THE ANP’s proposed all-parties conference on terrorism is a decent idea on paper, but like most things that look good on paper, the reality may prove somewhat more difficult. The ANP’s interest in the conference is clear and its reasons legitimate: as one of the only mainstream parties that have taken an unequivocal stance against terrorism and militancy, the party has suffered greatly. Hundreds of party activists and leaders have been killed in recent years and now the ANP faces perhaps its greatest hurdle: launching an election campaign in a climate of fear in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Predictably, though, the ANP’s move has faced resistance from the usual quarters, particularly the mainstream religious parties that prefer the politics of appeasement when it comes to terrorism and militancy. True, part of the problem with the ANP’s attempt to convene an APC is the lack of a clear agenda and obvious doubts about how any new recommendations will be implemented. There already exist parliamentary recommendations for the fight against militancy and if those have gone unheeded, what chance of success for an APC?
Beyond that, though, the problem lies with the fecklessness of many mainstream political parties. Start with the JI and the JUI-F, both of which have already rejected an invitation to participate in the APC. Both have suffered at the hands of militants over the years and both will know that the first to suffer when militants take over are the mainstream religious parties for their ‘collaboration’ with ‘un-Islamic’ forces. Maulana Fazlur Rehman himself has been repeatedly attacked by militants and though it has been obvious who the perpetrators were, the JUI-F has preferred to target its rhetoric against ‘foreign interference’ and the US-led war in Afghanistan. Even when the militants themselves claim responsibility for spectacular, bloody attacks inside Pakistan, the JI and the JUI-F have been reluctant to denounce the perpetrators and the groups they represent.
The records of the PML-Q and the PML-N are hardly any better when it comes to denouncing all forms of terrorism and militancy, a fact made all the more troubling by the reality that Punjab is a growing centre of extremism and militancy. Imran Khan and his PTI have in recent months been somewhat better when it comes to at least condemning violence and denouncing some militant groups, but one of the party’s main electoral planks is still rooted in denial about what jihad culture has done to Pakistan. Faced with deep, almost across-the-board reluctance to even acknowledge the nature of the threat, the few in the political class who want to challenge it are helpless and impotent.