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February 24, 2017

It’s the state, stupid


February 24, 2017

We are past masters at obfuscation. Dig deep and you will come across perhaps the most popular refrain in Pakistani psyche, especially in the so-called intelligentsia which must find its place by criticising the most prominent or the most powerful.

It has been a problem with this country that through a large part of its existence it was ruled by four army regimes headed by the then army chiefs. This defines the discourse that beleaguers every other aspect of nationhood. These practitioners of the freedom of expression are unable to break beyond these shackles of intellectual straitjacketing.

If earlier there was the ‘establishment’, it is now the ‘state’, without as much as a recourse to its full meaning. Referring back to Louis of France’s famous quote, ‘I am the state’, they are insidious enough to mimic the conditions today as they were in Louis’ France. So today when the state is so frequently quoted as being primarily responsible for everything in Pakistan – from a failed polity to a disappointing economy, to an imploding society, the failure in essence to their understanding is of the army which they are now happy to camouflage as the state. Such disingenuousness knows no bounds. As a consequence, unless you diagnose well you can’t treat well. Our malaise persists.

When the last week brought, once again, unbearable pain and sadness to this nation through terror, and the nation – not the state – responded as it did, there began the familiar litany of refrains questioning why the ‘state’ had to resort to such aggression in Afghanistan. While some feared another blowback, others were concerned of reprisals bordering on Afghanistan’s increased anger, and yet others feared a lack of democratic input into deciding whether the across-the-border actions against the terror groups should have at all been conducted.     These came with strange logic. While we bled and exploded, we were asked to first rectify policies which to the uninitiated refers again to how ‘what the army had sown in the past in the name of ‘strategic depth’ and ‘religious warriors’ was now coming home to roost’.

That the religious warrior was in fact a Reaganite conception, and ‘strategic depth’ is a fertile mind’s imagination – foolishly becoming legit in discourse because of attempts at explaining that no such thing existed giving it life and currency. So some of us in the know continue to fight an illusion that is entrenched in this part of society as a fact without basis. But it keeps the state in play while ushering in intellectual disharmony resulting in social fragmentation. That the nation then lacks unity of purpose even if it be against something as dastardly as fighting terror becomes the unfortunate consequence. The charade thus goes on.

Pakistan has around three million Afghans now on its territories, probably more but those are by now assimilated into the social fabric inalterably impacting its character. They are also voters now of some key Pakhtun political leaders who may have had some significant say in first getting them their acquired nationhood. Some of these leaders are now shying away from a pending census, lest the impostors be found out and their vote-base restricted. Three million Afghans – a reasonable guess given some credibility and wider acceptance – who are still Afghans are now spread from the north to the south, just as they are from eastern Afghanistan to every nook of Punjab and Sindh.

For centuries people of the northern prairies, which form most of Central Asia and large tracts of China, Russia and Mongolia, and of course the parched highlands of Afghanistan have descended down the hills to the fertile valleys of the Indus River system.  Many decades back, when I used to live in the village, Afghans were a usual sight living in their thatched ‘kullis’ around villages. Their presence was initially seasonal, finding permanence later. They would seek alms, mostly food, as our grandmothers referred to them as ‘kullivas’ and their women as ‘battiliani’. The latter I feel was probably for the Kalash women who descended down to the plains to escape their winters.

What we see in the presence of some of the        five million or thereabouts Afghans who have milled about us in the last four decades is that they have occupied spaces and businesses and lands. Not all of them are abettors and facilitators of the terror attacks but it goes without saying that those who end up being used for the purpose unfortunately are found to have some hand in this game of death.

The Afghans have always had a special fraternity with Pakistanis and a lot that is usually said from across the border is overlooked here as rants of a frustrated and a distressed leadership. But now the cost of such tolerance is being paid in blood forcing Pakistan to defend itself from the ravages of such cavalierism practised as policy by Afghanistan. Be it strict border management or eventually direct engagement of those who have launched a malicious assault against Pakistan it is a part of keeping Pakistan and its people safe from an imposed war with motives to enervate Pakistan and impose a two-front situation.

Pakistan’s real and present danger remains the terror groups ensconced in the safety of Afghanistan. In the absence of zero capacity or willingness shown by the Afghan leadership to control such malice, Pakistan has been pushed to tackle the groups by itself. Given last week’s developments – with almost daily terror attacks owned by each of these terror groups – it is obvious that what was beyond the capacity of Afghanistan to handle must now be engaged by Pakistan.

This is a major change in Pakistan’s policy on terror – making Pakistan-specific terror groups the target of Pakistan’s offensive-defence. How will Afghanistan settle with it?          It surely wasn’t an easy decision to take given that Pakistan had always shown great tolerance to Afghan excesses whether those be in the context of the border or in giving space to Pakistan-specific intelligence and terror groups on its soil.  India’s RAW is known to be using Afghan soil to impose on Pakistan the second front through sub-national war using terror as a tool. This has been proclaimed by India’s current NSA, Ajit Doval.

Also, the majority of the areas where terror groups lie, whether targeting Pakistan or Afghanistan, happen to be outside the remit of Afghan control despite being within their borders. That practically makes the option of direct engagement by us a Hobbesian choice. It may not appease the proud Afghans right away but they just might understand the immense constraints that forced Pakistan into this.        


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