Wednesday July 17, 2024

 The national insecurity plan

By Madiha Tahir & Mahvish Ahmad
January 27, 2016

NAP is neither a plan, nor particularly national. It excludes what ails most of the population, while ethnically and economically profiling and targeting the most vulnerable.

Consider, first of all, that Pakistan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Half of the children who die before the age of 5, die of malnutrition, and there are anywhere between 9 and 11 million child labourers. Their lives and deaths are not considered worthy of our national attention in any state-led action plan.

Instead, our government and security officials have presented us with anti-terrorism directives so broad that they have been used to justify everything – from hanging people, many of whom are charged with murder not terrorism, to arresting political activists opposing the demolition of the homes of poor Pakhtuns in the capital’s katchi abadis.

This is not merely a question of neglect but rather two opposing visions of security. The first, in refusing the paradigm of ‘terrorism’, foregrounds the structural inequalities that lead to mass death – whether that is from the working conditions of brick-kiln workers or the total lack of access to basic healthcare for the vast majority of the population. It says that these forms of death are unacceptable. It says that this, too, is a form of killing.

The second vision, the one that makes the headlines daily, understands security merely as protection from acts of terror by private actors. The spectacle of these attacks has engendered a sense of horror and urgency with good reason. These attacks are grisly and condemnable. What strikes us, however, is the blindness of the state and chattering classes to the mass death of thousands of Pakistanis every year due to lack of access to healthcare or dangerous working conditions. The 280,000 children who die every year from malnutrition do not register as deaths when seen through this security lens. Where is the sense of urgency there?

It is this vision of security that has not only underpinned NAP, but the state and the debate itself. Those who have critiqued NAP for its lack of implementation still broadly share the exclusionary security paradigm: they restrict their comments to criticising the alleged delay in putting the plan to action. The fact is that broad surveillance and security strategies, which NAP advocates, have been implemented. Opaque military courts, the re-institution of the death penalty and an invasive overbroad cybercrime bill are all segments of NAP. These draconian policies have been credited for NAP’s much touted success, which rests on the claim that terrorism has been reduced by 80 percent. Yet, the state has never given us any indication of what they mean by ‘terrorism’.

Moreover, what fails to be taken account of is the number of enforced disappearances of Pakhtun and Baloch activists, the low but constant ebb of attacks on journalists by the state, those who have died trying to escape army operations, and the bombing of Waziristan and Khyber Agency that has resulted in an unknown number of deaths.

In other words, once one accounts for state terror it becomes abysmally clear that terror – spreading fear among a particular population – is on the rise.

This is what NAP has given us: a security state that protects the few by intently ethnically profiling and targeting the most marginalised. That includes Pakhtuns whose mobility is increasingly surveilled, documented and curtailed by the state. Even as the national government discusses reforming Fata’s relationship to the state, it is constructing an internal border along the tribal areas and restricting entry.

It includes activists who have been arrested under the anti-terrorism laws in places like Gilgit-Baltistan, Faisalabad and Islamabad. It includes the Baloch who continue to disappear because of their suspected politics both within the province and as they venture out into the rest of Pakistan. And it includes working class and lower-middle class religious-minded Pakistanis who are harassed and sometimes forcibly disappeared simply for being poor, practising Muslims and therefore suspect.

For these populations of Pakistanis, NAP is an insecurity plan. At its heart is an imagined urban middle-class Pakistani citizen, whose security is paramount, even at the expense of other Pakistanis. This vision of security not only underpins NAP, but the entire spectrum of debate within Pakistan. And, this security paradigm is limited, blinkered and – for the marginalised – dangerous. We need a rethinking of our national priorities that take into account the structural inequalities that kill Pakistanis.

The writers are co-founders and editors-in-chief of Tanqeed, a magazine of politics and culture.


Twitter: @TanqeedOrg; @mahvishahmad; @Madi_Hatter