By Babar Sattar
June 16, 2014
MAHMOOD Achakzai has stated what is on many minds. Dark clouds hover over the horizon and democracy seems to be in trouble again. It is hard to level with cynics who are committed to the belief that democracy in Pakistan is the problem and not part of the solution. But there is a need to rally thinking segments of the power elite (civil and military) who agree that all institutions over the last 67 years have contributed to the wayward direction we have taken as a state and time to make amends is running out.
We are a nation adrift while our power elites are busy forging alliances that can produce no good. Why is the PML-N at daggers drawn with PTI over electoral reform but acting as the PTI’s quarterback in thwarting an emerging consensus against terror? Who is propping up charlatans and scheming good-for-nothingers like Tahirul Qadri and the Chaudhries to put the fear of the devil in the civilian government? If the Khakis are cut up over the PML-N’s lack of resolve to take on the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, why are they treating forces of obscurantism in Punjab as bench strength?
Our reaction to the audacious Karachi airport attack and the extermination of Shia pilgrims in Taftan last week is a fresh reminder that we might be losing our ability to think rationally about the existential challenge confronting us. We seem so obsessed with the inconsequential stuff.
Should ministers be held to account for not showing up to condole with victims’ families or for failing to make and implement plans to prevent such attacks? Should the prime minister be blamed because he is not deft when it comes to scoring brownie points with a distressed nation or because he has failed to carve out an effective policy and forge a consensus around it to eliminate terror havens across Pakistan that is the cause of distress?
We are a nation adrift while our power elites are forging alliances that can produce no good.
Can someone tell this dumbfounded nation plainly that the hundreds and thousands of targets across Pakistan — military facilities, government buildings, airports, railway stations, bus stops, shopping centres, mosques, schools etc. — can just not be defended so long as terror squads continue to proliferate and roam freely across our wild west and urban centres? And can the policymakers understand that soldiers and citizens exhibiting resilience and resolve when attacked is no manifestation of a functional national security strategy?
First, we need to address the challenge of our incapacity. If the civilian part of the state reeks of incompetence at what it is supposed to do, subject the khakis to a dispassionate analysis and they don’t fare any better. Compare khakis to civvies and the khakis come out looking good. But think about the attacks on GHQ, PNS Mehran, Kamra, the OBL incident, the umpteen intelligence failures since 9/11 or the sum total of our khaki-authored national security policy and you realise that there’s decline all around. Take away? Let’s lose the righteousness.
To prevail over terror, especially in urban areas, we need timely actionable intelligence. And our massive intelligence set-up is faltering here. We need to institute effective checks and balances within our intelligence agencies not to enable civvies to control the ISI, but to ensure that intelligence agencies (a key component in our national security policy especially in this age of terror) are efficient, effective and focused on doing what they are meant to do.
Second, we need to address the challenge of complicity. There is no way to solve problems till they are acknowledged. Whether one relies on the stories of Adnan Rashid and GHQ mastermind Aqeel Ahmad, the assertions of Saleem Shahzad or plain common sense, the insider angle in most security lapses is hard to dismiss. Our society is getting radicalised and our security agencies are shadows of the same society. Have we been successful in severing the link between state actors and non-state actors and cleansing the residue?
We have a bitter history of creating non-state actors during the 1980s and 1990s that is still haunting us. We then pursued the disastrous good-versus-bad-terrorist policy post-9/11 that produced more destruction and confusion. Granted that states have genuine intelligence needs to cultivate assets for counter-insurgency purposes, but has our national security establishment acknowledged to itself that the aforesaid policies had a design flaw? If so, why does such clarity not reflect itself in relation to our Punjabi non-state actors?
Third, anchoring our national security narrative in religion or defining patriotism as hatred for another state itself poses a threat to national security. The perseverance of Al Qaeda, the declared objects of TTP and the alarming rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) all establish that non-state actors pose the foremost threat to the state in Muslim countries. And when the state derives its legitimacy from religion and so does its non-state challengers, the resulting polarisation as evident in our society is a natural outcome.
The TTP emerged when non-state actors previously aligned with the state rejected Pakistan’s change of security and foreign policy towards Afghanistan. When the Lal Masjid clerics denounced Pakistani soldiers fighting terrorists in Fata, the state was forced to seek the support of the Imam-i-Kaaba to counter the Lal Masjid fatwa. Today, India figures as the arch-enemy in our national security calculus. But this calculus could change. And in such event the state could again become a victim of such notion of patriotism as has happened in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
We need to redefine patriotism in a religion-neutral pro-Pakistan fashion and not a radical Islamist anti-something idea. This will allow it to accommodate the evolving interest of the country in an ever-changing world.
And those looking to Egypt or Thailand as imitable models must remember that their rivals-in-arms are drawing inspiration from events in Syria and Iraq. If democracy gives way and this country comes to be ruled on the basis of use of force as opposed to constitutionalism, who knows whether we’ll take after Egypt or Iraq.
Babar Sattar is a lawyer.