IN most countries, if a criminal gang had issued a death threat against high-profile national organisations five months earlier than their killing spree, two things would happen:
Firstly, the state would make a concerted attempt to track down and neutralise the murderers; and secondly, the targets would be provided enhanced security. In Pakistan, neither has happened after the Taliban’s declaration of intent last December. As a result, they are attacking the PPP, the MQM and ANP candidates with bombs and bullets at will.
The reason why the Pakistani state has adopted such a kid-glove approach towards these terrorists was made clear by Maulana Fazlur Rehman at a speech in Dera Ghazi Khan recently when he demanded that no force be used against the TTP. Clearly, he was currying favour with them so he could continue his campaign without having to worry about security.
This theme was echoed by Imran Khan at a rally in D.I. Khan when he waved aside precautions, saying he did not need any security on the stage. Of course, he doesn’t: he did not acquire the nickname Taliban Khan for nothing. By excusing terror attacks on ordinary Pakistanis by saying they are being caused by the US drone campaign, he has sought to legitimise the TTP’s onslaught that has killed tens of thousands.
Nawaz Sharif, too, is reaping the rewards of his studied silence on the issue. His brother, Shahbaz Sharif, the Punjab chief minister for the last five years, has hardly been energetic in pursuing the militants based in southern Punjab. They have used these sanctuaries to attack targets in the other three provinces. And when he appealed to them not to launch attacks in Punjab because his administration was not pursuing them, he was raising the white flag of surrender.
Understandably, the Taliban were emboldened by these clear signals from these right-wing politicians, and have decided to settle scores with the three parties standing in their way. As Ejaz Haider wrote recently in the Express Tribune, the Taliban have a clear strategy for imposing their version of Sharia on Pakistan. While they know they could never hope to come to power through elections, they are using terror to push their agenda.
The reason they are succeeding is that divisions across the political spectrum have prevented decisive action. In order to gain immunity from attacks, politicians like Fazlur Rehman, Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have sown enough confusion to cause paralysis among the defence establishment.
The PPP-led coalition that ruled these last five years — hardly the best example of dynamic, clear-headed governance — was powerless in the face of multiple challenges from the military, the judiciary, the media and the opposition. Constantly bleating about the lack of consensus, the government was an impotent witness to an escalating terror campaign.
If Pakistan were under attack from, say, India, there would be an instant consensus on the need to defend ourselves. And yet the threat Pakistan faces from terrorism is just as serious. So why this ambivalence among our politicians and our generals where the TTP is concerned?
Lenin, when advising on how to advance a cause, wrote: “Probe with a bayonet: if you meet steel, stop. If you meet mush, then push.” The Taliban must be delighted at meeting mush most of the time. The only time they met steel was in Swat, but it’s been plain sailing since that setback.
Apart from the tragedy of the lives lost in this bloody run-up to the election, another loss is the truth. Given the brakes that have had to be applied to the campaigns of the PPP, the ANP and the MQM, they will always be able to claim that they received less votes than they would have in normal circumstances. And it is true that many of their voters will be reluctant to risk their lives by queuing at highly vulnerable polling stations.
Thus, we will never really know how the incumbency factor and the perception of poor governance has affected the outcome. Out of the three parties, the MQM is likely to be the least troubled by the terror campaign as its well-oiled machine delivers in each election. Most voters in the areas the party controls have little say in how their ballots are cast.
The other troubling factor is the perception that fortunately, Punjab has been barely hit by the TTP’s terror tactics. The smaller provinces have some justification in blaming Shahbaz Sharif’s policy of appeasement for the bloodbath they are experiencing. This will add to the feeling of disenfranchisement the smaller provinces feel, and fuel anti-Punjab sentiment.
When the Boston Marathon was bombed last month, the FBI assigned 1,000 agents to reconstruct the steps that led to the attack, and to determine whether the two young Chechen brothers were part of a terrorist organisation. This is the kind of meticulous investigation that has warded off other similar attacks.
In Pakistan, apart from routine editorial handwringing, it’s business as usual after a terror attack. Our pathetic security apparatus has no clue about the perpetrators or their whereabouts. In fact, the whole intelligence failure over the last few years has been nothing short of catastrophic.
Considering the billions allocated annually to the ISI, MI and sundry other intelligence organisations, it’s a scandal that they have done so little to counter the Taliban threat. The next government will hopefully stir our spooks into action.
But if — as is widely expected — Nawaz Sharif becomes the next prime minister, why would he want to disturb the arrangement he seems to have reached with the Taliban? Imran Khan, too, wants no military action against these killers.
So it seems the Taliban will continue meeting mush as they push their bayonets deeper into Pakistan.