Left in the lurch – by Ali Arqam

Ali Arqam

The state is looking the other way

The Awami National Party (ANP) campaign for the upcoming elections is going along the swaggering video statements and escalated bomb attacks by Taliban and nonchalant responses by the other political parties especially those who have been given clearance by the Taliban.

While I was penning these lines, another bomb attack has ripped a corner meeting at Peshawar, killing fifteen including five policemen and injuring ANP’s senior leader Ghulam Ahmad Bilour. The attack was followed by audacious statements by the ANP leadership with discontent over lack of security from the interim government and inevitable series of condemnations by the political leadership.

The complaints about lack of security were responded by Musarrat Qadeem, spokesperson of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, pointing towards the deaths of five policemen in the attack. Also after such incidents there is a repeated argument that suicide attacks cannot be averted. At the end there is an all-pervading sense of helplessness among those at the receiving end who have been left in the lurch with the state looking the other way.

A few months back, the news of a paradigm shift in the military’s approach towards existential threats were proclaimed by different circles. While there was hardly any new thing or fresh approach towards the forces held responsible for internal threats, the internal threat narrative was woven around militant factions having tacit support by the external forces. The new doctrine seems directed more towards the insurgency in Balochistan and the resistance groups fighting the state and less concerned towards the terrorism from ideologically driven religio-fanatics or anti-minorities organizations. At least the action or inaction towards the former and the latter bears witness to this.

The military offensives against Taliban in Malakand and FATA have not led to tapering off of their ability to commit violence except for short intervals of tranquility. The offensives against them were primarily focused over military goals of gaining control of the territories from where Taliban were operating and achievement was measured through the number of casualties inflicted on the militants (killing the foot soldiers and lower cadres mostly) and equipment destroyed or appropriated. But it failed to liquidate their organizational structure and network of terror utilized by them for recruiting, funding, gathering information and planning to attack various targets.

The TTP sought to seize territories to create space for them, replaced the eroded administrative structures with one of their own based on coercive measures and facilitated training grounds to those recruited through their vast network of sister Jihadi groups across the country. After military offensives against them, they lost absolute hold of some territories but still possess the ability to disrupt military or civilian control of larger territories with acts of terror and organized assaults. They commit deliberate violence against civilians in order to obtain religious and ideological objectives. Thus achievement against them should have been measured in terms of acquiring more secure atmosphere for the civilians and preventing economic fallout of these offensives. When measured in these unconventional ways, these offensives did not deliver.

One may object that military liability is to deal with the violent aspects of terrorism only; responsibility to deal with other facets of the dilemma lies with other organs of the state and society as well. But, the problem with a military dominated state of Pakistan is, the whole narrative against terrorism revolves around its perceived geostrategic goals. During the last one year, it has been proven time and again that most of the political parties and religio-political pressure groups have echoed security establishment’s stance needed at the domestic and international level.

It is not needed to go into more detail but a few instances can put some light on this assumption. The Kerry-Lugar bill, the debate post Osama bin Laden fiasco, unilateral calls for “giving peace a chance”, the outrage over Salala attacks, blocking and allowing NATO supplies, parliamentary resolutions, the religious decree against terror attacks ‘exclusively’ in Pakistani territory and response to the Memogate scandal by the largest opposition party, personal interest of its leader Mian Nawaz Sharif, the matter dealt by superior courts and the media role in all these issues are few instances where various organs of the state and political players have sought to attune with the military establishment and harmonized with their positions on different occasions.

With an eye on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the days of confrontation with Pakistani Taliban seems to be over. Reconciliation is the new mantra to mend ties with the Taliban to get them as backup forces for the Afghan Taliban. Pakistan is advocating a reasonable share for the Afghan Taliban in the upcoming political settlement. The political owners to the anti-Taliban; anti-militancy bids have lost their significance. Security establishment makes or breaks alliances with different political parties and religio-political pressure groups regarding their short term and long term priorities and objectives. It adopts or abandons allies – embracing them at a particular time and ditching them when not needed.

Ali Arqam is a journalist based in Karachi, he can be contacted ataliarqam@hotmail.com or interacted on twitter @aliarqam