By Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif, New Age Islam, Islamabad
Election 2013 has become a turning point in Pakistan tumultuous political history rather a matter of survival especially in the war against Terrorists. Terrorists, like other political parties are waging their election campaign as well, with blood and fire, death and devastation. Terrorist related violence has become a regular theme in Pakistan’s election campaign.
Terrorists are waging their campaign with a clear head. Their strategy and objectives are simple but clear. They reject the so called democratic system in Pakistan on the grounds that it is against the basic precepts of Islam and in contrast with Sharia. Their objective is to take over the political control of Pakistan and implement a system based on their own peculiar notions of Sharia. Since they do not believe in a democratic political system, therefore, the democratic path of assuming power through elections is not an option for them. The only choice at their disposal is the medieval method of an ultimatum which presents the adversary with two options, either submit to our authority or get ready for war. Terrorists believe in this historical and traditional methodology of political warfare. From their perspective the options are defined and there is no room for confusion or a lack of clarity. On the other hand, Pakistan as a state, and we, as Pakistani nation find ourselves in a deep quagmire and are confronted with a multitude of dilemmas in this scenario. We do not have a clear strategy to combat this menace since we do not even have a consensus on whether or not this is a menace.
Despite the much trumpeted parliamentary resolution against terrorism, the present political leadership is divided over the issue. Leaders of parties, including PML N, PTI, JUI and JI, which are being predicted by political pundits to be forming the next government, are reluctant even to verbally criticize or condemn the recent spate of terrorist violence. Expecting them to take concerted anti-terrorist measures after their return to the parliament is an utter fallacy. According to media reports, some of the candidates contesting on the tickets of these parties have been active members of religious and sectarian outfits which are supporters and collaborators of Taliban, for instance, Sipah-e-Sahaba and Lashkar- e-Jhangvi.
In the present electioneering scenario, Pakistan’s political forces have become polarized to highly dangerous and alarming levels, on religious basis. The nightmare of religious schisms damaging Pakistan’s socio-political fabric, that was haunting Pakistani intelligentsia for quite some time, has emerged as a political reality.
Now, the battle for political power is being fought between religious and sectarian extremists on the one hand and the moderate-liberals on the other. The scales are clearly tilted towards the former. Liberals in Pakistan have always been timid and impotent. Educated elite and liberal intelligentsia, while indulging themselves in their self induced intoxication of grandiose idealism, have miserably failed to provide a workable strategy and roadmap to the nation. They are not much less alien to an ordinary Pakistani as Samuel Huntington and Max Weber are to them. Pakistan’s political leadership, with roots in ethnic and clan based identities and social cleavages, has failed to arouse confidence in their leadership. Political leadership has, instead of strengthening democratic culture, contributed in people’s disillusionment with the system altogether. An ordinary Pakistani views democracy as nothing but a system which promotes nepotism and corruption.
In this scenario, Terrorists have emerged as a greater threat than any other. Their lethal potential is not only in their military strength or ideological message. It is in fact in their brilliance in identifying and exploiting the schisms and weak points of their adversary, the ruling elite and society of Pakistan. Their objective is not to create or salvage a system rather to destroy it. Their tactics are aimed at exploiting the socio-economic and political weaknesses in our society and hammering it by inculcating intense fear and despair and despondency in the Pakistani public by attacking their army and political leaders with devastating precision. They intend that the edifice of statehood crumbles and democratic dispensation is eroded, creating a vacuum which will be easy for them to fill due to their military and organizational strength and support of their ideological comrades in Pakistan. They are clearly moving towards this objective and are gaining ground.
In the current elections, the tactical methodology of the terrorists is remarkable. There could not have been a better opportunity for them to initiate their war against Pakistan other than elections. Government and the nation with all its paraphernalia, the army, law enforcement agencies and the media are engaged in elections. They have decided to make the election campaign as a ground for waging their battle by attacking the politicians and their supporters, thereby creating panic and havoc and extreme levels of uncertainty. Another facet of their strategy is the identification of PPP, MQM, ANP and the army and law enforcement as their targets. This has effectively isolated them from the rest of the nation. Those who are not with them, have been made to feel safe. They are not actually safe but spared for the time being. This fallacious and erroneous perception of safety and not being targeted has constrained them from criticizing the attacks on their political adversaries. In this scenario, even the so called democratic forces have been isolated from one another by causing a divide and fragmentation among them. The army is also being isolated, at least in perceptions. Army’s celebration of martyr’s day was a timely step in order to boost the morale of its rank and file and to galvanize public support. However, whether it actually reduces the terrorists’ capability to strike at their will, still remains a big question mark.
Those political forces which have rendered support to the army in their war against terror are busy burying their dead and cannot wage their campaign while those who are waging their campaign are calling the war against terror, an alien war. In other words, what they are presenting to the nation and the world is that Pakistan is fighting a war, not of its own, thereby effectively labeling the army as a mercenary army which is fighting the wars of others. This clever strategy of the terrorists has other dimensions as well. In dividing the political parties between liberals and, therefore, non-religious and those who are religious and rightist, they have successfully exploited the religious and sectarian card in Pakistan’s politics. This will have lethal consequences for the future of Pakistani politics. Religious parties which never had any political standing in Pakistan are being given an opportunity to increase their vote bank. Separating Punjab from the other three provinces in terms of terrorist strikes, is yet another important tactical move. This will have its consequences in the post election scenario since other provinces will definitely object to the fairness of electoral process and thereby questioning the legitimacy of the elected parliament.
Pakistan is at cross roads. The existing situation presents a serious dilemma for our nation and its political and military leadership. Terrorists have a simple and clear cut strategy, we do not have one. Terrorists have the capability to strike where ever they desire, we do not have the capacity to interdict them effectively. They are highly determined and committed to their nefarious objective of destroying Pakistan; we are divided on the question of ideology of Pakistan. Their militants are highly motivated and are willing to carry out suicide attacks for their cause. We are confused on the question of whether it is our war or America’s war and we are reluctant to honor our soldiers as Shaheed (martyrs). Wars are fought and won by those who are committed and determined and are clear in their objectives. Our adversaries, the Taliban, definitely are, the question is, are we?
Barrister Muhammad Ali Saif is an ex federal minister of Pakistan and known human rights activist and specialist of Afghan and FATA conflict. He will be writing a regular column for New Age Islam.