War of narratives

Published June 27, 2014
The writer is a former federal secretary interior.
The writer is a former federal secretary interior.

THE military operation in North Waziristan has raised hopes of getting rid of the militants. In this euphoria, nobody is interested in tempering the expectations of the public and preparing them for the long drawn-out struggle this proposes to be, with chances of success only if all the parties play their role effectively. The parties in this game are the federal government, the army alongwith the agencies, and most importantly the four provincial governments.

The narrative of each of the four provinces and the army are different. Punjab wants to end terrorism but has no problem with entering into political dialogue with the likes of Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan. Sindh wants to end violence but sees no problem with going soft on the militant wings of political parties. If the MQM has a militant wing, the PPP is not left behind either and comes up with its People’s Amn Committee. The Awami National Party has its own gunmen.

Balochistan wants peace but wants to treat Baloch nationalists differently from the manner in which the army/FC do. It refuses to acknowledge the Taliban problem, even though foreign sources inform us that Quetta is the favourite destination for the Afghan Taliban. The Balochistan government prefers to follow a wait-and-see policy in terms of Punjab-based sectarian groups that are sworn enemies of the Shia Hazaras.

The KP government wants to continue with dialogue because, given the geography, it feels vulnerable to the onslaught of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The army has its favourites in the tribal areas, which it perceives will help it retain and enhance influence in Afghanistan. For influence on the eastern front, there is another set of favourites. The federal government’s narrative is neither here nor there; it is too scared to take a stand on anything to do with terrorism and prefers to run to the National Assembly, hold all-party conferences or hide behind the army.

Is anyone doing anything to develop the national discourse that is so crucial in fighting terrorism?

There are thus five clear narratives in the country, if you count the federal government out. Is anyone doing anything to reconcile these narratives and develop the national one that is so crucial in fighting this curse?

The other day, a counterterrorism resear­cher working abroad addressed a seminar in Lahore. The main theme of his findings was that around the world, only those countries have effectively countered insurgencies that were able to put forward a consensus narrative. In our case, we are not only miles away from that consensus, no one is even flagging it as crucial.

The best-case scenario of the ongoing operation in North Waziristan would be neutralising the non-Mehsud Taliban of the tribal areas alone. What will happen to all the gun-toting extremist groups in the country who are supported by one of the provincial governments or the army itself? This includes half a dozen well-known groups ensconced in the tribal areas, southern Punjab, Sindh and Balochis­tan. A number of them are operating under new names after having been proscribed by the government. Does anyone think there can be sustainable peace while extremist wings and political militant wings thrive? We may win respite for a few months, but the extremists will continue to haunt us and push us into poverty, international isolation and despondency until we take the bull by the horns.

Despite our desperate state, where most agree that fixing the terrorism problem is more important than fixing the economy or the power shortages, are any of the main players willing to come on one page? The only consensus they have is to demolish the TTP; but they see no need to touch the extremists that serve their own purposes.

The whole thing started when Pakistan trai­ned mujahideen and entered into America’s war in Afghanistan to contain the USSR, and took the initiative of training non-state ‘soldiers’ for India and Kashmir. It is these trained ‘ghazis’ whose claim to fame is their ability to wreak violence that are our main problem. They may be from any lashkar or jaish; they are available to share their violent skills for money or, in other cases, break the spell their teachers or handlers cast on them.

When there were reports of fighters heading to Syria from the tribal areas, there was no reaction in Pakistan — unless perhaps there was a sense of relief, not realising they would be back after a year or two, with even more sophisticated skills.

These fighters can only be removed through two methods. First, if the six entities mentioned above, including the army, develop a national narrative rather than their own institutional narrative. Or second, if the state establishes its writ and demonstrates zero tolerance for banned parties under any banner, as well as implementing strict gun laws, depoliticising the police and re-establishing a working criminal justice system. The government does not seem to be working on either of these options.

The writer is a former federal secretary interior.


Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2014



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