IMAGINE an outraged, emotional introductory paragraph to the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement, validating whichever side of the divide the reader chooses to identify with. Imagine that this article starts with that. And then let’s put that out of the way. Let’s see what that leaves us with.
On one side, a generation that has grown up in conflict and destruction, whose bildungsroman was the ‘war on terror’, whose only pre-war memories are what they’ve been told by elder generations. The history they know verbatim is that they were used in 1948 for Kashmir, in the 1980s to support the Mujahideen, in the 1990s to support the Taliban and then 2000 onwards, all of which they’ve sewn together into a narrative of perpetual victimhood. According to this script, everything was externally imposed, there was no local war profiteering, ideological convergences, dovetailing local power structures; everyone who participated was either a planted agent or forced into it and people had no volition.
On the other side is the security apparatus in panic mode. The rallies of tens of thousands of people cannot be broadcast on TV channels because of gag orders, journalists who cover these get reprimanded, the organisers get detained, arrested or expelled, the parliamentarians who represent them are sidelined. The PTM phenomenon is explained as being Afghan funded or Indian funded or American funded, and in either case, out to destroy Pakistan.
This piece doesn’t use the ‘there are two sides to every story, the fault lies with both’ template. Instead, it tries to make the point that both sides are speaking to different problems.
The demands for accountability are not a rejection of the state but the trajectory to its acceptance.
The security studies’ lot may say that the principles of war are not applicable in irregular warfare like ours, but I’ll borrow anyway. There are historical debates about what justifies war in general or the reasons why particular wars must be waged (jus ad bellum). These are separate from disputes over and assessments of the way in which warfare is conducted (jus in bello). The ‘why war/whose war’ is distinct from its ‘how’. It is entirely possible to have supported the need for military intervention against the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan while also pointing out problems with its execution, including vacillation on the part of the security apparatus.
The current PTM demands are focused on how the war was conducted. In the tribal areas, this spanned internment centres, disappearances, large-scale destruction, displacement, earlier agreements with militants, and bizarre eight-page-long social contracts with 18 main clauses for citizens.
Thousands across erstwhile Fata are protesting, most recently in North Waziristan, partly because people’s ire at different things has converged: tedious security checkpoints every 2,000 yards increasing commute time by hours, inadequate compensation policies and their inefficient payment systems, the scale of destruction and slow pace of reconstruction, Watan cards, contract allocations to favourites, awarding of bids to the Frontier Works Organisation and lack of employment.
Outrage over these governance and administrative functions has merged with anger against how military operations were conducted. And that is because the army took over both sets of functions in Fata. Any politician in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa can attest that once you are in a position to govern, anti-incumbency comes into play more often than not. Governance comes with its built-in costs; the wholesale rejection of those in power is one of them. Had this anger been directed against civil political authorities, we would probably have shrugged it off as routine dysfunction. This also illustrates the importance of maintaining the separation of powers.
In conflict zones, people’s perspectives change according to the stages of conflict. In the build-up stage, contributing factors are easier to isolate since they have not fully lapsed into a larger narrative. Once violence breaks out, people express righteousness and take sides. After the corresponding violence occurs, outrage and laments kick in as losses pile up — displacement, out-migration, security operations, the profiling of identity groups.
The immediate aftermath usually includes condemnation of all violence generally including deflection and the externalising of all blame. As life for the people resumes some semblance of normality, they try to block out what happened and tend to see that period as a time of insanity they want to forget about.
Processing and the ability to reflect comes later when the violence is over, and it leads to demands for accountability. All over the world, truth and reconciliation commissions, mediation programmes, reparations, trials and tribunals on human rights violations and pushback against impunity are post-conflict accountability mechanisms.
Demands for accountability are not a rejection of the state but in fact the trajectory to its acceptance. Engagement with this process will open up critical reflection on not just the state apparatus but also on the role of local communities and leadership, including colluding with militants. At the moment, the interface has become so bitterly divisive that those who collaborate with the state are called ‘samsaray’, referring to giant lizards which latch on to surfaces and were reputedly used to scale walls for robberies by tying a rope around them — signalling infiltration and hence a local incarnation of the Trojan horse metaphor.
To an extent, Pakistan is defined by its geography. Foreign interest in destabilising Balochistan or KP and border districts is a present danger but vested interests can exploit existing grievances, not create them. Addressing impunity is vital to demonstrating that the state can provide justice.
Patriotism cannot require people to be unhappy with elected governments and happy with unelected state institutions. As long as demands and dissent do not override the Constitution, patriotism and civic freedoms should not be positioned as opposites. Throughout history, discontent with current conditions has been the motor for growth and change. It is a basic human impulse to want things to be different and strive for it. Why hold it against the people?
The writer is a researcher and consultant in the social sector.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2019