Nearly two months after the Peshawar attack, it is unclear if Pakistan’s direction has changed. The unprecedented grief and anger over the tragedy has now given way to business as usual. Bureaucrats undertaking the routine round-up exercises, platitudes by the politicians and the ‘firm’ image by the military leadership. Sections of civil society that defied the taboos of entering Islamabad’s no-go area i.e., Lal Masjid, ignited some hope that there was going to be a mass-scale mobilisation of Pakistanis against extremism and its violent manifestations. But the last rounds of activism attracted lesser numbers and apathy – a cornerstone of Pakistan’s mainstream culture.
What could be the greatest example of this syndrome than the muted response of the state and society over the massacre of 61 worshippers in Shikarpur. The National Action Plan is under implementation and apparently, thousands have been rounded up without a plan in place as to how they will be prosecuted in a court of law. The end result will not be different from the past record. Courts will bail them out sooner than later. Military courts are being operationalised and many Pakistanis view them as a panacea for the long-term failures of the judicial system. But there are many stages before they will become effective and deliver the kind of results that are needed to combat terrorism.
The prime minister had announced that all violent militias would be banned and proceeded against. But there are many which are free to mobilise. One day, the Jamatud Dawa is banned, the other day it is not. The ASWJ rallied in Karachi and the seminaries that are the backbone of these organisations remain fully functional. Admittedly, it is not possible to tackle them immediately but is there a strategy to handle three decades of mess that is growing messier? The answer to this question is in the negative.
When the Senate questioned the Punjab Police about foreign funding to seminaries, the initial response was denial-as-usual. Senator Tahir Mashhadi reportedly said that substantive evidence confirmed the “involvement of foreign-funded seminaries which were involved in promoting militancy in Pakistan”. The Saudi Embassy clearly said that whatever support was extended to welfare seminaries, mosques and charity organisations materialised with the express consent of the government. This has exposed the hollowness of the government’s commitments to address this key issue. Pakistan simply cannot be a playground for imported ideologies and allow sectarian battles to further bleed society.
Evidently, the military is leading the counterterrorism efforts. The provincial apex committees that met earlier have been steered by the military leadership. While this is a welcome development to achieve coordination, the role of Nacta as the key agency is once again unclear. Shortly after coming to power, the Nawaz Administration reconstituted the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and renamed it the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS). The CCNS was meant to formulate an umbrella national security policy that would guide the country’s internal and external security. The turbulence during much of 2014 meant that the civilian government lost its grip over power and therefore could not assert its mandate to re-fashion the security policy.
Had the political instability not been there, would the civilian government have taken the initiative? It seems unclear given the manner in which the federal government is being run. Even in areas where it has autonomy, the performance remains far from optimal.
Recognising how foreign policy impacts internal security, the army chief has been talking to Afghanistan, the UK, the US and China. Mending fences with the new Afghan government is a welcome step. However, the regional security calculus will not change until Pakistan decides to engage with India and not be driven by old demons. Nawaz Sharif was the ideal candidate for such a re-engagement but his wings have been clipped. The question is: how is Pakistan going to handle this? Alignment with China is not enough as Sino-Indian economic cooperation has grown over the years and China at best could help to only manage a potential conflict.
Pakistan simply cannot afford to turn a blind eye to private militias anymore. Their network has grown exponentially in the past two decades and is now getting embedded into societal networks. Crackdowns and police actions are not going to work unless there is a cohesive strategy to deal with the thousands of radicalised (and some armed) men, who comprise the ideologically integrated jihad industry. Sadly, the kind of thinking necessary to address this challenge is missing.
Even more alarming is the fact that provincial governments mandated to manage police forces have not launched much-needed reforms. Raising additional forces is a short-gap measure and without reforming the institutional culture and incentives, no results can be expected. Similarly, the prosecution services need an overhaul as judges cannot deliver verdicts when cases presented before them are weak. On their part, superior courts in the provinces have not fully sensed the public mood on their inability to deliver justice. The popular decision to set up military courts (currently under judicial review) is a clear show of no-confidence in their performance. The very least the high courts can do is to see how they can improve the adjudication of terrorism-related cases in light of their earlier judgments. This is why the military appears to be the only institution moving forward. And herein lies the paradox of Pakistan: the institution that has been at the helm of designing controversial security doctrines seems to be the only one that can deliver.
Finally, why have the federal or Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa governments not set up inquiry commissions? Yes, these commissions have been useless in the past but at least there needs to be some process of accountability. After all, someone must be responsible for the security lapses of December 16, 2014. The issue of accountability has been bypassed in public debates. Even good-hearted members of civil society are more concerned with getting this cleric arrested and that mosque shut down. That will be a good symbolic gesture but nothing beyond tokenism.
State accountability is fundamental to the crisis that has engulfed Pakistan. Until its powerful institutions are not checked and made answerable, they will continue to make mistakes thus making the citizenry more and more disengaged and apathetic. Such a breakdown of the citizen-state relationship is dangerous for Pakistan’s future. Whether the civil-military elite are cognisant of this stark reality remains an open question. This is why Pakistan’s future trajectory appears to be fraught with perilous possibilities.