IT ought to be a straightforward answer to a simple question: has the Pakistani state taken any measures in recent weeks against, among others, the Haqqani network and Jamaatud Dawa that impact on the legal and operational status of those groups on Pakistani soil?
Unhappily, even in this most straightforward of cases, the Pakistani state is being anything but direct and honest.
The Foreign Office tells the media to check with the Interior Ministry and Nacta; the otherwise voluble and media-attention-loving Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan goes silent; anonymous bureaucrats and unnamed officials give contradictory statements; parliament is given ambiguous answers to direct questions; and nowhere does anyone in any relevant public office show any inclination to inform the public of what is or is not being done in their name.
Meanwhile, the conspiracy theories are growing more feverish: an outright ban, frozen bank accounts, restrictions on foreign travel of JuD leaders — whatever new measures have been taken, it has all been done at the behest of the US to placate an angry India and assist the Afghan government.
Such conspiracy theories do more than confuse the public; they strike at the heart of the consensus this country needs, that the fight against militancy is Pakistan’s own and not imposed by the outside world on a hapless nation.
All the confusion can be cleared up by a simple, authoritative statement by the interior ministry, or — given the implications for national security policy — by the Prime Minister’s Office. But, in a way that echoes the old practice here of saying one thing (or saying nothing) and doing another, the government has chosen to remain silent — just as the state alternates between remaining silent about drone strikes and condemning them.
Just as once upon a time the army-led security establishment cut clandestine — sometimes, public — deals with militant groups while claiming it was opposed to religiously inspired militant groups existing on Pakistani soil. And just as the state banned Lashkar-e-Taiba, but allowed it to first morph into Jamaatud Dawa and now, to some extent, into the Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation.
A simple path towards clarity — at least in terms of designation and profiles — in the present instance was offered by the Supreme Court on Thursday: make public the names of proscribed groups and translate anti-terrorism laws into local languages to increase awareness.
As the Supreme Court observed, often the public is unaware that groups operating as social welfare networks or collecting charity are in fact designated by the state to be terrorist groups. That has the effect of allowing the groups to grow and even gain public affection by pretending to be something they most certainly are not.
Perhaps it will be easier to begin to believe that the era of good militants/bad militants is over if the state can bring itself to name and ban all militant groups.
Published in Dawn January 24th , 2015