The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.
At what point does loss of control over territory rise to a level that it becomes unacceptable for the state? Let us consider a few random events. A while back the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) slaughtered 11 soldiers of Pakistan Army, taped the massacre and released the gruesome video for public viewing. What is the impact of a harrowing event such as this on the morale of troops fighting for the Pakistani flag? Is the beheading of Pakistani soldiers at the hands of militants entrenched within our ‘sovereign’ territory acceptable damage for our military high command and political elite? Is some larger national interest being served here that the simpletons amongst us can’t fathom?
This past Monday, the TTP attacked a police check post on the Peshawar-Kohat road and killed a superintendent of police and six other officers of the police and FC. The attack reportedly lasted some three hours and the militants took away rocket launchers, Kalashnikovs and other weapons that they found at the post. But that wasn’t all. They also severed the heads of the SP and the two FC officials and took them along as trophies. How did the state respond? It announced a bravery award for the SP. How long do we expect our soldiers and police officials to exhibit the resolve to confront ruthless terrorists and risk agonising deaths when the state itself is found dithering?
We have had fearless officers like Malik Saad and Sifwat Ghayur taken out by the TTP – and the state did nothing. We have probably lost more than 500 police officers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa alone over the last decade. A few days ago a brigadier of Pakistan Army, presently serving at the ISI, was abducted from Defense Housing Authority, Islamabad in broad daylight and his driver shot. The TTP is now also threatening the ‘pro-Malala enemy media’ and has apparently prepared a hit list of journalists. These incidents are as heart wrenching as they are thought provoking.
The Pakistani state has been failing to uphold the citizens’ right to life and freedom from fear for a while. When it exhibits no determination to protect the life of those who are responsible for protecting the lives of everyone else, one wonders not just about the resolve of the state but also its capacity. If the perception that the state lacks the will and ability to fight terrorists becomes entrenched, wouldn’t rationality demand those sitting on the fence to hedge their bets and acquiesce in the agenda of terrorists?
If the state is unable or unwilling to secure life and property, wouldn’t people at some point, out of sheer necessity, switch sides and submit to the will of those capable of inflicting harm on them? Wouldn’t those who have successfully annexed state territory and possess effective control, as well as the ability to enforce their orders, emerge as the de facto sovereigns? Isn’t this what happened in Swat? And didn’t we learn from our own bitter experience that it is impossible to appease terrorists or negotiate with them and that the longer you allow them to thrive the harder it is to dislodge them?
Let’s go back to the basics of statecraft. When a citizen kills another it is murder. When the state executes a citizen in accordance with law, it is justice. When a soldier, policeman or citizen stakes their life in pursuit of declared national security or foreign policy, it is patriotism. When a citizen picks up arms to fight the state for its pursuit of stated foreign or national security policy objectives, it is treason. These are bright-line rules. You can disagree with state policy, its law and order strategies, excessive use of force or with its breach of due process and try to foster change. But you cannot declare war on the state due to disagreement.
The foundational requirements of a functional state in this context include (i) its monopoly over use of force within its territory, (ii) peoples’ acceptance of state’s monopoly over use of force (i.e. writ of the state), and (iii) state’s ability to enforce its writ and have in place a system of credible deterrence against those inclined to defy state authority. A functional state cannot share its monopoly over use of force with non-state actors or allow non-state actors to prevail upon state actors. And if it does, that marks the state’s descent into anarchy.
The Pakistani state has lost control over North Waziristan, which everyone agrees has become the den of terrorists of all hues and the staging ground for attacks across Pakistan. The opposition to retaking control of North Waziristan is mainly of two sorts: pragmatic and ideological. The pragmatists argue that blowback of retaking territory from TTP will be attacks in Pakistan’s urban centres and if public opinion and political elites aren’t ready for such a consequence, let the status quo prevail.
In other words, the network of TTP and its allies is well entrenched across Pakistan. And the Pakistani state will continue to appease the TTP and tolerate the massacre of its soldiers, policemen and citizens in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in order to keep big cities relatively safe.
On the ideological front flawed arguments are being propounded most vociferously by the PTI. It opposes the North Waziristan operation on the basis that the militant ideology and beheading brigade of TTP will vanish into thin air as soon as the US withdraws from Afghanistan. A secondary argument is that the military operation will not work since, despite superior force, the US failed to assert control over Vietnam or Afghanistan. That the US was a foreign occupation force while the Pakistani state would be reestablishing control over its own territory is simply ignored. It is further argued that just as military action is disagreeable in Karachi and Balochistan, it is disagreeable in North Waziristan.
Again, there is no appreciation that comparing Karachi or Balochistan with North Waziristan is comparing apples and oranges. Karachi is the victim of an internecine warfare between competing political parties over control for power and resources in the face of changing demographic realities. This can be resolved through the political process and a functional criminal justice system.
The grievance of Balochistan relates to its sense of being exploited and mistreated. It seeks equality, empowerment and control over its resources. The
problem is ethnic and the solution ought to be political; the matter can be resolved within the framework of our constitution.
The TTP, on the contrary, wishes to pursue its retrograde worldview inspired by its intolerant and violence-prone view of Islam through a new legal order inspired by its flawed understanding of the Shariah. In doing so it seeks to rely exclusively on cruelty and use of force. It wishes to assume control of the Pakistani state as a first step to be able to export this mission to the rest of the world. It is on the basis of this agenda that it has formed alliances with other religious militias across Pakistan. Where is the room for political settlement in any of this? Which of the TTP’s long-term demands can be accommodated by the state within our constitutional framework through talks?
Does our political and military leadership not realise that everything that TTP and its allies stand for poses an existential threat to our state and society? And yet they are more consumed by extraneous considerations such as whether uprooting TTP from North Waziristan might incidentally benefit the Americans or if denying TTP the sanctuary from where it plans and launches human bombs and beheading squads might
be a ploy to delay elections. Is it not obvious to thinking minds in khakis and civvies that we are witnessing a crumbling of the state itself? Is this one of those nightmares where your body freezes in horror when danger approaches? Why are we not waking up from his horrid dream?