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.

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Comments (18)

Atta M
May 4, 2013 4:08 pm
You hit the nail on the head. Excellent analysis. We're heading to a disaster due to the impotence of our right wing politicians and to some extent our military intelligence.
Tom Lazarus
May 4, 2013 9:28 pm
the pakistani government (by which i mean the military, there is no other power) created, protects and supports the very forces that are destroying their state. the US concedes it cannot defeat the taliban if karzai remains corrupt, while it is the CIA funneling him the money! logic is lost on this part of the world.
Pro Bono Publico
May 4, 2013 11:18 am
Ruling for five years, the PPP, ANP, MQM combine was too busy in profitable ventures to assign resources to issues like Taliban.
May 4, 2013 5:34 pm
Irfan, Thank You for an excellent, factual article. It should terrify every Pakistani should either Nawaz or Imran (the Taliban Khan) should come to power. In that case they better brace for more unhindered terrorism from the terrorists who now would have people in power whom they helped put in there. But, then what is the alternative? God!! I give up. But, Wait. THE PEOPLE OF PAKISTAN. THAT IS THE ALTERNATIVE. People who are so sickened that they decimate these Taliban collaborators in the election and send the message that they want justice, equality, fair play, peace and not Islmaisation of the country.
May 4, 2013 11:06 am
very scary picture....
May 4, 2013 2:32 pm
People that don't have much idea about the politics of Pakistan, find it very easy to point fingers in only one direction..... Army.
Agha Ata (USA)
May 4, 2013 12:50 pm
Between Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan I will choose Imran Khan. I have a question. Taliban were created by your army, it's raw material came from the madresas that Saud e Arabia financed for decades, and our governments were foolish enough to turn their head the other way. Then the Army trained them and used them against Russia in Afghanistan. Taliban became powerful and also tasted the power for a little while. Now, the army doesn't want to eliminate Taliban (though it can, for sure) because they are also their future MDWs before Nukes are tried, in case of a war. Army has also created some confusion between Taliban of Afghanistan and the Taliban of Pakistan. Right now they are giving an impression that the army cannot fight Taliban in Pakistan to stop them to kill people. That is ridiculous. IN the next 5, or 10 or 20 years, when the fog is cleared, historians will know what and why our army was doing. And then, the then chief Justice might take them to the task!
Tariq K Sami
May 4, 2013 4:08 am
In the novel the ARROW OF GOD, Chinua Achebe tells the story of Ezuelu a high priest and a man of great wisdom and lofty principles. But when a superior military power came into the Niger delta, men of lesser stature destroyed him. A bullet or an arrow can kill the bravest warrior from a distance. It will be unwise to ignore the powerful military forces on our flanks. Elections in Ezuelu's village cannot go according to conventional norms! To sum up the story in simple words : just follow the money.
May 4, 2013 6:01 am
As always, an excellent column from Mr Irfan Hussain.
May 4, 2013 5:03 am
"So it seems the Taliban will continue meeting mush as they push their bayonets deeper into Pakistan." This sentence, by itself, should be enough to make our hearts bleed.
May 4, 2013 2:11 pm
The best joke of the day - "The next government will hopefully stir our spooks into action.". Is that experience speaking? Or just unfounded hope?
A. Bose, US
May 4, 2013 5:27 pm
As expected, another eloquent article from Mr. Husain on recent political scenario in Pakistan. I hope Pakistanis will choose the right course for their future so India and Pakistan can live in peace, after all we share the same cultural history for centuries if not thousands of years. Anyway, I wish Mr. Husain will write an article on political scenario in India as election looms there. There are a lot of Indian readers here as we like to see a fresh neutral perspective of things besides how my country of origin is portrayed in the global stage. My NRI vote may depend on those neutral perspectives.
K G Surendran
May 4, 2013 8:14 am
Nice article, it seems that Pakistan has lost the war on terror but as neighbors we would be sincerely hoping that is not the case.
May 4, 2013 1:50 pm
Five years sitting president AAZ devoted all his energies to keep coalition of MQM, ANP with PPP - all these parties had vested interests so did AAZ. Why blame Nawaz Shaif or Imran K ?
May 4, 2013 1:40 pm
A very partial piece. The author appears to be a PPP lackey
May 4, 2013 2:25 pm
A politically biased article. The government of the last four years bears the full responsibility for not tackling the terrorism problem.
May 4, 2013 9:49 am
Why didn't the sitting government and its two partner do anything to address this over the 5 long years they were in power ? Answer : Because they were too busy looting and plundering the nation.......they just did not care. One must be held responsible for irresponsible behaviour, otherwise fate has a strange way to settle scores, not always pleasant.
May 4, 2013 4:59 pm
As usual an excellent article. Although, I do not think that the article will have any impact or induce any rational thinking among Pakistani politicians such as Nawaz Sharif or an entertainer like Imran Khan (who is presumed to be a politician). Once Nawaz Sharif takes over as prime minister of Pakistan he and his brother will allow Talibans to rule the country while they will be busy robbing the country and once nothing is left to rob they will migrate to some western country with their families and liver there happily. This is the unfortunate future of Pakistan.
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