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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.

Comments (4) Closed

I. Ahmed Jun 18, 2013 09:22am

Very apt analysis, I totally agree with the last part. The problem with PML-N is that they know how to save Punjab from terrorists by making deal with them and not condemning them for 5 years on what they did in rest of Pakistan. Now, they have a problem. Perhaps, they will not have enough moral courage or political will to make significant policy changes. This is what happened in 70

atis Jun 18, 2013 09:41am

Bring famous ISI under strict civilian control, remove the blasphemoy law and tighten screws on criminals like Hafeez sayeed, Peace will come automatically

V. C. Bhutani Jun 18, 2013 11:30pm

This is an encouraging editorial. If this becomes the general approach in government and the press, we may hope that better things may dawn. In my view there is no meeting point between the State and those who take up arms against it. I did not look with any degree of hope at efforts made all round for negotiating with terrorists, some of whom have been called

V. C. Bhutani Jun 18, 2013 11:50pm

Please allow me to add the following to my earlier submission. Controlling ISI and other intelligence agencies is easier said than done. We see the example of Mr Zardari who attempted shortly after being elected president to bring ISI under the president's control. Without loss of time he had to rescind that order: things reverted to square one. The Pakistan army is not going to give up control of ISI to the civilian government. This is a fact of the situation that the prime minister understands only too well. It is unlikely that he will make any move in that direction. The relative position of the Pakistan army and the civilian government in relation to each other is a ticklish question which will not be easily resolved. The army has become accustomed to the use of certain powers that it will not give up willingly: this is contrary to the nature of power. Perhaps some day an army chief may arise who will see that in the best interest of the country it was right if the army was under the control of the civilian government. We devoutly hope for that moment to arise. Finally, someone in Pakistan needs to realize that terror is not good for Pakistan. It has not solved any problem. Instead it has created many more problems. There is need for a realization that the use of so-called asymmetrical warfare with India has not produced results that Pakistan leaders expected. On the contrary, it has brought about loss of world support for Pakistan. V. C. Bhutani, Edinburgh, 18 Jun 2013, 1948 GMT