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Pakistan’s own war

Updated November 28, 2018


PRIME MINISTER Imran Khan has adjusted his rhetoric to several realities of high office, but in one crucial area he continues to cling to a flawed understanding of recent history.

During a visit to the North and South Waziristan tribal districts on Monday, Mr Khan told a group of tribal elders that an outside war had been imposed on Pakistan to fight, and that the PTI government would never allow for such a war to be fought again on Pakistani soil.

The prime minister’s words were jarring both for their content and where he said them.

The Waziristan agencies were some of the hardest hit by the Taliban insurgency and are still struggling to return to normality.

It appeared that Mr Khan was belittling the tremendous sacrifices and losses of the very people on the front lines of a fierce war fought by the Pakistani state to defend the people against a vicious and determined enemy.

The occasion surely called for greater sensitivity than was displayed.

More troubling is Mr Khan’s unwillingness to reassess his own flawed perceptions of the wars that have been waged in the region this century.

The war in Afghanistan was not, at least to begin with, comparable to the war in Iraq.

The war in Afghanistan may have been led by the US, but it was authorised by the UN, and dozens of countries participated in the effort.

The many mistakes that the US has made in Afghanistan and the historic disaster that was the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq have obscured a fundamental reality that the war in Afghanistan was a UN-sanctioned effort that Pakistan had a legal obligation to support.

If Mr Khan’s view on the war in Afghanistan is wrong-headed, his views about the war against terrorism, militancy and extremism inside Pakistan are reckless.

From the Pakistani Taliban insurgency to the sectarian attacks inside Pakistan, the roots of militant violence in this country can be traced to the myopic and self-serving policies of the state itself.

Indeed, past and present civilian and military leaders have not only asserted that the fight against militancy is Pakistan’s own war that must be fought for Pakistan’s sake but many in the national leadership have also recognised the strategic and policy mistakes that allowed militancy, terrorism and violent extremism to erupt in this country.

Mr Khan’s unwillingness to recognise the war being fought by the state inside Pakistan as a war of necessity and for the survival of this country is not a tenable position for the prime minister.

Particularly when it comes to the fight against violent extremism and the remnants of terrorist networks in the country, the civilian side of the security apparatus will need to lead from the front.

The prime minister’s thinking about and approach to the fight against militancy must evolve.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2018