Wednesday February 28, 2024

Course correction

March 24, 2016

Long overdue course correction by our state seems to have finally begun, and it encompasses at least three major areas: extremism, India and Karachi. On this score, the new policy on extremism stands out as having made more progress than anything else.

From Zia’s era to the Army Public School (APS) tragedy, for around thirty five years, the state’s policy of using extremism as a tool to build militant groups remained intact, despite the heavy toll it took during the last decade. The policy – flawed from the very beginning – was devised by the powerful establishment that has remained in control throughout.

Three foreign policy objectives were to be achieved by using the militant groups as proxies: providing guerrilla troops to the US in its Afghan war with the USSR, containing the Iranian revolution from spilling over to Pakistan, and liberating Kashmir from India. The policy proved effective on the first two counts but at an alarmingly high price. But on the third count, after recording some initial successes, it started to backfire. This policy was a problem rather than a solution.

But change of heart finally happened after the APS massacre, when our army was shaken from within. A consensus emerged that extremism had to be contained and militant groups had to be done away with. Since then, our forces have crushed militancy and have taken over the headquarters of the umbrella terrorist group, the TTP, in Waziristan. The sectarian proxies have been eliminated en masse in ‘police encounters’. The elite police force guard who riddled Salmaan Taseer with bullets has been hanged, disregarding the fact that he had already inspired a newer form of extremism. The abducted son of the slain governor, Shahbaz Taseer, has been recovered safe and sound.

Progressive legislation for women’s rights, declared un-Islamic by the conservative clergy, has been passed. And because of all these actions, religious hysteria has started giving way to moderation and normalcy.

General Zia’s policy of using militant proxies to secure the liberation of Kashmir is also undergoing a shift. After India and Pakistan went openly nuclear, continuing this policy was suicidal. After 9/11, the issue of militancy no longer remained bilateral; it had gone global, with enormous ramifications for Pakistan. Even then, there were attacks on the Indian parliament and in Mumbai, bringing the two nuclear states to the brink of war.

When state control was returned to the constitutional civilian positions after the Musharraf fiasco, some rationality in the India policy was expected. When the current regime took power, there was a clear stance of improving ties with India. After some hiccups, the Nawaz regime is now appearing comfortable with this policy and showing clear signs of having won over the military.

The Pathankot attack, after the miraculous Nawaz-Modi meeting in Lahore, has proved to be a vestige of the old policy. An FIR was lodged in Gujranwala, heralding the new shift in policy. The sharing of intelligence by Pakistan that ten militants of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammad had entered India also reflects the changing mood on relations with India.

But will all that make India revisit its policy of fostering an anti-Pakistan terrorist support base in Afghanistan? After the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Pakistan has again been compelled to restate its earlier position that India is a bigger threat than terrorism.

The unrest in Karachi started when General Zia started nurturing a political proxy, on the premise of mohajir nationalism, to counter the surge in its Sindhi counterpart, after he shamelessly hanged the elected Sindhi prime minister. A gun culture was also introduced to the mohajir nationalists. This, over time, turned Karachi into one of the most dangerous cities of the world. Twenty to thirty deaths became the daily average, but the establishment continued to use this dangerous entity to maintain its grip on the politics of Pakistan.

The mayhem in Karachi had long reached its limit before the current political and military leadership decided to pick up the gauntlet. A sustained operation has finally brought terrorist groups, the Lyari gang and the MQM’s target killers under state control. So far so good. But the sudden launch of Mustafa Kamal and Anees Qaimkhani smacks of the machinations of unseen hands that have been launching and dismantling political proxies – the same proxies that got us into this mess in the first place. By rushing into the domain of politics yet again, the establishment seems to have learnt nothing from its earlier misadventures. This move may nullify all the successes of the army, the Rangers and other law-enforcement agencies in improving the law and order situation in Karachi.

Any planted political solution for Karachi can plunge the city into a new phase of instability, if not outright bloodbath.

The writer is a former diplomat and

currently practices law.