STRONG words from the army at a time of intense emotions over the attack on 14-year-old Malala are an important addition to the national revulsion at the Taliban and the way of life they seek to impose on Pakistan. Important as it is to have clarity in the national discourse about the Taliban — something the religious right even now is seeking to obfuscate by talking of conspiracies and bringing up red herrings — what is equally, if not more, essential, is to have the determination to build and then implement a clear strategy against militancy. At a meeting of the senior-most officers of the armed forces convened by Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Shameem Wyne on Thursday, the armed forces did try and lay down a marker against the Taliban. In tone and tenor, it was in keeping with the straight talk of Gen Kayani on Aug 14 and will help dispel some of the propaganda being spread by those sympathetic to the Taliban and their cause.
But — and this is a critical qualification — the strongest of words will not substitute for meaningful policy. And policy will never be meaningful until a fundamental decision is taken: a zero-tolerance policy towards militancy. Only from that starting point will a clear and coherent strategy emerge and only from there can we have a chance of definitively rescuing Pakistan from the grip of militancy and the non-violent extremism that creates an enabling environment for violent action. Too much attention is paid to the details sometimes — which groups should be taken on first and where, what should be done about North Waziristan, how should Pakistan adjust its preference for a Pakhtun-dominated set-up in Afghanistan. All these are very important questions in their own right and intrinsic to solving the riddle of militancy but they do have the unfortunate effect of detracting from a core understanding: until Pakistan adopts a zero-tolerance policy towards violent militancy and its superficially non-violent extremist counterpart, the country will slip deeper and deeper into the vortex of instability and insecurity.
Given the unfortunate political history of Pakistan, the idea that a zero-tolerance policy towards militancy is state policy can only come if the military lays down that marker. Through its actions it must make it clear to its civilian counterparts and the public that the stated policy is in fact the actual policy. Of course, when it comes to rolling back the infrastructure of jihad, the armed forces will need the civilian leadership to exhibit courage and leadership too. But the first step must be taken by the men in uniform.