The peace delusion

Published September 16, 2013

WHILE approaching our problem of terror and courting peace in earnest there is no room for false bravado. Why object to state functionaries sitting down with disaffected citizens if that can sort out misconceptions that have angered or deluded them into declaring war on the state?

Didn’t Clausewitz, the god of war wisdom, settle once and for all that ‘war is merely the continuation of policy by other means’? So if policy can be pursued by peace talks why yelp for internecine bloodletting?

The logical critique of the inane resolution produced by the all-party conference (APC) isn’t rooted in the desire for vengeance or a conceited notion of honor. An eye-for-an-eye doesn’t produce justice or peace, but revenge. When a state punishes criminals it is not for a singular object but for a whole range of considerations including retribution for wrongful actions, closure for victims, deterring crime to maintain peace in society and reforming the recalcitrant. The moral argument against peace talks is weak.

The loss of over 40,000 citizens and soldiers is an unspeakable tragedy. But wars always produce casualties. If the argument that all blood shed in war must be avenged were to hold, no war would ever end. The paramount obligation of the state is not to fathom the best way to mourn or honour the dead, but to protect the life and liberty of the living. And if as a nation we are unsure whether our Constitution, the sovereignty of our state and a tolerant society are worthy causes, isn’t the choice between war and peace a fake one?

In other words why go to war over pursuit of a policy when the policy is up for negotiation if unacceptable to our adversary. So if we are willing to remodel the vision and future of Pakistan, its laws, political system, foreign policy and social norms, as desired by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), why fight? The critics of the APC’s romantic notion of peace through talks are neither opposed to peace nor talks. Their argument is that there is no real likelihood of talks succeeding and their failure will produce dividends for the TTP.

And in case a miracle happens and talks succeed, the terms on which peace will be secured will either be unsustainable or will require altering the vision for the future of Pakistan in a manner that will be nothing less than complete surrender to the forces of regression and intolerance. The APC resolution thus reinforces the harrowing sense that our national leadership either utterly lacks comprehension of the problem facing us or those at the helm have adopted Madame de Pompadour’s approach to problem solving: ‘after us, the deluge’.

The seeds of militancy and terror were not sown in 2001 when Pakistan elected to side with the US ‘war on terror’. That choice only exposed a design flaw in our national security thinking. We sowed the seeds of militancy when, encouraged by the US in the 1980s, we decided to brainwash, train and employ jihadis in pursuit of our national security policy in Afghanistan. Unlike mercenaries motivated by money or a regular soldier under military discipline, the jihadi militant was manufactured without a ‘turn-off’ switch.

If jihad against infidel Russia was right in the 1980s how could jihad against infidel Yanks be wrong in 2001? It was not jihadists who rebelled against the state; it was the state that rebelled against a just religious cause by agreeing to sleep with the enemy, the jihadists argue. The point is that a state cannot share monopoly over violence with any private militia, whether motivated by religion or not, precisely because it cannot allow a private group to challenge its foreign or security policy backed by threat of use of force.

Our problem of militancy won’t end with the end of the US war in Afghanistan. It won’t end till there exist armed private militias in Pakistan inspired by the virile belief that they have a legitimate right to forcefully change state policies, our political and legal system or social norms, and possess the means to do so.

There can be no sustainable peace in Pakistan so long as the state views religion-inspired militants as a useful weapon that can be controlled and put to good use in the national interest. There can be no sustainable peace till the state is open to allowing militants self-governed sanctuaries in our bad outlands or urban pockets. There can be no sustainable peace if it is a product of the courtesy or mercy shown by militants and not their diminished capacity to inflict violence.

There can be no peace till the state willingly tolerates violence and hatemongering in the name of religion. There can be no peace till the state continues looking away as our foreign Muslim friends fund and patronise sectarian groups in Pakistan. And there can be no peace if it hangs on the promise to implement the Sharia, when there is no agreement in the country over what that means. Shouldn’t the APC have addressed some of these thorny matters?

The manner in which the APC has endorsed unconditional talks with the TTP creates two problems. One, it legitimises the pro-terror narrative that has confused and polarised our nation ie terrorists might be mistaken in killing fellow citizens, but that is understandable because they are so incensed by wrongful state policies. And two, it is terrorists who are setting conditions and defining the framework of talks and not the state, and as a consequence if talks fail the onus will be on the state.

The most charitable assessment of the APC could have been that the sense of tolerance and accommodation exhibited by the APC will cultivate public opinion in favour of use of force in case talks fail. But the manner in which the TTP has responded, our tyrants might just be ahead of our leaders even when it comes to shaping public opinion. Maybe we are being needlessly cynical and our leadership is working with a grand strategy: if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

The writer is a lawyer. sattar@post.harvard.edu Twitter: @ babar_sattar

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