By I.A. Rehman
18 August 2016
THE post-Quetta commotion is heading towards a predictable denouement: those who pointed fingers at the security apparatus have been chastened, the government has pleaded guilty to its indictment by the COAS and a new body to oversee implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) has been created. Is that enough?
Those who had asked the security apparatus about any possible lapses were not necessarily hostile to it. Even friends can point out the benefits of a critical self-appraisal, however unwelcome it might at first sight appear. When something goes wrong, the first reaction is to ask the people responsible for preventing such occurrences.
Mehmood Khan Achakzai was not the only person to voice public concern. For instance, look at the Pakistan Bar Council resolution which referred to “the inefficiency of our federal and provincial governments and law-enforcement agencies” and regretted that a “blame game had been initiated to cover up the tragic incident at Quetta”.
While one hopes parliament will defend its members’ privilege, the security services will surely profit from an earnest self-analysis, for any assumption of infallibility on their part will be fraught with dangerous consequences for them and the state both.
Surprisingly, little has been said about the FC that enjoys extraordinary powers in Balochistan, some say greater authority than the provincial government. It must offer some explanation for the Taliban’s ability to operate out of Quetta or the clusters of the militant outfits that seem to enjoy the freedom of the provincial capital. The inquiry into late Afghan Taliban chief Akhtar Mansour’s travels on a Pakistan passport should not have ended with the arrest of a junior functionary for facilitating the preparation of an identity card.
There has been little progress on preventing terrorist groups from regrouping and acquiring new recruits.
Stung by the military high command’s admonition the prime minister has created a high-powered committee under the command of the national security adviser, General Nasser Janjua, and 20 special wings are to be created in the paramilitary forces. While one hopes the committee will justify the trust placed in it, two points need to be cleared.
First, the emphasis is on NAP’s implementation and the need to revisit the scheme has apparently not been realised. In view of the fact that this plan was a somewhat hurried response to the ghastly attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School, the tendency to hold the 20-point agenda sacrosanct may not be advisable. It is possible that some of the NAP points, such as the regularisation of madrasas, need to be spelt out or reinterpreted with greater clarity. Or there may be need to add some fresh points.
Secondly, the anti-terrorism strategy is still largely aimed at the terrorists’ physical elimination, at least destruction of their chain of command. This approach has no doubt succeeded to a considerable extent. But we find that there has been little progress on preventing terrorist groups from regrouping and acquiring new recruits. This is the core issue about which little has been heard during the post-Quetta debate.
One of the factors operating in favour of the terrorists is the failure to cure the people of what can be described as their tolerance of terrorism, even if they cannot be accused of romanticising it. NAP does call for a ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations but this is one of the points that has not been properly understood.
The government has been misled into presuming that media and internet users are the only culprits and social glorification of terrorism will end once its draconian measure to deal with cyber crimes is fully implemented. The government is yet to acknowledge the glorification of terrorism by religio-political parties and some other groups. The fact is that a large body of Pakistanis have not realised the huge damage done to Pakistan, the Muslims of the world, and Islam itself by terrorists operating under a religious banner over the past 15 years.
No reference has been made during the latest discussion on terrorism of the need for a counter-narrative to defeat the terrorists’ rhetoric. The government’s inability to rebut the militant extremists’ religious slogans renders it liable to the charge of competing with them, if not complicity. The militants are able to move around freely, they can find hosts and friends among the people who are not able to reject their call for a religious order. They cannot be blamed for respecting the slogans the state of Pakistan itself has persistently upheld as part of its ideology.
The root cause of militancy lies in the rise of the relatively new interpretation of the Muslim obligation to do jihad (with arms) even when it is not ordained by a duly recognised state or when chances of victory are slim. It lies in the propagation of the theory that an armed group can decide which of the Muslims are not good enough to avoid the chopping block.
The militants who are challenging the state have freely distributed writings containing rejection of Pakistan’s institutions and explaining their resolve to fight it. Apart from getting a few clerics to issue perfunctory statements against terrorism, the government has avoided countering the militants’ arguments. That is the government’s fatal mistake.
Besides paying for its own misuse of religion for narrow political gains, Pakistan is also affected by similar exploitation of belief by other Muslim states and the militants too. Unfortunately, the situation has been complicated by the inability of religious scholars to resist the new interpreters of Islam whose greatest argument is their wealth.
This is not at all a happy situation for Pakistan to be in. But it is time the state realised the impossibility of fighting terrorism without having the upper hand in the discourse on Islam, the legitimate ways of enforcing its injunctions in the private life of the faithful, and accepting the vital need to stop mixing politics with belief. Short of that nothing is likely to rid Pakistan of the spectre of terrorism.