The revenge argument

September 30, 2013

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IN 2004 Corps Commander XI Corps decided to meet Nek Mohammad to seal a peace deal. The political agent responsible for South Waziristan warned against the enterprise.

He argued that there existed a civil administration in Fata and an established manner in which the state dealt with recalcitrant tribesmen. And that even if the corps commander wished to conclude a deal with the militant leader there was a way to go about it.

The political agent would have his naib tehsildar arrest and lock up Nek Mohammad for a few days before offering him a peace deal that could be formalised in the corps commander’s presence. He warned that if the state took the unprecedented step of a general showing up at Nek Mohammad’s place, it would embolden rebellious tribesmen, render the political agent’s office dysfunctional and wipe out the vestige of state authority in the tribal belt.

The political agent wrote this in a letter to the governor. The governor and the corps commander disagreed and the matter was referred to GHQ. Gen Musharraf apparently decided that he would let the corps commander run the show. The corps commander met Nek Mohammad and concluded the infamous Shakai peace deal in April 2004. (The political agent refused to accompany the corps commander and was transferred out.)

The very next day Nek Mohammad reiterated his commitment to Al Qaeda and Taliban in a media interview. The peace deal was dead in the water. On June 18, Nek Mohammad was killed in what was then claimed as a missile strike. Reportedly it was the first US drone strike in Pakistan killing an anti-state militant leader.

The political agent’s counsel was prophetic. It wasn’t the use of the drone that marked the end of civilian authority in the tribal belt, but the elevation of Nek Mohammad to an equal of a high state functionary such as the corps commander. We have had to rely on use of force to maintain peace in the tribal areas not because structures of political and social authority never existed there but because they were obliterated by flawed policies and not rebuilt.

Do the generals then have any justification to chide lack of resolve amongst politicos to fight terror? The only thing that the all-party conference — and the inane resolution it produced — established was that the civil and military leaders are indeed on the same page: they share confusion and pusillanimity in dealing with terror.

The argument that drones primarily ignite the sense of revenge within Pakhtuns, which then manifests itself in the form of suicide attacks within mosques and churches, schools and funerals targeting innocent civilians and state officials alike is mindless. That drones comprise a pre-emptive execution programme that is unjustifiable in view of basic rule of law and due process requirements is a separate issue.

But citing revenge as the prime cause of terror in Pakistan is obtuse and reckless. Have more Pakhtuns died at the hands of TTP-led band of terrorists or in drone attacks? Do drones contain a special collateral agent that triggers the sense of revenge within the victims’ survivors that suicide attacks lack? Do 15-year-olds blow themselves up along with others because they are mad at the state’s foreign policy?

The roots of terror have to be traced to the ‘Good Jihad’ of the 1980s and not the ‘Bad Jihad’ post-9/11 when national security was mixed with religion. The state created non-state actors, armed them with weapons and an ideology of hate inspired by the misuse of religious dogma, and employed them in pursuit of a national security policy. The non-state actors turned on the state in the post-9/11 phase when the state’s national security interests came in conflict with their worldview.

And what did the state do? Nothing. It didn’t abandon the use of non-state actors as a ‘safeguard’ — a back up plan — in its national security thinking. It didn’t shut down madressahs set up to infect impressionable minds with a religion-inspired ideology of hate. It didn’t shut down militant camps where non-state actors were trained as militants. So it neither admitted the design fault in the jihadi project nor shut down the assembly line. Instead, it drew an arbitrary line in sand: if non-state actors attack the state they will become an enemy. The flaw in this thinking (now adopted by pro-talks politicos) is that armed non-state actors coexisting and sharing the state’s monopoly over violence can be acceptable, and lasting peace can be built with the state negotiating a mutually acceptable code of conduct that will take away not the capacity of militants but their will to kill. Once a militant elite has grabbed and tasted power, will it give it up voluntarily just because the state is being nice?

Problems grow bigger if allowed to fester. The right time to clean up North Waziristan was after the Swat and South Waziristan operations. Lack of gravitas of the civilian set-up aside, the decision not to launch the operation in 2011-12 was that of Gen Kayani. The decision not to reclaim the TTP emirate was ultimately driven by the old desire to preserve whatever leverage the state believed it had with the Taliban to ‘safeguard’ Pakistan’s interests in post 2014 Afghanistan.

Now our ruling civilian leaders have bought into this mindset of giving up what we have in a bid to preserve what we don’t. Imran Khan’s suggestion of helping the TTP establish an office and recognise a terror outfit as a legitimate stakeholder reflects this blinkered thinking. Lionising terrorists as angry zealots, projecting surrender as restraint and labeling calls to defend foundational principles of polity as revenge or conspiracy is bad statesmanship even if not bad politics.

Integrity and good intentions define gentlemen; vision and judgement define leaders. Imran Khan is singularly deflating the resolve of this nation to stand up against vile terrorists. Our misfortune is that in facing an existential crisis our self-proclaimed agent of change suffers from warped judgement and everyone else lacks the vision or ability to challenge his noxious narrative.

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