Thoughts on the way forward
MILITANCY is tearing away at the vitals of Pakistan, defacing it. Further procrastination in attending to it cannot be.
There are just two options. We can either challenge the militants physically to regain control over the territory lost to them or we can negotiate with them and hope this delivers better results than earlier attempts did.
As someone who strongly believes that the mess we are in today is largely of the military’s making, one feels it must fall on the army leadership’s shoulders to lead the way to safer shores.
As a first step, the army may wish to hold an internal debate and decide whether it considers US drone attacks on Pakistani territory a low-cost (in terms of money and our soldiers’ lives) weapon that has taken out some of the country’s worst enemies, mass murderers.
Or whether it considers the continued use of drone attacks by the US as an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty that has to stop, especially since these cause civilian casualties too. Drones here of course can be taken as a microcosm of the gamut of military relations between the two countries.
This clarity is vital because ever since the first example of drone activity over Pakistan in the mid-2000s the government of the day (first the Musharraf administration and then the current government) and the military have decried the attacks.
This has done two things. It has reinforced the impression, perhaps rightly, of the US as an arrogant, uncaring power that doesn’t even entertain the objections of a major ally on such an issue and has contributed to the spiralling anti-US sentiment.
With all public opinion surveys suggesting that the US is the most disliked foreign power in Pakistan, it is not a step too far to say that any government and/or the military that is seen as allied too closely with the US is to be despised too.
A duplicitous official policy has left us with very few options to exercise. We have ended up alienating our supposed allies and simultaneously our own people merely because we have failed to inform them properly.
There should be a cost-benefit analysis of going one way or the other and decisions made on an informed, transparent basis so the people can understand why a certain decision was preferable/preferred over others and buy into it.
Wikileaks demonstrated we have been saying one thing to the Americans and the rest of the world and the opposite to our own people. This is a recipe for disaster and must stop immediately.
There are those who believe militancy in the country is only because of Pakistan’s support to the US-led ‘war on terror’.
If this view is shared by the majority of political forces in the country including those in government, then it is incumbent on us to openly debate all the pros and cons of our current policy. The people have a right to know all possible repercussions before a policy change.
Armed with all the facts, if the people want a change no matter how dramatic, a change it shall have to be.
Army chief Gen Kayani as recently as mid-August this year described the war against militancy as Pakistan’s own war. He also said there was no room for an armed minority to force its will on the rest in a civilised society.
The Swat attack on Malala Yousufzai, the continued desecration of Sufi shrines, the extermination of anyone opposing the Taliban in the areas under their control, the murder of Shias in Kurram Agency and elsewhere are but some reminders of the evil that stalks us.
Do we need to wait till the next round of beheadings of our security personnel by the Taliban or the next suicide bombing to act?
Those committed to the creation of an Islamic emirate go about their business ruthlessly. Our response cannot be inertia.
It is up to the military planners to decide whether a march on the remaining sanctuaries of the militants from where they plan and direct operations against us is a better option or relentless special operations to break the back of the monster we have created are more effective.
We may not have the means, need or the desire to take on the Haqqani network, given our goals in Afghanistan. But if their militant attacks in Afghanistan are traced back to North Waziristan Agency surely our sovereignty claim is undermined.
Do we have enough influence with them to persuade them not to launch attacks on Afghanistan, particularly if we opt out of the alliance with the US as any attack across the border will probably lead to military reprisals?
As we deliberate over strategy that may dictate whether we survive or become a basket case at the mercy of marauding hordes of religious zealots, we need also to consider all scenarios and possibilities including failed negotiations.
Gen Kayani ought to take the initiative and brief all key political forces in the country on why he says the war against the militants is our war. He should be open and honest about the strengths and weaknesses of the machine he commands and list his challenges too.
At the same time the government, the ECP and, if need be, the judiciary and the military too should spell out their commitment to national elections on time so the fears of some parties are addressed. They fear action against militants will lead to a poll postponement.
Some of these parties will have to rethink their policy of appeasing the extremists too, because once, and if, the militant sanctuaries are cleared, we’ll need to cleanse the many hearts and minds of the toxic intolerance that poses an equally potent threat to the fabric of our society.
These were some random thoughts. The situation is critical. No one can claim a monopoly over ideas. Let’s pool, crystallise all proposals and move. Sitting around waiting for a miracle will push us deeper into the hole we have dug for ourselves.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.