Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Building a national consensus against insurgency, by Lt Talat Masood

Building a national consensus against insurgency

By Lt Talat Masood   Published: June 4, 2014
The political parties, while formulating their policy on dealing with the insurgency in Fata, ironically, seem to mirror the present TTP position where the Mehsud’s Sajna group is willing to engage with the government and the other Sheryar group is not. Among the political parties, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Jamaat-i-Islami are opposed to any military action. The PML-N, although it has not made it public, seems to have given its consent to the military to launch limited operations. The PPP, the ANP and the MQM, however, feel that if the TTP fails to respond to talks then military action is justified.
The PTI and others opposed to military operations argue that the government should learn from history and not repeat the same mistake that was committed by the British, the Soviets and the Americans, who failed to subjugate the tribes militarily. The parallels drawn are not valid as Pakistan is not an occupying power and the government has an obligation to protect its people. Even in Fata, which is still governed by the Frontier Crimes Regulations (FCR) and not by common law, the state retains monopoly of violence and cannot abdicate its responsibility of protecting its citizens.
Moreover, the TTP has already destroyed the entire structure of the traditional society of Fata. They have, through a well-planned strategy, murdered the Maliks by the hundreds, demolished the age-old customs of Jirga and Pukhtunwali, challenged the authority of the political administration and are forcibly trying to impose their rigid interpretation of faith in the area. Even the clergy are not spared by the TTP that differ from their concept of faith. It is, however, also true that the importance of elders had also been reduced by the presence of the army.
Those opposed to military operations perhaps, are missing the fundamental point that it is the TTP that has waged war not only against the state, but also against the people and if a military operation is undertaken, it will be to prevent them from imposing their brand of faith and governance and to re-establish the writ of the state. Moreover, proponents of dialogue continue to maintain that negotiations are the only solution to the current security situation in Fata. But it is not clear if they have any red lines. It would be unrealistic that the state remain an idle spectator and at the mercy of the other side. In fact, this would imply that if negotiations fail, the state should prefer to cede territory rather than fight to regain it.
Clearly, for any government to launch a military operation against its own people is the most difficult decision. Despite all the precautions taken in terms of ensuring accurate intelligence and use of most precise weapons, the possibility of collateral damage remains. The other sad aspect of military operations is mass displacement of people from tribal areas, creating enormous hardship and sociological problems. Apart from the backlash from the TTP, the other major factor that has prevented the launch of a major operation, is the second round of the Afghan presidential election and the absence of any assurance from the Afghan side of preventing the militants from escaping into adjoining Afghan provinces.
Probably, after weighing all options, the government seems to have decided to allow the army to undertake limited but robust operations in North Waziristan and other agencies of Fata. The main target will be the splinter TTP Sheryar group and Uzbeks, Uighurs and foreign elements that are operating under the umbrella of the TTP.
Nonetheless, the government sooner or later will have to decide on establishing its full writ in North Waziristan, which in a way has become the capital of terrorist activity. Taking military action against your own people is a difficult decision especially in a complex situation as we face now. Then there is a question of capacity as well as commitment to undertake a military operation in North Waziristan. The PTI’s reservations are also understandable as it is the front line state that has suffered the most and continues to bear the brunt. But there comes a time in the life of nations when its leadership has to bite the bullet in the long-term interest of its people. How long can Pakistan tolerate the presence of foreign militant groups operating from its soil that openly violate its sovereignty? The army has no doubt tolerated them and even at times, lived side by side with them and with some militant groups, shared its strategic and tactical objectives. But both the external and internal environment is undergoing a major change and Pakistan has to adjust to this reality.
Moreover, border management is the key to stability. To make matters worse, Afghan’s do not recognise the Durrand Line as the boundary between the two countries. If Pakistan fails to wrest control over the border then the situation would become even more fluid and chaotic. The sanctuaries in North Waziristan have become launching pads for attacking Afghan forces and government establishments and also targeting cities and military establishments within Pakistan. This has also led to Afghanistan giving refuge to militant leaders like Fazlullah and others to use their adjoining provinces for launching retaliatory attacks. This has increased Pakistan’s vulnerability both from within and from neighbouring countries. The tribes of Waziristan that are living on both sides of the border felt strongly fighting the foreign invaders, but with the withdrawal of US and Nato forces that provocation is not present now.
Moreover, no state will allow an alien ideology to be imposed on its people that are at cross-purposes with the ideals of the state and the foundations of its Constitution. In many ways, Pakistan is fighting a battle for its soul on many fronts, including the one on its Western borders. What sort of country it wants to be will ultimately depend on whether it will choose the path of modernity blending it with its proud religious ethos or prefer an inward regressive isolationism. Has our leadership grasped the intricacies of this complex dynamics?
Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2014.
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