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What strategy?

Updated December 07, 2014


The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

AND then folk wonder what was the point. As Nawaz runs around bleating about roads and miniwatts and the price of fuel, the big-boy stuff is back where it belongs: with the boys.

And boy, is it good to be the boys again. Raheel goes to the US and it’s the greatest thing ever. Security-based relationship it may be, but it’s all talk of convergence and thumping the new chief on the back and GETTING THINGS DONE.

Back home, the media and sections of the political class were falling over themselves to declare Raheel the GREATEST CHIEF EVER. Is it a bird, is it a plane, no, it’s… the chief!

There’s more: Raheel isn’t just playing the part and saying all the right things, he sounds like he means it too. The enemy is within! We’re going to get them all! New Afghanistan is possible! India will not provoke us!

So give him a chance? Sure. (Though it’s not like anyone’s asking.) Can he deliver? That’s much trickier.

Assume Raheel really means it. The boys are done playing games. No more good this and bad that, no more protectorates and shielded sort, no more security trumps everything, therefore the army must predominate.

OK, so he means it. Fata is retaken — eventually, KP is pacified — eventually, Karachi is defanged — eventually. Raheel may be long gone by then, but it’s him who’d get the credit for getting the ball rolling again.

But hang on a second, what was that going on in Lahore? Was that the pecking order being reasserted? Was Imran effectively being told, yeah, thanks for all your help, but we’ll take it from here?

For all their talk, the boys are silent on the original besties, the ones with fighting India and freeing Kashmir as their reasons for being.

For there was the JuD running around the provincial capital of the most politically important province in the land, acting as if it owned the city. All black and white flags with swords and speakers that could put a rock concert to shame.

On the very day that Imran was supposed to be using to try and topple the government again. Pause and think about that for a moment: the JuD, née LeT, had plans in Lahore to which the business of toppling a government had to take a back seat.

You can imagine the TTP muttering to itself, we wouldn’t have bothered with Fata if we had known we could have had Punjab.

And that’s the problem: for all their talk, the boys are silent on the original besties, the ones with fighting India and freeing Kashmir as their reasons for being.

Which leaves you and me having to figure out on our own what kind of Pakistan the chief has in mind when he says all militants will be eliminated, but in that very week Lahore is taken over by the JuD.

So, what’s going on?

There are three possibilities. The obvious is: they don’t see LeT — throw in the Hizb and Jaish and a few others — as a problem. Militancy only became a problem because a) indiscipline broke out and b) they turned their guns on us.

But the Kashmir folk are relatively disciplined and have no interest in biting the hand that feeds it. Because they’re a different category, because they don’t belong in the militancy column, there’s no point trying to conflate issues or confuse them. Flat-out denial, then, is one possibility.

Possibility two is that the silence is less because of affection and more because of confusion. If you cut them loose, then what? If you decapitate the leadership, what kind of other risks are you unleashing?

It may be easy enough to scoff at this option — we created the monster and the monster still heeds our every call and yet we try and pretend that we’re really scared of the monster — but it is worth exploring.

Because, while the world may be incredulous, the truth is that often our boys’ policies are rooted in fear, not the machismo we project.

Factor in the latest from India too. With Modi stamping his feet in India and eyeing a slice of the pie in Kashmir, the Kashmir folk here can’t be kept muzzled. For keep them muzzled now and they lose all their credibility. And there’s nothing quite like a militant group without credibility.

So even if the boys themselves wanted to keep them muzzled, now was not the time to push too hard. (Conversely, maybe some of the boys felt that by trotting out the proxies a dismissive Modi can be incentivised to act a little more humble.)

The third option is loopy, but with promise (if you’re not particularly perturbed by a right-wing Pakistan with roots in militancy): mainstream them. Encourage them to run around and market their appeal and simultaneously nudge them to get into the politics game.

They’re too big to ask them to wrap up and go home. They’re too organised to expect them to give it all up suddenly. They’ve got too wide a network to hope they’ll call it quits. So why not encourage them to redirect their energy? And there’s nothing like politics to dissipate energy.

See how that works? Militants with guns that are firing here get eradicated; militants with guns that are silent but pointed in the right direction get to go into politics. For everyone else, normality ensues. Who says the boys don’t have a plan?

Expect, if you look at the three options masquerading as plans, what we’re really left with is: denial, fear and flat-out crazy. Welcome back, boys.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn December 7th , 2014