It seems that after the initial fireworks of the grandiose War on Terrorism, everything has come to a standstill. Spatial gains against a floating and invisible adversary mean little. Counter terrorism rather than gaining expanses means defeating the mindset and winning hearts and minds. While wastelands and neglected expanses have been regained, the battle for hearts and minds has not even begun. The army and certain segments of society may think that this is war. But the political establishment vying for a Shakespearian pound of flesh thinks otherwise. This intransigence and gulf is already rendering the sacrifices paid in blood meaningless.

As the recent surge of operations nears the two years, terrorists seem to creep back with impunity to strike soft targets at will. The military with a proactive army chief had taken the initiative to rid tribal areas of terrorists’ sanctuaries, most melted into neighbouring Afghanistan and safe havens inside Pakistan to fight another day.  This is Pakistan’s present and future threat and the government at large seems unaware of the challenges. In the most chilling scenario, once the dust settles after the storm those responsible for this tragedy will retire to their offshore companies and villas to write memoirs and make merry.

There remains no doubt that the initiative in Zarb-e-Azb was military and the government acquiesced for as long as it was convenient. Soon cracks appeared. The civilian administration still lacks the ability and desire to convert spatial gains into a durable, credible and sustainable system that provides rehabilitation to displaced persons with a credible system of governance. FATA Reforms lack incisive detail while the political future of the region lies in abeyance. This is creating discontent in tribal people and may provide a pretext to many youth to join the terrorists.

The operations in Karachi despite providing relief are marred by controversies between the provincial government and military establishment. It is a violation of the Charter of Democracy between two main plunderers of the state. The situation in Karachi in complex particularly due to the typology of violence that includes TTP, sympathisers of Da’esh, political mafias, criminal gangs and the multiple strings attached to these groups from within Pakistan and outside.

So far no action has been taken against the terrorists sanctuaries in Punjab. These groups have been operating outside Punjab (particularly Karachi and Balochistan) for many years. Both international consciences sleeps over the state sponsored terrorism in Model Town Lahore.

With the launch of Zarb-e-Azb, the military establishment indicated a major shift in policy that meant a new paradigm. The initiative needed to be supported by a comprehensive counter terrorism policy encompassing the entire policy spectrum. Unfortunately this never happened.

Complementary policies in tandem with military operations are absent. National Action Plan is a smokescreen that eclipses realities; a compromise document framed within the paradigm of criminal justice. It never had the potential to synergise the nation for a war against terrorism. Given the challenges of counter terrorism, the implementation may not yield the desired results. The tragedy is that even the bare minimum is delayed with checks and inertia.

Operations other than war referred to as non-kinetic warfare can degrade a nation more than a military defeat. In an environment of socio-economic degradation, they provide more space for non-state actors to perpetuate violence.

Pakistan’s development indices are dismal. The economic hitmen are at work. In concert with failure of counter terrorism operations it would ensure that Pakistan remains pliant and dependent on foreign traps. The political establishment fails to realise that at the end of the Cold War when relations with the United States took a nosedive, Pakistan survived thirteen years of isolation. Life without dollars and riyals is unimaginable.  

Pakistan State Oil, Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority and the power sectors are on the loose. Indirect taxation that promotes consumerism and inhibits productivity is on the rise. Import-export ratio is becoming dangerously lopsided. The country is already in a debt trap. No investments are being made in the agriculture sector. Bulk of consumer industry is political by nature. This includes sugar (a byproduct of other money making processes like electricity, ethanol, alcohol etc.), poultry, milk, dairy, livestock, food chains and imported fuels and lubricants. Industries that promote value addition and exports are on decline and many businessmen are switching gears for quick profits.

CPEC is a pipedream and not a miracle cure. Huge obstacles stand in the way. 

This is a script written elsewhere that most obedient servants follow. Pakistan’s descent into non kinetic warfare is real. Pakistan will continue to resist exploitation of its immensely available natural resources because the desire to free itself of international ‘tied aid and trade’ does not exist.  Pakistan a nation securing security at the cost of sovereignty according to Clausewitz will get neither. The tradeoff will be lawlessness and mayhem. This descent will continue and terrorism will grow.

This dismal state of affairs is real. It exposes the wide gulf in Civil-Military relations and remain dysfunctional. Short of a military intervention, the military has gone as far as it could. It cannot take over civilian functions of fighting the non-kinetic threats. This dismal noncooperation reflects the desires of the Memo Scandal seeking total subservience of the military to civilian command. Meanwhile the priorities are set. See off the COAS who is in his last year of service, rekindle the narratives that military created jihadists, float themes of extension, rekindle the Charter of Democracy and make merry on the economic front. Both PML-N and PPPP are following the same script in unison to club the military.

Finally not to forget foreign actors; they not only hold Pakistan at ransom economically but also through proxies, Pakistan had helped create. If they can threaten Russia, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Egypt with asymmetrical threats Pakistan is no exception. Whenever Pakistan stutters in cooperation, there are telltale incidents.

The forces that matter have lured the COAS in the box of their liking. Pakistan’s journey through a river of fire will continue. Since there is no helmsman, this effort will always be unchartered. The ultimate targets are the armed forces that guard the gates to forbidden fruit.

Pakistan’s long war is entering a decisive phase. The choice is between saving the country or the non-functional democracy.