JUST days into his stint as interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan has already restored a sense of seriousness and purpose to at least the talking points of the interior ministry. Why, the interior minister asked in parliament yesterday, was a city like Quetta with an overwhelming security and intel presence attacked so frequently and brazenly? In that direct and very meaningful question, Chaudhry Nisar has opened the black box that is security policy in Balochistan and looked inside — something few other civilian politicians have dared to do. If Balochistan is to be rescued from the deadly embrace of violence and militancy, the starting point must necessarily be a new approach to the security challenges there — and a new approach can only be introduced if the old approach is examined bluntly and publicly.
For too long, the truth about state policy in Balochistan, who runs it and why it is not working has only been whispered about and that too far from the public discourse.
Still, a policy reboot is about much more than just speaking plainly or asking awkward questions. And security policy is a much wider canvas than Lashkar-i-Jhangvi in Quetta. Here, on this wider canvas, the PML-N is already struggling with coherence and clarity. As Chaudhry Nisar has repeated in the wake of the Quetta attacks, his party is willing to negotiate with militants, specifically the ones who are willing to negotiate with the state. But who exactly are these groups and individuals? The TTP has offered and renounced talks without there being any clarity if that umbrella organisation has any intention of ever negotiating in good faith and abiding by whatever agreement is struck. It is not that negotiations with militant groups can absolutely never in any circumstances be held. But talk of negotiations in the absence of any societal clarity about the threat militancy poses to Pakistan and why it must be defeated tends to make the possibility of that clarity ever emerging that much more remote.
In the weeks and months ahead, as the government settles into its new responsibilities, there will be no more severe test of its resolve and clarity than in both setting out a new security policy for the state and explaining its logic to the people. To continue to exist in zones of grey, as the PML-N has done in the past and is doing at the moment, on matters of terrorism, militancy and extremism is to accept a Pakistan that will inexorably slide towards chaos and instability.