Confronting militancy

The unedited version of my op-ed published in the NEWS today:

It is time that the vocabulary introduced by the global imperial projects is changed in Pakistan. The infamous and rotten coinage Рwar on terror Рneeds to be trashed. It was constructed by an imbecile global leader, whose vision defies basic standards of human intelligence. And, in our case the frontline-state status is a passé title as well. The war has now entered the Pakistani consciousness, has consumed thousands and continues to destabilize the country to a point where its citizenry is insecure and bereft of hope. We have to now protect Pakistanis and Pakistan first. All else is secondary.

The gravity of the situation is however not shared by many. The rugged militants are artfully backed by the ‘urban Taliban’, a term that has emanated from Sindhi intelligentsia. There are political parties and their leaders who downplay the threat to Pakistan, and few journalists and TV anchors brazenly eulogise the Taliban bravery and, believe it or not, ‘sound’ governance. Even some on the residual Left term this extremism as an anti-imperial struggle. We are being reminded that the destruction of private property and daylight murders of innocent civilians are nothing but a ‘reaction’ to our policies and Western diktat. Ironically, a key religious party now train-marching across the country on a was ruling two of the war zoned provinces for nothing less than five years tacitly supporting Army operations as well as legitimizing a military ruler through a constitutional amendment.

The people of the smaller provinces are justified in taking issue with the urban Talibans as to why they are silent, when minority provinces are shoddily treated by the establishment even to the extent of being ‘cleansed’ in their homeland and their leaders brutally murdered? A legitimate question by all accounts. Blowing up girl’s schools, burning CD shops and attacking tourist resorts is also a reaction to Pakistani policies? Not quite.

Thus the urban Taliban is now hell-bent on holding the events outside Pakistan. The big brother neighbour, who has been given a clean chit by the head of the state as the least of the threats, is alluded to as the motivator of the suicide bombers. The argument that a Muslim cannot kill other Muslims is fallacious and not supported by history or the way the so-called Islamic societies have functioned. After, all the Northern Alliance wallahs, and the Pakistani Shias are Muslims too? Islamic history is replete with incidents that belie this mythical nonsense. responsible for local insurgency. His natural supporter is the jingoistic strategic depth-seeker analyst who blames the entire world for what ails

The liberal prescription is equally messed up by throwing its weight behind army action and surgical strikes. This menace is not going to go away let alone be successfully tackled through war. In the short term, reclaiming territory maybe an imperative but even this effort has been stymied by conflictual signals and un-sequenced actions. This is why the Awami National Party’s leadership is now a hostage of a complex set of actors and processes. Thus the policy to protect Pakistanis from violence has to be wholesome and not just war-mongering.

To make matters worse, the identification of this Government’s anti-terror mantra with Musharraf has amplified the perception that it is another stooge of the dwindling imperial power. To be fair to the PPP, its stance has always been clear: it is opposed to extremism and the hijacking of Islam by self-styled jihad-warriors. But the urban Taliban have strengthened this perception of the capitulation of the PPP at the hands of Amreeka.

However, the incumbent government, notwithstanding a burdensome legacy, has been unable to demonstrate that it has the will or the capacity to handle the situation. The ordinary people, a bulk of whom viewed the PPP as ‘their’ party, are distraught by galloping inflation and insecurity. The overwhelming sense of dejection and hopelessness arises from the way local investigation has progressed on late Benazir Bhutto’s case. Admittedly for good reasons the responsibility of investigation has been shifted to the slow and inefficient United Nations. This only strengthens the public impression that protection of Pakistanis is no longer possible by the local law enforcement agencies. Why has this been the slowest and most invisible of investigations especially when the ruling party is the PPP?

Questions have also been raised as to how a truck loaded with a phenomenal amount of explosives freely roams on barricaded Islamabad streets; is allegedly prepared for action in Islamabad; and remains unnoticed until it explodes. And, reckless media theories suggesting that this was a slick James Bond type operation against the US intelligence operatives merely dilute the colossal tragedy for the poor security personnel, the drivers and the passersby not to mention the scare among general public. There is not a single country where freedom of media allows for trashing country’s national security issues the way it is done here. The closeted extremists thus insult intelligence and humanity both in equal measure.

Our poor disaster-preparedness and emergency handling have also come into glaring public view. Not a single soul questioned the Marriott hotel magnate about inadequate fire-fighting measures in the top-notch hotel? Instead many media reports were extolling the kind-hearted individual acts of charity of the hotel owners overlooking the sheer negligence that often accompanies profit-greed.

The bomb blasts in Lahore and elsewhere have also demonstrated that there are virtually no civil defence mechanisms in place. The government managed civil defence departments are historically under-funded, untrained and miles away from being minimally functional. Despite the escalation of violence and creeping of a war within the cities and towns, there has been little effort on this front. This is the time when the public has to be prepared, motivated and taken along the efforts to counter forces of violence.

However, nothing can be more urgent than the reclaiming of policy-making from the unelected power-elites to the civilian-elected decision makers. This is why the Parliament’s in-camera session has been such an important milestone despite the sensationalism caused by urban zealots and noises by political nobodies. Pakistan’s troubled history teaches us this single lesson: there is no alternative to civilian ascendancy over national security. This will not be achieved overnight but has to be earned overtime.

Five issues therefore become paramount: first, the articulation of a refined policy and a homegrown agenda with bi-partisan consensus (the troublemakers can compose their cacophonous tunes but PML-N is vital to this agreement); second, a clear demonstration of government’s writ by expediting and completing a local inquiry into Benazir’s assassination; third, developing a strategy to confront the few media zealots and urban Taliban who are splitting the public opinion through a discounted ideological framework. Fourth, bolstering the civil defence systems, to ensure that the public is a proactive partner; and last an immediate attention to issues of social protection so that the citizens are shielded from the vagaries of economic exploitation.

There is a war, whether ours or not, right into our street. It is the time to face the tide and confront it.

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