Sunday May 22, 2022

A welcome resolution

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He is a Rhodes scholar and has an LL.M from Harvard Law S

October 25, 2008
The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. He is a Rhodes scholar and has an LL.M from Harvard Law School

The Parliament has spoken with one voice against the grave threat of terrorism that imperils Pakistan. The press and the people have generally welcomed the resolution as a step forward in our collective effort to build a homegrown anti-terror policy that is less divisive and gives moral clarity and logical consistency to Pakistan's fight against crippling violence. The PPP-led government must heed this resolution that unequivocally calls for a review of the existing anti-terror policy. It goes further and provides the contours within which a new policy should be articulated. Once dissected without being dismissive, the 14 points of the resolution identify at least six principles to guide the government in devising an indigenous anti-terror policy, prescribe a mechanism to facilitate the evolution of this policy, and provide pointers with regard to the preferred strategies to be incorporated into a new policy.

The resolution calls for an anti-terror policy that doesn't fall foul of the following principles: One, Pakistan must have zero-tolerance for all manifestation of terrorism; two, the country must pursue an independent foreign policy; three, territorial integrity be safeguarded and the government must strongly resist foreign incursions into Pakistani territory; four, Pakistan must respect the sovereignty of other states by not allowing its territory to provide sanctuary for militants launching attacks on neighbours; five, the state should negotiate with those militants willing to abide by the Constitution of Pakistan and respect the rule of the land; six, violence must be routed with a resolve to address its root causes--i.e., (i) by strengthening the federation on the basis of democratic pluralism, social justice, religious tolerance and equitable resource sharing, and (ii) by creating economic opportunities for the less privileged and

redistribute national resources to address entrenched grievances.

The resolution further identifies strategies likely to give effect to the principles highlighted above: one, it calls for a policy that over time aims to replace deployment of the army in the troubled areas with civilian law enforcement agencies equipped with the capacity and skill-set to undertake counter-insurgency operations; two, in carrying out operations against insurgents, preference is to be given to operational tactics that protect civilian non-combatants; three, the government must support victims of violence, by rehabilitating those displaced due to military operations and compensating those harmed by terrorist attacks; and four, Pakistan's strategic interests should be furthered by deploying soft power and enhancing trade activity on the eastern and western borders.

Dialogue and not use of force has been identified by the Parliament as the "principle instrument of conflict management and resolution." The resolution implores the government to create genuine stakeholders in peace by building consensus through dialogue, and for that purpose utilise customary consultative mechanisms (such as jirgas) on the one hand, and involve the media and religious scholars/ulema on the other. And most importantly, the resolution empowers the Speaker to constitute a new parliamentary committee for ongoing review of our state of insurgency and to monitor the government's implementation of the guidelines provided in the resolution. This oversight mechanism is certainly a giant step forward in terms of the Parliament taking ownership of its responsibility to function as a check on exercise of executive authority and ensure that its advice and direction is heeded.

However, there are a few additional issues that should have been raised and addressed by the Parliament in its resolution. While there is language about the need to develop stakes in regional peace through trade, the resolution does not articulate a desirable vision for the future of Afghanistan that could be shared by other regional actors. The insurgency in Pakistan is rooted in a diverse range of factors mostly of our own making. However, the US invasion of Afghanistan and the continuing conflict on our western border certainly continues to catalyse and reinvigorate the insurgents in our tribal belt. While much more can be done to contain the insurgency and its violent effects across Pakistan, it is unrealistic to hope that the fires of hate and vengeance raging in our tribal areas can be put out without finding a lasting solution to the Afghan imbroglio.

And such a solution cannot be devised unless regional actors that have a stake and a role in Afghanistan – Pakistan, Iran and India – can develop a shared vision about the future of the country. Pakistan does not want a Northern Alliance-dominated, permanently antagonistic Afghanistan on its western border that could be used by India to fan separatist movements in the NWFP and Balochistan. Iran doesn't want the return of an obscurantist Taliban regime controlling Afghanistan that massacres the country's Shiite minority and becomes a menace for Iran. And, likewise, India doesn't want an Afghanistan dominated by a Taliban-style regime that converts the country into Pakistan's backyard and fosters militants who wish to carry out jihad in Indian Kashmir.

And yet, a stable and sustainable government cannot be formed in Kabul unless it is pluralistic in nature and represents all stakeholders within Afghanistan, including the Taliban. If India and Iran continue to push for a Northern Alliance-controlled Afghanistan and Pakistan secretly wishes for the triumph and return of the Taliban, Afghanistan will continue to bleed, and so will Pakistan and the rest of the region. It is time for the regional actors to give up their Plan A's and build consensus around a Plan B that is least threatening for all regional actors and is in the best interest of Afghanistan and its people.

The continuing Afghan war and the insurgency in Pakistan have thrown up a challenge for regional peace that can be transformed into an opportunity for regional cooperation. This would require a rethink of the traditional security doctrines of Pakistan, India and Iran and the strategies deployed to pursue the perceived strategic interests. But it can be done. It would thus have been helpful had our Parliament vowed to review not only our existing anti-terror policy but also our misconceived security doctrine that gave birth to our anti-terror policy post-9/11, and before that sowed the seeds of extremism and militancy (inspired by obscurantist religious fervour) that is now threatening to shake the foundations of Pakistan.

In translating the rhetoric of parliamentary sovereignty into a meaningful concept, our legislature is confronted with at least three challenges: capacity to meaningfully review executive policies and actions; resolve to get its directives implemented; and ability to rise above partisan interests. The criticism that the language of the resolution is vague is a legitimate one. But it reflects the lack of Parliament's institutional capacity to undertake analysis and its documentation. If the Parliament wishes itself to be taken seriously and curtail the ability of the executive to get away with paying lip-service to parliament's instructions, it needs the ability to not only critique government policies but also provide feasible and considered alternatives. Setting up a dedicated research service for parliamentarians and establishing procedures for commissioning policy proposals and expert analyses are obvious ways to build capacity.

For example, the parliamentary resolution states that strategies avoiding casualties to non-combatants in the anti-terror policy are to be preferred. To give it effect, the military should rely on artillery and not air force in fighting the insurgency within Pakistan. This might cause greater loss of military personnel but less civilian casualties. This recommendation is based on sound principle: that the state must value the lives of all citizens equally and the armed forces and not civilians should assume the collateral risks of an insurgency within Pakistan. But such a recommendation must also be backed by detailed factual analysis regarding the expected number of troops that would need to be deployed in the tribal areas to pursue such strategy and how that would impact the protection of our eastern borders.

Despite some vagueness, the Parliament's intent is also explicit in some regards. We must pursue an independent foreign policy that furthers Pakistan's national interest and not just panders to the whims of an incumbent US administration. The government must prohibit and guard against US incursions into Pakistani territory – such as recurring drone attacks – that are not only devoid of legal mandate but also dilute the nation's resolve to confront the scourge of homebred violence by confusing this fight with the US war on terror. We must rethink our national security doctrine and shelve all covert projects that support or condone use of non-state actors or jihadis for pursuit of Pakistan's security interests in foreign territories. And while we must use dialogue for conflict resolution, such dialogue must take place within the four corners of the Constitution of Pakistan and not by carving out a distinct legal or religious order for the tribal areas.

This is a tall order, but the ultimate test of the usefulness of the exercise undertaken by the Parliament over the last two weeks lies in the implementation of the resolution. Empty talk will only add to the cynicism that is already plaguing the faith of our nation in its ability to weather this storm caused by internal discord and external dependency.