshawar, one sees powerful narratives around changing relations between military and militancy. Much as one would like to believe this, unfortunately we don’t live in a world so simple any more. At the risk of being branded a nuisance-causing usual ‘liberal’ one would like to detangle the mess and try to make sense of things.
Immediately after the attack, the shocked and traumatized citizenry including the progressive sections of it, started falling prey to the glut of ideas like ‘unity’ against terrorism. Made sense. But then talking heads on umpteen current affairs’ programs on TV and opinion pages started defining the how-to-do of curbing terror, and therein started a problem. The problem was further complicated when everyone questioning that predominant narrative became a ‘terror-apologist’ or a traitor working against the country for trying to break national unity.
First, they pressed for the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty. Meaning thereby, terrorism is rife because the state doesn’t implement death sentences. Meaning thereby, that if those sentenced to death are hanged, terrorists would be deterred. Yes; the terrorists who come to attack us with their suicide jackets on. The next argument was, the suicide attackers are normally the foot soldiers, but the planners are cowards who would definitely be deterred if they know they are going to be hanged. Really? They are believers of martyrdom and their whole raison d’etre is to inflict fatal losses upon the unbelievers and their supporters before embracing martyrdom in Allah’s cause. Needless to say, anyone dissenting on this doctrine of death penalty suddenly became terror supporters.
The next post-Peshawar discourse quite effectively built was about the need to have military-led courts. Meaning thereby, the terrorism is pervasive and unchecked in Pakistan because our judicial system is unable to penalize terrorists. And because our judicial system is incapable, let the military lead this process of ‘justice’ so the terrorism can be curbed. Sure? With apologies from those who do not read Urdu, I’d quote this. And because I’d surely not be doing justice to Ghalib, I won’t even try to translate.

Mir bhi kia saada hain, beemaar
huye jis ke sabab
Usi attaar ke launday se dawa
laitay hain.

And then of course, if you are against military led courts, you are terrorist-apologists and are un-cooperative in dealing with the terrorism menace. If you ask, why was the military unable to prevent the escape of dangerous LeJ terrorists from an FC-administered, highly secure detention facility? Which civilian court or civilian institution was responsible for the security of that facility? If you ask these uncomfortable questions, you are obviously mistrusting the army, which is now a ‘changed institution’.
After a public rebuke from the Corps Commanders’ Conference shortly after the military-led courts ‘decision’ of the All Parties Conference that week, all parties had to grudgingly sit together once again under the watchful eyes of the Chief of Army Staff, and had to endorse the military hegemony on a process of justice. A common liberal argument was, the army has grown these monsters, let it sort them out. dissent ? You are a traitor.
The narrative that had, by then, captured the mind of the average Pakistani was that the military had changed. It now wants to eradicate terrorism from its roots. It has suddenly seen the light and now wants to dismantle all its ‘assets’ it has painstakingly built over the course of many decades. It has learnt its lessons and now wants to review or discontinue its ‘good and bad Taliban’ policy. It has abandoned its doctrine of ‘strategic depth’, is ready to teach a lesson to the Haqqani network and wants cordial relations with Ghani-led Afghanistan. As evidence of all this, we are bombarded with a new smoldering hot statement almost every day from either the civilian leadership or straight from the oven of the ISPR reiterating the ‘resolve’ to destroy all terror groups.
It is, however, a minor and irrelevant detail that even after regurgitation of this ‘resolve’ by the military and civilian leadership, Pakistanis saw proscribed Ahl-e-Sunnat-wal-Jamaat (ASWJ) holding demonstrations to save the honour of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) right on the day we marked one month of the Peshawar attack. On that day, another group was on the roads demonstrating for the same cause – the mighty and honorable Jamaat-ud-Da’awa (JuD). It is yet not enlisted as proscribed despite it being a reincarnation of already proscribed Lashkar-e-Tayyeba (LeT) and despite an earlier sizzling hot statement by the Prime Minister that no terrorist outfit would be allowed with new names.
The statement was followed by a bantam report leaked to the media a day after the visit by US Secretary of the State. But while I write these lines, I gather that the Minister of Defence Production has reneged on earlier reports about leaked plans of the Govt to enlist JuD as a proscribed organization with ten others. The good Minister has explained to us that JuD was not a terrorist outfit, was rather a social welfare organization and that there was no reason to proscribe it and arrest its leader. Considering that JuD and Hafiz Saeed are clearly that point where the angelical feathers of civilians start burning instantly, one would rather not blame them. Who’s it then? I’d let you guess!
Another evidence being given of the reformation of the military establishment is a recent strategic leak of the report that even the Haqqani Network – the notorious Afghan terror network under long time patronage of some in Pakistan – is going to be enlisted as proscribed in a week or so. Besides being a tacit admission that Haqqanis do exist in Pakistan, (departing from earlier state policy of denying their existence in the country), the report is being welcomed by progressive sections and actually everyone, as a major departure from the decades old doctrine of strategic depth held by the Pakistan army.
A curious mind however, would ask several questions here. Does proscribing an outfit mean deciding to severe state ties with it? Does proscribing mean destroying all lines of communication and patronage between it and state institutions? Does proscribing mean the state is ready to destroy that network? Even by average standards of common sense and knowledge of recent history, the answers to all three questions can’t be in the affirmative. There is too much information available and evidence spread all over to miss it.
Even if one, for a hesitant moment, agrees to the ‘establishment has changed’ argument, one could readily build a whole compendium of new questions. When are the arrests going to be made for Haqqani network leaders? Has the Quetta Shura been abandoned from Pakistan’s soil? Have they been ousted from Parachinar and Kurram? If not, are they going to be arrested? Is a new military offensive in the offing in Kurram? With thick clouds on the current military operation and without any independent reporting on it, one wonders what method the Army implies to identify those killed in aerial strikes as terrorists? How come there is no collateral damage, which was trumpeted out of proportion in the case of (much more precise) drone strikes?
Too many questions, but then dissent in today’s world is treason. God bless Pakistan.