December 16: critical reflections

December 17,2015

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Imtiaz Alam

Woh Jo Ashab I Tabal o Ilm Ke Daron Per Kitab Aur Qalam Ka Taqaza Lye, Hath Phailaye Ponchay, Magar Lot Ker Ghar Na Aye – Faiz

Recalling the massacre of our beloved children on December 16 last year is still a nightmare. Even more debilitating is to recall those butchers who slaughtered these innocent souls in the name of faith. We should be ashamed as a nation for having passively watched the proliferation of such terrorists as our ‘idols’ and ‘security assets’.

The December 16 human tragedy should remind us of our share of crime against humanity, including our own, and make us reverse Gen Zia’s paradigm of jihad and all our murderous ideologies.

The four decades of grooming the nurseries of terrorism and using these marauders for dubious security purposes turned out to be our most perverse national security fiasco. For too long our many sectarian religious leaders continued to poison our beliefs and misguide us about a faith that calls the murder of one person as the murder of all humanity. Although this most bloody tragedy woke up the nation too late, it forced the national leadership in January 2015 to agree on a National Action Plan (NAP) to eradicate religious extremism and terrorism.

One year is too short a time to tame the spectre of religious extremism hovering all over the land of the pure, its offshoot (terrorism) in particular. Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan and in other terrorist sanctuaries of our north-western tribal belt, as we are assured by the ISPR tweets, has achieved 95 percent of its objectives. Regardless of the ISPR’s victorious proclamations, the situation – in military terms – seem to have remarkably changed as larger incidents of terrorism have been dramatically curtailed, even though we observe little change in our over-extended and certain mischievous security paradigms.

If it was so easy for a steadfast Gen Raheel Sharif to restore the shattered writ of the state, then why were his predecessors sleeping over the no less gory innumerable tragedies that we had to suffer so helplessly for over a decade?

The whole of the national political leadership, with the exception of a few, set the direction for all the institutions of the state to implement a 20-point National Action Plan and the armed forces got into top gear to eradicate the menace of terrorism. They deserve laurels for their tremendous sacrifices and achievements.

But more than the armed cure for the terrorist menace, which was an easy and straight part, the real critique was to be made at the ideological, religious, academic, cultural and societal levels of religious/sectarian extremism that drives our impressionable youth to the fanatic blindness of committing bloody fasad-fil-arz against humanity – which is forbidden by the Quran – and destructive suicide (khud-kushi), which is haram in Islam.

Parliament, through the 21st Amendment, unambiguously proscribed terrorism in the name of religion and sect. And with a pinch of salt, it allowed the deviation from the spirit of the constitution by sanctioning military courts for two years. In its exceptional discretion, the Supreme Court of Pakistan allowed what should have been ideally forbidden in a republic.

This was ostensibly done to compensate for the sins and shortcomings of the investigation, prosecution and adjudication processes to bring the terrible killers to prompt justice by the courts-martial that were allowed to prosecute the civilians or enemy-aliens. Similarly, the embargo on hangings was relaxed to bring the killers of humanity to the gallows; it was not meant for ordinary criminals to be swiftly hanged. The antiterrorism laws and criminal procedures were amended to facilitate speedy trials and legalise detentions.

No doubt short-term military gains are remarkable, the softer and long-terms measures in civilian spheres, including ideological, educational, religious, administrative and cultural arenas, seem to either b ignored or dealt with casually. The government failed to activate the National Counter-terrorism Authority (Nacta), create an intelligence-sharing body for coordinated action, and take forward the establishment of Rapid Deployment Forces (RDFs). It also conveniently allowed banned sectarian and terrorist outfits to work under new names or behind the façade of welfare or relief work, and hesitated to thoroughly investigate and reform seminaries and effectively suppress hate-speech/literature.

After a successful drive against criminals and terrorists for over two years with the backing of the Sindh government, the operation in Karachi is losing its credibility by deviating from its original terrorism-specific mandate and turning its guns towards political parties that have been steadfastly standing against terrorism.

In Balochistan, the ongoing military operation continued unabated – not primarily focusing on the strategic objective of pursuing reconciliation with the militants and overcoming the alienation of the Baloch people. It seems as though the smaller provinces are the Dar-ul-Harab (land of war) and Punjab is Dar-ul-Aman (land of peace) – raising questions about the even-handedness of the countrywide ‘operation cleanup’.

During the course of this fateful operation, if the armed forces have played a very laudable and significant role in military terms, they had the solid backing of the national consensus and all civilian stakeholders. The civilian side, however, showed an inherent systemic weakness in handling this unconventional warfare. This has led to some irritations in civil-military relations which do not augur well for the overall performance of the war against terrorism. It needs greater attention to civilian tasks, which only civilians can perform not men-in-uniform (who are not trained for ideological, political, civilian and cultural tasks).

Nor should the armed forces be diverted from their military tasks and over-extend themselves trying to fill the relative civilian void. Keeping the armed forces on board, the elected leadership should provide the lead in evolving and implementing an agenda of ideological, political and cultural change that suits a democratic, tolerant and inclusive Pakistan. For the success of our existential war against religious extremism and terrorism, it is necessary that Pakistan must revise its foreign and security policies that have brought us into conflict with all our neighbours.

What is missing in NAP is the effort to build a humanist and democratic counter-narrative against religious/sectarian extremism/terrorism and anarchist jihadi paradigms. Without defeating the extremist religious narrative and reversing the militarist paradigms that patronised and groomed private militias as a tool of achieving misconceived security and foreign policy objectives, the temporary gains achieved by civil and military authorities cannot be sustained in the long run.

The ideology of the state and nation-building has to be drastically revised to strengthen a tolerant, enlightened, democratic and pluralist Pakistan for all Pakistanis without any discrimination on whatever ground. A tall order indeed.

But there is no alternative to changing Pakistan from a national security and religious state to an inclusive and democratic state with a sustainable economy. A Pakistan that provides equity and social security to its people and is at peace with itself and its neighbours.

The writer is a political analyst.


Twitter: ImtiazAlamSAFMA


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