After a mild outcry from the concerned citizenry as well as the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), the military leadership has reassured the political leadership that no extra-constitutional deal will be made with the proscribed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
A press statement issued after the National Security Committee meeting last week mentioned that an in-camera session of parliament will be called, in which the Leader of the House — ie, the prime minister — will take other leaders on board. The statement has given the impression that the issue of talks with the TTP has been resolved amicably with the political leadership.
Whatever the case may be, it is worth noting that the political leadership has since long given up on security issues. It now blindly trusts the security establishment’s insight on such affairs. It seems almost preposterous to even consider that they would ask the establishment under what constitutional or political framework talks with the terrorist group were even initiated. Which framework will be used to bring the erstwhile terrorists under the orbit of Pakistan’s Constitution, which they do not recognise?
Read: The cost of peace talks
The political leadership was not much bothered when the so-called Protection of Pakistan Ordinance 2014 was introduced in parliament, a clause of the Pakistan Army Act extended to civil legal jurisdictions, and terrorists declared ‘enemy aliens’.
Even victims of terrorism have so far not mobilised to register their protest.
The text of the Act on the website of the National Counter Terrorism Authority describes the “enemy alien” as a person who fails to establish their citizenship of Pakistan and is suspected to be involved in waging war or insurrection against Pakistan or depredation on its territory, by virtue of involvement in offences specified in the Schedule.
The Schedule includes an extended inventory of offences, most of them covered under Schedule 6 of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997, and further includes offences committed outside Pakistan against national interests, and cybercrimes to attack foreign interests in Pakistan.
The TTP had committed nearly all of the offences mentioned in the ordinance.
The ordinance is a reminder of how state institutions kept changing their approach to combating terrorism, and civilian leadership kept endorsing those changes without even pausing to give them a second thought.
According to figures derived from the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies’ digital database on conflict and security, the TTP alone, excluding breakaway factions and affiliated local groups, has carried out 3,280 terrorist attacks in Pakistan since its establishment in 2007. These include 301 suicide bombings, which claimed 7,488 lives and wounded 15,086 others.
Through these attacks, the group martyred 2,577 personnel of security and law-enforcement agencies (530 FC men, 992 policemen, 117 personnel of unspecified paramilitaries, 815 army soldiers, 83 Levies and 40 Rangers officials), and 4,559 civilians, which includes 107 government officials, 554 political leaders and workers, 519 pro-government tribal elders, and 14 workers of CPEC-related projects. As many as 352 militants were also killed in these attacks, who were either suicide bombers or were killed in retaliatory fire by security forces. Since 2007, about 1,200 personnel of the security forces also lost their lives in kinetic actions and armed clashes and encounters with militants, mainly of the TTP and affiliated groups. The picture gets even more complex if sectarian and communal attacks launched by the TTP and its former splinters, such as Hizbul Ahrar and Jamaatul Ahrar, are also counted.
Strangely, after reports first emerged of peace talks with the TTP, there was no major reaction. Only a few voices from the families of victims of the APS Peshawar attack, and those political parties which had suffered the worst of terrorist violence, such as the PPP and the Awami National Party (ANP), made any noise.
The ANP’s and PPP’s reaction is understandable. The TTP has claimed killing their top leadership, including Benazir Bhutto. However, these two parties never mobilised the masses on this issue. Other major parties in the current government are less concerned. The JUI-F always supported the idea of talks with the TTP because of their ideological affinity, while the PML-N is more focused on preserving its political capital and the economy.
The compulsions and shortcomings of political parties notwithstanding, more surprising has been the lack of response from civil society. Yes, the economic crisis may have left people unable to think about much else, but even victims of terrorism have so far not mobilised to register their protest. It is important to understand why.
A deconstruction of terms historically used to describe militancy and armed movements exposes structural issues pertaining to politics, nationalism, identity, religion and the balance of power within state institutions.
Not too long ago, citizens were not ready to accept that the Taliban or other religiously inspired militant groups could be involved in terrorism against Pakistan. Their actions outside the country had been depicted as acts of jihad. These militant groups had a history of serving the state and its institutions, and were frequently labelled ‘saviours’, ‘patriots’ and ‘mujahideen’ before they were ever declared militants or terrorists.
Instead, the pro-establishment media and opinion-makers frequently used the term ‘treason’ to refer to separatist movements in East Pakistan, Balochistan and ethnonationalist movements in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh. People would connect those terms to those specific contexts, and when the terms were used out of that context, it took time for them to be re-contextualised. For instance, when a religious leader was first called a traitor, it may have sounded unfamiliar to the ears of the layperson.
Public opinion in Pakistan therefore took time to adjust to the different meaning of terms such as ‘traitor’, ‘miscreant’ and ‘enemy’ when they were applied to religiously motivated militants after 9/11. Society was still digesting the new terminology and gradually accepting the TTP, Al Qaeda, IS-K, and LeJ as enemies of the state and society when state institutions seem to have suddenly upended that process. This has created more ambiguity within society, and its dynamics can be discussed at some other time in these pages. Till then, suffice it to say that the state seems to have greatly disillusioned its citizens.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn, June 26th, 2022