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The way forward

January 06, 2013

THERE has been much talk lately of Pakistan’s military doctrine. On Friday the prime minister said the country needs a new one. That comment came just a couple of days after media reports that the military is redefining its doctrine to incorporate internal militancy as a serious threat. But this idea is not a new one; in his Independence Day speech last year, Gen Kayani had publicly stated not only that “extremism and terrorism present a grave challenge”, but that “the war against it is our own war, and a just war too”. A shift in the military’s mindset appears to have been taking place for some time, and the government has been speaking out against the threat by way of condemning individual incidents. But what neither has done is convincingly lay out a new doctrine in a way that can unite the country — including doubting citizens, soldiers, politicians and members of the media — against violent extremism.

Part of the problem is that the doctrine has changed drastically over time. Pakistanis remember the way militants were trained and equipped by the state to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, and then used to fight what was dubbed jihad in Kashmir. When the policy was changed in 2001, formerly ‘good’ jihadi organisations banned in 2002 — though some are still allowed, again for undefined reasons, to get away with violating bans — and military operations launched in the tribal areas in the following years, Pakistanis were left with no explanation other than post-9/11 American pressure. In private some military officials will now admit that the state followed the wrong course in the 1980s and 1990s, and in his speech Gen Kayani said, though without explanation, that “all of us have a share of the blame of our past”. But the case has not been made clearly or loudly enough.

This is particularly important to do at a time when militant groups appear to be proposing talks. While dialogue may be a tempting idea to sell to the public, the government and the military need to be crystal clear on the approach to militancy before sitting down with people who declare allegiance to Al Qaeda, don’t believe in democracy and demand war with India. There is also the lingering issue of false distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militant groups. But the series of tragic incidents of terrorism that have taken place in the last few weeks should serve as a rude awakening, and this time be used as an opportunity for the state to finally explain, explicitly and publicly, what the current military doctrine is — and how it differs from those of the past.