In Pakistan, a yawning gap separates political positions and the art of state craft. Politics is the game of the rich and corrupt, thwarting the mandate of the people. In addition, the Pakistani establishment is also amenable to foreign powers subverting the aspirations of the people. Status quo pundits cite the 1970 elections as transparent at the cost of the country. For the establishment, turncoat politicians and their handlers, the urgency to learn and acquire statecraft takes a backseat in preference to their long list of do’s and don’ts. State craft is serious business. Leaders have to rise beyond themselves and get to the constructive business of nation building. Pakistan has not seen it happen since 1947.

Within the seesaw of constitutionalism and military interventions that form Pakistani politics, politicians have learnt to switch loyalties swiftly. Within this matrix, they have personal wish lists of reinventing the wheels their way; these conflicts of interests play out just beneath the larger equilibriums of power.

Another limitation is the inability to separate sloganeering politics from the wider interests of the state. Serious matters of the state are relegated in favour of the politicians’ personal wish lists and the larger agenda. National Reconciliations since 2007 are a case in point.

The Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf, which does not trust the system and is frequently at odds with it, inevitably positions itself as a symbol of change in Pakistan. Therefore, the larger narrative demands that Imran must be kept out of real political circles. As for Imran Khan himself, he must keep attacking the system as he always has.

Talks of peace talks with the Taliban have further eclipsed the serious business of the energy crisis, the economic crises, legislation against terrorism and a national security policy built around core national interests. Despite repeated rants about the indispensability of a broad based national counter terrorism policy that works in synchronisation with selective and accurate use of force, no one seems to comprehend the urgency of the message. Military led counter terrorism with no complementary legislation, parliamentary and judicial oversight and policy implementations in other areas will keep taking the country back to square one. Going by the experience of the past ten years, history will repeat itself for we are consistently pursuing an approach that has failed once too often.

In contrast, the militants with their apologists in mainstream politics are putting forth more broad based demands and have made their intentions clear. Their policy of threat, awe and the selective imaging of violence before a hapless public whose leaders lack statesmanship has proven itself effective thus far. They will continue creating these divides in society, and in Government, until challenged with a broad based superior counter narrative. Where, might we ask, is this counter narrative?

Here, it is prudent to observe how the menace of militancy may be otherwise tackled. Clausewitz’ greatest contribution to the study of war was the centrality of politics (earlier seen as an exclusive and discreet activity by generals). Unfortunately in Pakistan, some generals and most politicians still think so. For Clausewitz, the use of violence is only logical if it flows out of a logical political action that leads a military battle plan. Limiting the coercive application of policy, Clausewitz insisted that policy must not promise itself a wrong effect through military means. He set the objectives of the limited use of violence as the ultimate submission of the enemy through limited defeat, to be used for bargaining at peace negotiations. In Pakistan, no one is clear on how this issue has to be tackled.

The militant conflict in Pakistan by non-state actors has replaced conventional warfare. This is, and remains the war of the future and its strategy and tactics are different from conventional military planning. Like parasites who draw energy from their hosts, terrorists live amongst people like fish in water. They melt away at will and re-emerge at the place and timings of their choosing. Invariably, they are motivated by an ideology and sustained through logistics that transcend international boundaries. Their supporters are both state and non-state actors. Unlike the interior and exterior lines of logistics in strategy, they evolve from home grown and cost effective solutions by improvising and exploiting means available to them. The effective use of the internet, alternate means of communications and home based dual use technologies remain their leading edge over the leadership. Hence the state must come up with superior counter narratives, effective diplomacy and awareness that can deprive these fish of the water they need to thrive. Apart from the selective use of force, the major counter terrorism operations are to be fought in the societal realm of schemes.  In Pakistan, we lack such a scheme.

Unless the Pakistani government does not come up with a comprehensive ends-means relationship, military operations will continue to provide 20-40% respite and nothing more. The cycle will continue. If politicians lack the capacity, they must engage professionals, specialists and experts on the subject to provide much needed impetus. Successful military operations can only be a part of the larger political victory and not a solution. A political rather than a short lived military victory is the order of the day.

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