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An end-point?

April 03, 2016


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

ALL week we’ve heard that this is something new. New fight. New front. New tensions on the old civ-mil front. But is it?

The attack, horrific and monstrous, was familiar enough. A familiar enemy. A familiar target. A familiar attack — Meena Bazaar circa 2009 having started the women-and-children gore.

Ah, but the response was different. The Taliban have driven a wedge where others had failed recently — between Raheel and Nawaz, who had seemed to be making co-habitation work.

But haven’t we seen this — or at least a version of this — at least twice before?

Raheel and Nawaz have different approaches. But the approaches are rooted in the same equation — how much, how far, how fast and at what cost.

The Karachi airport attack gave us Zarb-i-Azb. Nawaz didn’t want Zarb-i-Azb — back then, we were told, because he didn’t want blowback in Punjab. But Zarb-i-Azb we got because Raheel presented Nawaz with a fait accompli.

Then, APS/Peshawar attack birthed the National Action Plan. Because it was a sprawling programme, it wasn’t an immediate systemic threat.

But Nawaz, we were told, could sense the danger: specific mention of Punjab in NAP and a range of measures that suggested the inevitability of army encroachment. So, NAP was mostly ignored, even though the boys tried to rattle the civilians into greater compliance.

Now, we have Lahore. And once again, the boys have tried to turn it into a catalyst. And once again, Nawaz is resisting.

This much is clear: Raheel and Nawaz have different approaches. But the approaches are rooted in the same equation — how much, how far, how fast and at what cost.

This week, we’ve learned yet again that Raheel wants to do more, farther afield and faster than Nawaz when it comes to fighting militancy.

But that doesn’t make Raheel completely right — and Nawaz being wrong isn’t the certain deal-breaker that everyone seems to think.

Let’s start with the boys. Raheel’s determination tends to obscure a persistent truth: how much, how far and how fast to go in the fight against militancy have not all been determined by him.

Both the Fata plan, with its culmination in North Waziristan, and the application of a counter-terrorism vice in Pakistan proper are part of a blueprint that was long acknowledged.

If Pakistan was to be saved, there was a certain logic to saving it — a sequence that had to be followed. Raheel has followed that sequence. His real contribution has been to accelerate the pace of that sequence.

But with speed comes mistakes.

Essentially, Raheel is presiding over a transition point — the changeover from predominant counter-insurgency to more counter-terrorism goals. The former is necessarily military-led. The latter suffers if militarised too much.

What we have now is a push for ever-more militarised counter-terrorism — meaning the long war will be longer yet.

Two mistakes by Raheel have contributed to the problem. One, he has encouraged the ISI to mould itself as the counter-terrorism lynchpin.

On the record, you hear frequently enough of civilian law-enforcement and intelligence sorts praising the ISI for its counter-terrorism prowess. They pass on information, they are helpful, they help us with essential coordination, they multiply our capabilities — the ISI is great.

Off the record, a different story can be heard. The ISI does not just consider itself superior to the civilian side of security apparatus, but it works to make sure that its superiority is protected.

Both directly, by blocking the acquisition of resources by the civilians, and indirectly, by making sure everything is routed through it, as with the Rangers.

The warrior Raheel could have been more enlightened.

Two, Raheel didn’t pay attention to the spillover effects of Karachi. When the civilian input was frozen out and the campaign spread to the political realm, the inevitable happened.

When the boys say corruption, they may well mean only corruption – but when the civilians hear corruption, they think regime change and ouster.

The warrior Raheel did not see the political connection between Karachi and Punjab. An enlightened chief may have thought, keep Karachi narrow and Punjab could be that much less difficult to handle.

But now, with Lahore, we’ve reached an end-point of sorts. After Zarb-i-Azb and NAP, there’s really just Punjab left. Another massive attack will give Raheel what he wants. He won’t have to wait for Nawaz.

That changes the equation for Nawaz. Earlier, Nawaz could afford to say no to Raheel — Zarb-i-Azb and NAP were buffers between Raheel and Punjab.

And earlier Nawaz could not afford to say yes — if he gave up Punjab, what the hell would he be left with anyway? He may as well have gone home.

Now the choice is more straightforward: work out an arrangement with Raheel soon or else get steamrolled by Raheel when the next attack in Punjab happens.

As for Raheel — the enlightened path is available again: know that Nawaz has just one chance left and give him a deal that he can live with.

Punjab is rich and ruthless. For all its flaws, the civilian apparatus can do decent counter-terrorism. So, offer the civilians some kind of semi-equality and let Nawaz know the odds of another massive attack in Punjab — and let him figure out where that would leave him.

Self-interest can be a wonderful thing. Between the boys and Nawaz, perhaps self-interest may just align in an enlightened way.

Then again, this is Pakistan. When control-everything collides with do-nothing, the outcome is usually control over nothing.

The writer is a member of staff.

Twitter: @cyalm

Published in Dawn, April 3rd, 2016