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Undefeated militancy

December 23, 2012

BASHIR Ahmed Bilour, an ANP stalwart and an implacable critic of militancy and Pakistan’s drift towards extremism, is no more. Killed by the same ideology he preached against and which saw him as a threat to the agenda of remaking Pakistan into a darker and more troubling place, the tragedy of Mr Bilour’s death is that it was perhaps a death foretold. In recent weeks, the surge in militant violence across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata may have come as a surprise to some, but to anyone following the arc of militancy in the region closely, the signs of an unbowed and undefeated militant threat looking to reassert itself were plentiful. And given that the state’s response in the face of the morphing threat from militancy appears to have been yet more uncertainty and near paralysis in some areas, the likelihood of high-profile attacks that would grab headlines and inflict further blows against the morale of the state and the public was very high. Now, Mr Bilour is dead and it’s almost certain that the recent wave of attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata will continue.

What can the state do? In moments like this, well-meaning commentary about better strategies and tactics and who to fight where and when are almost beside the point. Once, and only once, Pakistani state and society develop a consensus that militancy, radicalisation and extremism need to be decisively reversed, can any military, political or social strategy work. There is often much focus put on the role of the army-led security establishment in prolonging Pakistan’s association with militancy, radicalisation and extremism. The focus is correct and necessary because until the army adopts a zero-tolerance policy towards militancy, the state is unlikely to ever develop the will or capacity to smother the threat permanently. However, there is a serious burden of responsibility on the civilian political class too — a burden of responsible leadership that few have been able to carry well when it comes to confronting the militant threat.

For all the levers and control the security establishment may have over state and society, if there is to be meaningful change, it is the civilian political leadership that will have to demonstrate courage and clarity. Too much obfuscation, too much dithering, too much doublespeak has characterised many civilian politicians’ response to the threat from militancy. Myopia can only take a politician so far; ultimately, the militants have made it clear: it is them versus everyone else.