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A militant-free Pakistan

February 24, 2019

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The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

PAKISTAN can by no means leave the task of countering terrorism unaccomplished. For that, it will have to adopt a policy mechanism to control all shades of militant groups. In retrospect, Pakistan has already taken some measures that have put pressure on militants and their supporters. This pressure should remain sustained and be expanded across the board, reflecting the state’s resolve that no militant group will be allowed to operate here.

First, militants should not be allowed to hide behind the state’s religious-nationalist paradigm.

Secondly, these groups should not have any space in the political or strategic calculus of the state. As far as denying physical space to militant groups is concerned, implementing the National Action Plan and the National Internal Security Policy would do the trick. At times, changing the behaviour of some sectarian or militant groups can confuse the state’s response, especially when these groups offer complete disengagement from violence in return for entry into mainstream politics. But the leaderships of such groups cannot guarantee holding back their vulnerable mid- and low-rank cadres from committing acts of terrorism, or joining some other violent groups.

Thirdly, the international community, including Pakistan’s key strategic partner, China, has become less tolerant towards violent non-state actors that are considered a key hurdle in the way of progress and globalisation. Global economies trust only non-state actors of peace and cooperation, such as the Financial Action Task Force, the international financial watchdog that helps check money laundering and terror financing.

Both India and Pakistan need a paradigm shift to move from covert warfare to strategic realism.

The emerging geopolitical and security challenges, many of them non-traditional, also make it imperative for Pakistan to develop an unconventional response framework. The proxy wars in South Asia and neighbouring regions were not a new phenomenon when the state here was seen to nurture proxies with the consent and aid of its international partners. South Asia in particular has a long history of covert wars and many countries in the region have mastered the art of proxy warfare to exploit the internal fault lines of their adversaries. But a proxy war, if prolonged and unchecked, can trigger a conventional war. The region has seen this happening many times.

Both India and Pakistan need a paradigm shift to move from covert warfare to strategic realism, which can enhance the chances of the resolution of conflicts between the two countries. Strategic realism stands on the concept of the authority of the state as an authoritative actor, that can undermine or limit the functionality of individuals or non-state actors — if both sides agree to do so.

Pakistan’s offer to India for talks was an attempt to bring these countries into the realm of strategic realism, but the Indian response remains negative. This attitude is not going to help India; rather, it will leave the current regime in Delhi hostage to a new collective narcissism that is growing in Indian society. The weak and marginalised communities in India have become the victims of this collective narcissism, as is evident from the response of the majority community against Kashmiris and Muslims. In the narcissistic framework of India, Pakistan is seen as holding the position of an ‘offender’ that provokes the majority’s sentiments and sees the Kashmiris as aligned with Pakistan.

Collective narcissism is as dangerous as violent extremism. Pakistan is also suffering from a certain degree of narcissism that exhibits itself in the disparate societal relationship between different religious and ethnic communities. But the Indian case is becoming worse and making Pakistan’s task to overcome radicalism in society difficult, since a major section of the media and public opinion-makers here try to reciprocate in a similar manner. This process limits the possibilities of turning critical issues into realistic paradigms.

For instance, both sides could make the joint anti-terrorism mechanism (JATM) a permanent institutional mechanism (along the pattern of the Directorate-General of Military Operations hotline) which links both prime ministers’ offices and allows direct communication between the leaders of India and Pakistan. The two countries have twice agreed on a JATM. First, in 2006 Gen Musharraf and then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee agreed on this in Havana, and then in 2009 prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani agreed on it. However, the JATM has become a victim of politics despite having the potential to become an important trust-building mechanism between the two countries that could be used to minimise the chances of terrorist and other damaging activities on both sides.

Coming back to the internal dimension of the issue, Pakistan has to take its partners into full confidence about its counterterrorism policy, especially the non-kinetic components such as deradicalisation and rehabilitation. However, first, the government needs to ensure a complete blackout of militant and sectarian groups by the media and in public domains, a ban on their publications, and zero visibility for them in cyberspace. This should be part of the state’s contingency plan against militant groups.

Prime Minster Imran Khan has promised that in ‘naya Pakistan’, terrorist groups will never be allowed to thrive. This is commendable but should come with action. The first step in this direction should be to initiate an open debate in parliament on the status and future of banned groups. Parliament can constitute a high-powered national-level truth and reconciliation commission, to review the policies that produced militancy and to mainstream those willing to renounce violence and violent ideologies, but that should happen within the country’s Constitutional framework.

Pakistan should take these decisions for its own sake as militancy and extremism have eroded the fabric of society and militant groups have proved a strategic burden. All militant groups have a tendency to operate independently and their actions have detrimental consequences for the country.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2019