Questions after FATF

Published February 26, 2018

THE FATF debacle has exposed not just a crisis of policy, but also of the process of making policy in the country. Most immediately, the meeting in Paris was a known event, as was the attempt by the US and other countries to return Pakistan to a terror-financing watch list. But neither the political government nor the military leadership, which is otherwise highly active when it comes to key national security and foreign policy decisions, appears to have prepared for or even been adequately aware of imminent action against Pakistan. That is simply unacceptable. A post-mortem of the run-up to last week’s events ought to be conducted. Among the Prime Minister’s Office, the finance ministry, the foreign ministry, the National Security Committee, GHQ and the intelligence agencies blame must be assigned and shared. Too often, decisions fundamental to the future of the people of Pakistan are treated as private debates between institutions of the state and the political leadership. They are not. Whether the permanent state or elected representatives, they ultimately work for and must be answerable to the people of Pakistan for the decisions, and mistakes, made.

Longer term, it is clear that de facto control of national security matters by the military leadership while a civilian government is left to defend policies it does not necessarily agree with is unworkable. Set aside the ongoing tussle between Nawaz Sharif on one side and a widespread perception of a judicial-military combine on the other. Ten years since the democratic transition began, there have been two parliaments, several prime ministers and one recurring theme: civilians under pressure for advocating what are eminently sensible national security policies. What really is the alternative to systematically cleansing Pakistan of all forms of militancy, terrorism and extremism? On occasion, the idea of mainstreaming has been mooted by the military establishment. While theoretically possible, the terms and conditions of mainstreaming have never been publicly spelled out. Militant ideology is almost universally opposed to constitutional democracy. The closest approximation of on what terms militant groups may embrace the democratic project is of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Does Pakistan want to be Afghanistan?

Worse yet, the few, halting examples of mainstreaming that have been evident recently appear to be aimed at chipping away the vote banks of existing political parties. Is it possible for the civil and military arms of the state to work together to achieve an outcome that will weaken the standing of existing political parties in the country? Certainly, the civilians, and in particular the PML-N, have exacerbated the crisis in national security policymaking by a cavalier attitude towards institutional decision-making. No explanation has been offered for why the Foreign Office did not have a full-time, full-fledged minister for most of the PML-N’s current term. The finance ministry operated like a personal fiefdom under Ishaq Dar. The attitudes are wrong, systems are not in place – is a crisis not inevitable?

Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2018

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