Ghastly killing of 131 school children and 10 adults has not only left the peoples of the world with tears in their eyes and lumps in their throats, but it has also left all with a resolve that war against terrorism is everybody’s war.
Three major developments followed in reaction to the Peshawar massacre last week, which need to be analysed.
One, it was not very reassuring for the people that the leaders of the all parties’ conference called by the government decided to set up a committee to recommend a counter terrorism policy. It gives an impression that though Pakistan has been bleeding from terrorist attacks for over two decades; the country was without a strategy. But the fact is that the parliament had given policy guidelines before the Swat military operation against the Taliban led by Mullah Fazlullah in 2007. Then more recently the cabinet committee also framed an internal security policy which produced a report. However it is not that they have no policy papers, it is the lack of implementation of the policy that is worrying.
For instance there have been several attempts to bring all the intelligence agencies to be under one umbrella so that there is better coordination, but all such efforts failed. This is not a peculiar problem of Pakistan; it was found in the US in the inquiry after 9/11 and in India after the dastardly 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, that different intelligence agencies of these respective countries were not cooperating with each other. One major reason of this lack of cooperation is that intelligence agencies which are controlled by the military consider themselves superior to their civilian counterparts and do not trust them fully.
While Nawaz was dithering under pressure from Imran Khan — nicknamed ‘Taliban Khan’ – to allow military operation targeting Tehrik Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the new army chief was not willing to sit back and take civilians and army jawans casualties. Unlike his predecessor who was reluctant to launch an operation fearing TTP’s backlash in the cities General Raheel Sharif is more sure-footed. His previous assignment in the military was to prepare the army for any internal threat. To break TTP’s power pockets, the army also launched an operation with the support of local police and Rangers.
Establishments in any country are burdened with the baggage of their history and learn to shed weight when pressed hard. It is for the first time that a badly bruised government including the army in Pakistan has decided to drop the policy of ‘good and bad Taliban.’ Both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and General Raheel Sharif (no relation) have declared that operation will continue against all Taliban militants. One such example is the North Waziristan operation, which has also cleared the Haqqani group sanctuaries, much to the satisfaction of the Afghan government. Once, the Haqqani group was considered as an asset by the establishment to further its influence in Afghanistan’s power game.
For the time being these statements do not mean that military operation would be extended against India specific Jihadi groups also, as Jamat-ud–Dawah is cooperating with the establishment in its fight against TTP. Hafiz Saeed has been criticised by various Taliban groups as a renegade. But there are reports that some of Dawah’s fighters are being demobilized and rehabilitated through its NGO Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF). Will Pakistan wind-up the India-specific Jihadi organisations? I think it will depend on the progress on the out-standing issues with Delhi.
However, the on-going military operation was rightly started by the army and has public support. Historically major internal security and foreign policy decisions are made by the military establishment. The civilian governments have tried to establish their claim on this sacred domain, but they were always pushed back.
But this operation can at best be defined a tactical move. It cannot be successful unless the civilian government draws a multi-dimensional strategy. Pakistan which was the ‘less imagined idea’ needs to be ‘re-imagined,’ if it has to survive. The state cannot continue to support Islamism and fight the scores of Islamist militants who want to establish ‘Khilafat’ in the country. Our state is confused. In the 21st century it wants to move forward as a modern democracy and at the same time indoctrinate our kids with distorted history in schools and colleges. Education with religious, ethnic and nationalistic bias is counter-productive.
Two, who is calling the shots on internal security and foreign policy, was loud and clear when after the 16/12 Peshawar tragedy army chief General Raheel Sharif rushed on a day trip to Afghanistan. He demanded action against the TTP leadership which crossed over to Afghanistan when military operation was started in North Waziristan and adjoining tribal agencies. Pakistan has proof that the terrorists who attacked the school were taking instructions from the TTP commander based in Kunar a province of Afghanistan. By implication in response to this demand by Pakistan, Afghanistan can also seek action or custody of Mullah Omer who has been fighting against the Afghan government. Is Pakistan ready for this quid pro quo? Perhaps not! However, it is willing to work with President Ghani’s government more than that of his predecessor Karzai.
Three, 16/12 massacre of school children broke the political impasse between Imran Khan’s PTI and Nawaz Sharif’s PML. It had diverted the government and the people’s attention from extremely urgent issue of war against terrorists. Even Imran Khan who had criticised the military operation just a week ago had to call off his 126 days protest picketing respecting the anguish of the people.
Much has been written against and in favour of his politics, but this is not the day to do the post mortem of his movement. In any case it is not dead yet and he has proved that he has the capacity to revive it. Though calling off the struggle for more seats was no favour to Nawaz Sharif, the government should form a Judicial Inquiry Commission to find out the level of 2013 election rigging as agreed during the negotiation. One probable scenario is that the MNAs who are afraid that the inquiry might go against them would pressurise Nawaz Sharif to wriggle out of his party’s commitment. In his third stint Sharif has tried to show that he believes in decent politics. Meanwhile, Imran should go back to parliament and play the role in the Election Reform Committee.
Suffering terrorism, violent sectarianism and militant independence movement in Balochistan the people are questioning, now openly, the policy of nurturing various Jihadi groups by the state. Is the state ready to change its skewed strategic culture, is a question asked by many writers. Christina Fair in her latest book ‘Fighting to The End’ is not very hopeful. But I would like to take some solace in what a retired senior official said: ‘Old policies of the state are like the Titanic, they need time to change the course.’ I hope it does before we hit the iceberg.
The writer is the author of What’s Wrong with Pakistan? He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org