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January 4, 2015



When leaders get confused

It has taken them more days than the duration of our September 1965 war with India to now decide to amend the constitution to provide for trial of terror suspects by military courts. This is manifestly a deviation from constitutional and democratic principles that are passionately prescribed for the survival of Pakistan.
So, where are we headed in this war against terrorism? It is truly unfortunate that the civilian leadership has submitted to a new version of the doctrine of necessity, even if it is for two years. Constitutional implications of the decision endorsed on Friday by the All-Parties Conference convened by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will gradually unfold. An immediate reaction can only be of sorrow and regret – unless one’s judgement is blinded by the fury of popular emotions rooted in an intolerant environment.
In this process, we are being injected by the same emotions and biases that we need to fight against. Yet it is the general mood of the public, in the face of the Peshawar massacre, that has allowed the government to lift the moratorium on executions and amend the constitution without any sober reflection on how far these devices would go in defeating an enemy that “lives within us and looks like us”.
One measure of our sense of direction and our strategy in dealing with this existential threat of terrorism is the image that has been created of what our rulers have been doing for about twenty days after that ignominious event in Peshawar. They have huddled together to chart out an action plan and find consensus on such matters as the formation of special courts.
In any case, the dominant impression is that of men of decision sitting on a table, talking. Mostly, they have been chewing the cud in terms of articulating the urgency of finally exterminating the menace of terrorism in all its guises. No discrimination between the good and the bad Taliban this time, we are assured. Besides, the war is also against the

sympathisers and apologists of the terrorists.
But what has actually happened on what may be described as the battlefields of this essentially a complex enterprise? For instance, the National Action Plan refers to sectarian terrorism and to hotbeds of militancy in Punjab. What action has taken place on these fronts? On the other hand, the government has not had the courage to deal with the imam of Lal Masjid. There is little evidence yet of a decisive change of course in the context of the vows that have been taken.
In a war, you are compelled to do things on a war footing. There has to be a sense of movement, of campaigns being launched almost instantly. For our civilian rulers, here was an opportunity to show dynamism and courage to move forward like a hurricane. Just imagine the magnitude of the provocation that the terrorists had provided with their pitiless massacre of our schoolchildren and their teachers. Stories that are told of how it happened would stand out in the annals of barbarity in world history.
At a human level, the entire nation was shaken by the tragedy. It was natural to be overwhelmed with grief. However, the rulers are not expected to become emotionally immobilised, even if momentarily, by any momentous national emergency. In fact, contingency plans to go after the militants and the extremists must have been ready, given the fact that a military operation in North Waziristan had continued for some months and had severely hurt the terrorists.
What we have had, instead, would raise serious questions about the capacity of our leadership to fully grasp the nature of the crisis that Pakistan confronts at this time. One basic problem is that the military is seen to be in the driving seat and this has camouflaged the supplementary campaign that is necessary to make the Pakistani society more human and intellectually capable of defeating the Taliban mindset.
I admit to being encouraged by the resolve expressed by our civilian and army leadership to root out terrorism and militancy from Pakistan. Some aspects of the National Action Plan inspired hope that Pakistan can change in the direction of a liberal and progressive dispensation because an analysis of how militancy has grown in this country would inevitably raise the issue of the relationship between state and religion. For a congenital pessimist that I am, this was a reason to breathe again.
There is, I believe, still some hope that promises made in the National Action Plan will not be abandoned. It was a great sense of relief that Nawaz Sharif spoke about sectarian terrorism and invoked the plight of the Hazara community in Quetta. But why has he been waiting to dismantle the outfits engaged in sectarian killings that are based in Punjab? After all, their identity is well established.
Similarly, no concerted action has yet been initiated against madressahs that nurture militants. Elaborate intelligence reports on all seminaries are bound to be available. Surprising it is but there is this example of the ability of the high officials to lose their bearing when dealing with this problem, apparently because of their ideological leanings.
Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar was reported to have said that 90 percent of madressahs have no link with terrorism. He obviously meant to allay fears that religious schools were a breeding ground for militancy. That is how his statement may have been accepted. But read it again. What he said amounted to confessing that there was a problem with ten percent of the madressahs. And my God, ten percent is a high figure when you have more than 2,000 or even about 3,000 madressahs in the country. Can you live with more than 200 madressahs that may have something to do with terrorism? When you know this, what has been done about it?
The message here is obvious. Our leaders are confused, even when they profess that these extraordinary times require extraordinary action. They remain prisoners of their own conservative and, to some extent, obscurantist worldview. Pakistan cannot change if its leaders cannot change and learn from realities that are staring them in the face. That is how they are themselves eager to give in on military courts.
Nawaz Sharif may have been politically astute to seek a consensus on the plan to fight terrorism, irrespective of the fact that some leaders of religious parties that are openly on the other side of the divide are also there. But he also needs to talk to scholars, social scientists and civil society activists because it is the Pakistani society that has to be protected and transformed.
The writer is a staff member.
Email: [email protected]