By Najam Sethi
March 08-14, 2013
The civil-military leaders of Pakistan are in a state of paralysis. Major decisions relating to national security and good governance remain on hold even though confusion, fear and insecurity are rife among Pakistanis. This is partly due to the historical overhang of distrust and hostility between the politicians and generals - the civilians perceive the khakis to be arrogant, unaccountable and threatening; the generals perceive the politicians as corrupt, incompetent and untrustworthy. The net effect of both perceptions, that accurately reflect the reality, is a breakdown of effective communication and implementation between the administrative and security arms of the administration. Consider.
Both agree that the country faces an extraordinary and unprecedented existential threat from terrorism - the enemy is within. Yet both make excuses that reflect a lack of will or policy to face the enemy. The civilians say they don't have the Intel or force to uproot the terrorists. While this may be true in FATA, it isn't the case in the rest of the country. The local police everywhere know who's who and elite commando forces are available. But the police is so corrupted and compromised by the politicians that it is unwilling to engage the terrorists. Often, the political compromises that ruling politicians make - as the Sharifs do in Punjab against sectarian terrorists and jehadi organizations, and the PPP-MQM-ANP do in Karachi against one another's militant outfits - make it impossible to tackle terrorism. The generals say they don't have constitutional cover for such operations or lack sufficiently trained ground forces to deliver good results. While this may be generally true - there is no specific Counter-Terrorist Unit and the anti-terrorism laws have gaping holes in them - it doesn't hold in FATA where the army has been called "in aid to civil power" under Constitutional Article 245 that gives it carte blanche to do as it pleases. Yet it has not been able to produce satisfactory results. Certainly, even in urban areas, army intelligence agencies like the ISI and Field Intel Units are professionally equipped to do the job with the help of the army's SSG battalions but the generals remain reluctant to lend a helping hand to the civilians. Let us take some concrete examples.
Balochistan has been laid low by insurgency and sectarian terrorism. The military is using a combination of Frontier Corps, ISI, MI and "pro-Pakistan" Tribal Lashkars to combat militant Baloch nationalism. This is the source of hundreds of "missing or dead persons" in the province. But the military refuses to put the same force-combination to use against sectarian terrorists. This leads to the suspicion that the military is not acting against the sectarian terrorists because they are also being used by the military against the Baloch nationalists. Certainly, this is a common refrain in Balochistan. Meanwhile, the provincial civilian leadership is paralysed. It is averse to stepping on the toes of the military's counter-insurgency and national security policy in the area no less than admitting "democratic" failure by handing over the province to the army under Article 245.
Karachi is plagued by a combination of criminal gangs, militant-party organisations, sectarian groups and TTP/Al-Qaeda outfits. It is ruled by an alliance of PPP, MQM and ANP, each representing a different ethnic stakeholder. Under the circumstances, there can be no effective and enduring "clean-up" operation in Karachi by the provincial Police and Rangers without diminishing the writ of each of the alliance partners in one way or another, which is politically unacceptable. The civilian paralysis is matched by the military's reluctance to get involved under Article 245 in urban guerilla warfare.
In Punjab, home base of anti-Shia terrorists and jehadi-turned-Taliban outfits, the PMLN leaves the terrorists alone in exchange for a pledge to export their terrorism to the other provinces and electoral support for PMLN candidates. It is only in FATA and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa that the provincial ANP-led government and military work hand in hand against the TTP scourge because both have been targeted by the TTP and suffered huge losses in men and materials.
In short, the civilians complain that anti-Shia sectarianism, militant jehadism and Taliban terrorism are all consequences of the military's national security polices. These remain out of bounds for them even though they suffer a severe economic and political backlash from them. This is true enough. The military says that the civilians should provide "good governance" and leave formulation and implementation of national security policies to the khakis. This is not right. If national security policies are misplaced or faulty, then the state is endangered, freedoms are curtailed, the economy is shackled and no amount of "good governance" can fix the problem.
Therefore, it is time to reframe the civil-military debate in terms of the duties of each partner to the nation-state rather than in terms of the rights of each protagonist as opposed to the other. Both sides must accept the truth of their mistakes and reconcile with the other for the greater good of Pakistan and its people.
Najam Sethi is editor of The Friday Times