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A toxic narrative

September 24, 2013

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IMRAN Khan startles us with his philistinism each time he speaks on the issue of terrorism. His narrative on violent militancy in the country and the prescription to end the menace is dangerously simplistic. Not surprisingly he is seen as the most strident of apologists for the Pakistani Taliban.

He attributes the killing of thousands of Pakistani men, women and children by the terrorists solely to the blowback effect of the US drone strikes and the war in Afghanistan. For the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) chief the unconditional surrender of the Pakistani state to the Taliban is the only way out of the bloody conflict.

His demand for a ceasefire in the aftermath of the killing of Gen Sanaullah Niazi by the militants is a glaring example of his muddled thinking on critical security issues. A day before the militant attack in Upper Dir, the PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa ordered the army troops to pull out of Malakand.

Such a senseless move without a strong civilian security and administrative system in place is tantamount to handing back the control of the area to the group involved in last week’s killing of the regional commander.

The party has also endorsed the Taliban demand for withdrawal of the army from the tribal areas. With this approach there is nothing to wonder about which side of the fence Imran Khan is on.

What is most dangerous, however, is that Imran Khan’s perilously flawed narrative has influenced the national discourse. Those views were reflected in the all-party conference (APC) resolution earlier this month that has virtually legitimised militancy by declaring the extremist group a stakeholder in the peace process.

A non-starter from the outset, the so-called peace initiative endorsed by the APC has not yet taken off the ground, mainly because the Taliban have upped the ante sensing the government’s weakness. The resolution, aptly described as a “document of surrender”, has however further muddled the nation’s resolve to fight violent militancy and religious extremism.

A weak-kneed response by the government to the latest killing of senior army officers fighting on the front line has widened the difference between the civilian and military leadership.

Gen Kayani’s statement that the military would not bow to the Taliban’s demands marks a clear departure from the placatory tenor of the APC resolution.

It also reflects the growing frustration within the military ranks at the ambivalence of the national leadership on the problem that presents the greatest threat to national security and the unity of the country.

Nothing can make the militants happier than a procrastinating political leadership unable to stand up to the grave national security challenges.

In order to fight terrorism and violent militancy more effectively it is imperative to dismantle the toxic narrative that is being propounded by the likes of Imran Khan and also taken up by the PML-N government.

Firstly, it is a false argument that the rise of militancy and sectarian violence is solely the blowback effect of US intervention in Afghanistan and the drone strikes in the tribal region. The roots of militancy are much deeper in Pakistan and while the war in Afghanistan may have only fuelled it further, it is certainly not the cause.

Most militant groups involved in terrorist activities and those fighting the Pakistani forces operated for a long time under the patronage of the country’s security establishment waging jihad in other countries. Many of them had a close nexus with Al Qaeda and it was a matter of time before they turned their guns on their erstwhile patrons.

Imran Khan and others who blame Pakistan’s support for the US war in Afghanistan for the conflict are either naïve or twisting the facts to give legitimacy to the militants’ violence. The truth is that under a UN Security Council resolution Pakistan had no choice but to side with the US after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We should not forget that Imran Khan supported Gen Musharraf’s decision at the time.

Again it is a false argument that militancy will cease if Pakistan dissociates itself from the US-led war in Afghanistan. Firstly, how is Pakistan a part of the US war? In fact, the country has often been accused of supporting the Afghan Taliban insurgency against the occupation forces.

Secondly, the US now plans to pull out its forces from Afghanistan by the end of next year and it is in the interest of Pakistan to facilitate a political settlement in the war-ravaged country. Does Imran Khan want Pakistan to side with the Taliban fighting the foreign troops in Afghanistan?

Yet another fallacy is that the Pakistani Taliban’s militancy is in retaliation to the US drone strikes in the tribal regions. There is no empirical evidence to prove this contention. For sure the drone strikes violate Pakistan’s sovereignty and must be stopped. It is also true that the civilian casualties have some serious political implications. But to link the militancy to the Predator strikes is certainly an exaggeration.

To put the record straight, only six drone strikes were carried out from 2004 to 2009 and except for the Damadola incident there had not been any collateral damage reported.

But most terrorist attacks occurred during that period targeting civilians as well as the security personnel and the installations.

Most of the tribal agencies and Malakand division in KP had fallen under Taliban control. Peshawar was virtually under siege and militants had advanced to the areas close to the capital Islamabad. It was only after the military operations that the state was able to re-establish its control over those areas.

So to say that the military action did not work is an extremely flawed argument. In fact, the peace deals had allowed the Taliban the space to reorganise themselves. The latest move for unconditional peace negotiations will have the same effect.

Imran Khan’s toxic narrative only helps the Taliban and other militant groups that have declared war against the state. What is at stake is the future of democracy and the stability of the country.

The writer is an author and journalist.

zhussain100@yahoo.com

Twitter: @hidhussain