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The basic choice

August 15, 2013

JUDGING from media reports the much heralded national security plan to counter terrorism appears to be wanting in certain critical areas.

The mood of earnestness in dealing with militancy in various forms displayed by the interior minister on his latest visit to Quetta had encouraged the hope that the recent incidents of terrorism, especially the raids on the D.I. Khan jail and the Quetta police lines, had persuaded the government to give the matter the priority it deserved.

Some other welcome indications included the admission that the challenges to the Balochistan government constituted a threat to the whole of Pakistan.

One was reminded of the Indian viceroy’s rejoinder to Winston Churchill when the latter had asked him to do more for the war against the Fascists because Britain was fighting for India’s freedom. The truth was that India was fighting for Britain’s freedom, Lord Linlithgow had said and expressed his inability to impose more taxes on the colony’s poor people.

If Islamabad has realised that instead of the federation fighting Balochistan’s battles it is Balochistan that is fighting for the federation’s cause it will be able to better appreciate its obligation to stand by that province.

Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was off the mark when he said that the country was facing invisible enemies for the latter have concealed neither their identities nor their designs. But he was quite right in pointing out that the source and nature of the threat varied from province to province. That only underlined the need to provide for province-specific tactics within the overall national security strategy.

Since the preparation of the national security policy had begun before the interior minister’s visit to Balochistan it is not clear whether his assessment of the situation there has contributed anything to the draft policy. One would be sorry if it hasn’t, because Balochistan will be a test case for any security policy.

For quite some time the media has been reporting that the authorities favour a five-point security policy: dismantle (destruction of terrorist networks); contain (pushing the militants and confining them to a specified area); prevent (fresh incidents of terrorism); educate (the people about the evil of terrorism); and reintegrate (with society those who abandon the path of terrorism/militancy).

These points are widely known chapter titles in any anti-terrorism manual. What matters is the text of these chapters and details of the means and methods required for achieving the desired result.

Besides, it is necessary to allay the misgivings born of the experience of such strategies in various parts of the world over the past many years. The common tendency to abridge human rights and deviate from due process in the name of security imperatives has been found to be counterproductive and must be guarded against.

The task of containing the terrorists/militants within small areas looks specially daunting because they already occupy large areas. No part of the country is out of their reach. Where they can be confined is not very clear.

Reintegration of militants can only follow their de-radicalisation and our experience in that area over the past few years offers little room for optimism. An official spokesman was quite categorical when he told the Peshawar High Court that all de-radicalised warriors had rejoined their units.

Further, no security plan, however perfect, can bear fruit without an efficient implementation machinery and an ideological framework backed by the united will of the state. The draft policy reportedly calls for a consensus among all parties. One wonders how the religious parties will be persuaded to condemn the militants.

It is also said that all institutions of the state should be on the same page. This is a crucial condition because Pakistan’s problems have been considerably aggravated by lack of unity among security organisations on ways of dealing with terrorists/militants.

The idea of having a coordinating cell within the interior ministry is sound but will this cell have the means of taming the actors whose autonomy has so far remained unchallenged? Maybe, a ministerial body headed by the prime minister himself should oversee the policy’s enforcement.

If the five-point strategy is all that the national security policy is about, it offers no answer to the political and ideological thrust of the militants’ challenge. For instance, in Balochistan terrorism has three faces — the nationalists who have given up on Pakistan, the Punjab-based anti-Shia brigade, and an alliance of rogue elements from the security personnel and privileged gangsters.

Only the doings of the last mentioned group can be dealt with as a law and order matter. The former two groups will not yield to force alone. A settlement with the alienated nationalists will require a political process and stemming the anti-Shia wave will need rethinking of ideology, both tasks beyond the capacity of security experts.

In the rest of the country too matters will only be partly addressed by a more stringent policing. Eventually the state will have to reckon with the ideological claims of the militants. It is their religious slogan that enables the militants to find collaborators in their increasingly audacious attacks on the Pakistan state. The fact is that Pakistan’s organised sectors, and not educational institutions alone, are creating more militants year after year than the number the security forces can eliminate or neutralise.

So long as the state continues to compete with the militants on the religious wicket the security plans will remain halfway houses to nowhere. The basic choice is simple. A theocracy will attract one wave of militancy after another; security lies only in building a democratic, pluralist state.