Nature of the threat
FROM Peshawar to Mastung, with Quetta and Karachi thrown in to add to the toll of blood and gore, the country has endured another weekend of tragedy and violence. Policemen, Levies personnel, Shia pilgrims and, it seems, ordinary travellers — the range of targets was diverse, as are the likely groups involved in the killings. Unsurprisingly, but dispiritingly as ever, the response of state and society has been relatively muted, almost a collective shrug of helplessness and confusion. Meanwhile, militant conglomerates like the TTP seem to mock the Pakistani state with their arrogant offers of talks that are thinly guised terms of surrender by the state.
Can state and society here come together and understand the nature of the threat in their midst? Part of the problem at present is that many strands of the threat are shadowy and amorphous. In Balochistan, the suspicion for Sunday’s attack on the bus convoy carrying Shia pilgrims will immediately fall on Lashkar-i-Jhangvi — but who is the face of the LJ in Balochistan? There is none, just a group of killers who may number a few dozen or several hundred. In a society where so many overlapping strands of violence exist, the seeds of doubt and confusion in the public imagination are buried deep and are difficult to dislodge. Meanwhile, in Karachi, militant activities have picked up in recent months, but little is known publicly about these groups and their leaders. Adding to the confusion, authorities have yet to establish if the Karachi bus was bombed or exploded because of a faulty gas cylinder.
But the failure in creating public awareness of the militant threat is necessarily the state’s. When Maulana Fazlullah was in territorial control of Swat and Baitullah Mehsud was in control of South Waziristan Agency and swathes of Fata, the threat was obvious — Pakistan had physically lost control of parts of its territory to armed groups seeking to overthrow the state — and the symbols of defiance well known: Maulana Radio, Sufi Mohammad and Baitullah Mehsud. This time round, with North Waziristan Agency and the Tirah valley under the virtual control of militant groups, the state has failed to take the extra steps necessary to bring these more remote areas to national attention for the right reasons, i.e. building a consensus to fight militancy. North Waziristan has infamously become tied up with the American demand to ‘do more’ rather than be recognised for a more relevant reason: it is the single greatest threat to the stability and security of the country. The state, both the security establishment and the civilian-led parts, cannot expect the public to understand the nature of a threat that is kept hidden from them.