Talat Masood: Jihadi organisations not only have to be banned but demobilised and disarmed.

Confronting the reality

Monday, February 02, 2009
by Talat Masood

Pakistan is being frequently characterised as a “failed,” “failing” or at best “fragile” state. In the latest world ranking of failed states by an influential US think tank it has been placed ninth and every year or two it has been climbing a few notches. Intelligence estimates by several countries indicate serious reservations about Pakistan’s future. Of course, many among us would discard such categorization a part of a broader conspiracy by the Indo-US-Zionist lobby to undermine Pakistan. Or consider it “unfair,” as Prime Minister Gilani said at the Davos forum. The fact, however, is that alarm bells are being sounded because the world fears that a nuclear state in the midst of internal turmoil could lead to grave consequences.

Some of the country’s most crucial challenges are the rising power of Taliban in FATA and Swat, simmering nationalism in Balochistan, the faltering economy, weak state institutions and poor governance. Of foremost importance would be the quality of leadership that would be provided during these challenging times.

Each of these determinants is interlinked. For example, the rise of militancy would further push the economy into a downward spiral, which in turn would weaken governance and reduce the ability to deal with the militants. In short, failures or successes in any of these areas would be mutually reinforcing, thereby weakening or strengthening the state.

When countries are faced with major challenges political and military leaders have to lead from the front. It is indeed regrettable that our civilian leaders have not once visited FATA or Swat. For that matter, even General Musharraf, though otherwise full of bravado, never visited the troops in FATA.

Many of the rightwing political leaders and media are not prepared to own the war, and stress that it has been imposed by the US to advance its strategic interests. But the fact remains that it is now our problem. This confusion, coupled with hostility to the US, is creating misunderstanding within the leadership and the people and also raising tensions between Pakistan and the US.

Moreover, building institutional capacity is critical for the success of counterinsurgency operations. The Army and the Frontier Corps have to be further trained and equipped for counterinsurgency. There has been some progress, but a lot more has to be achieved if tribal elders and all those willing to support government efforts are to be protected and the writ of state established. The government so far has been unsuccessful in crafting political will for combating the insurgency and depends mostly on what the Americans or the army leadership has to say.

The fight against the insurgency will also require improving the economy, reforming the educational system, streamlining the Madrassa education and strengthening the judiciary and the police force. In the media war militants have proved to be highly subtle and effective. Security forces have been unable to technically jam the FM transmitters or physically destroy them making it so easy for Mullah Fazalullah to spread a reign of terror.

The quality of governance will be a major factor in shaping Pakistan’s future. Both politicians and military rulers have been smart at capturing power but unable to transform political power into good governance. The cry for Sharia and Islamic rule is a manifestation of how people have lost faith in the present system of justice and law enforcement. If the current state of governance is any indicator the future is indeed bleak. The PPP and the PML-N, the two main political parties, instead of competing in areas of governance are locked in intrigues and efforts to destabilise each other. In all fairness, the Punjab government is demonstrating the desire for improved governance, but whether it will be allowed to continue is a matter of speculation. At the centre and in the provinces there is less of institutional governance and more of ad hocism and patronage.

The external dimension is equally crucial. If we are able to normalise relations with India in the coming years it will give a huge peace dividend. Peaceful borders would mean better prospects for the economy, less expenditure on defence and more on development. It will also deprive the militant of his motivation in Punjab. But this cannot happen unless a bold and fundamental shift in the Kashmir policy takes place, in which Pakistan relies solely on diplomatic and political tools for resolving issues with India and forsakes the use of proxies. In the past non-state armed groups may have served certain foreign and strategic objectives have now become a huge liability and need to be abandoned. And jihadi organisations not only have to be banned but demobilised and disarmed.

No one expects that the multiple challenges that Pakistan faces will be resolved soon. What is needed is to set the country in the right direction and take courage’s steps to address the long standing problems, even if it means a total reversal of past policies. (The News)

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general. Email: talat@comsats. net.pk