Hiding behind the army

Source:  Dawn.com Published in Current Affairs on Thursday, February 27, 2014

THERE’S a certain degree of inevitability about the latest military strikes on the militants’ hideouts in North Waziristan. The Sharif government was left with no choice but to suspend the peace charade following the Taliban’s slaughtering of the FC soldiers. Air force jets have been pounding suspected terrorist camps since then, reportedly taking out several militant commanders.

Yet, there seems to be no comprehensible strategy behind the latest targeted bombings. It is still unclear whether the blitz is the beginning of a full-fledged operation to dislodge the TTP from its stronghold or retaliatory action to settle scores to be followed by a return to the dialogue mantra.

Also, there’s no indication yet of the civilian leadership showing resolve to take the battle to its conclusion. It seems quite plausible that it was pressure from the military that forced the government to give its consent to the surgical strikes.

It is apparent that a frightened administration is reluctant to take ownership of the campaign, leaving it to the discretion of the military command. For the government it appears to be just a military matter aimed at ‘avenging’ the death of the soldiers, detaching itself from responsibility. Surely the civilian leaders have not given up the hope that the virtually dead dialogue process could somehow be revived. It’s more of a carrot than a stick policy still at work.

Instead of taking a firm position on the threat directed at the entire nation the Sharif government is hiding behind the army. Nothing could be more ridiculous than the remarks made by the interior minister describing the latest offensive in North Waziristan as action by the military in self-defence. “The armed forces have the right of self-defence which cannot be denied,” he declared at a press conference.

So for the minister it’s all about the military defending itself against Taliban attacks. For him, the bombing of the terrorists’ sanctuaries is merely a unilateral punitive action. It doesn’t matter if civilians are killed, religious places are bombed and the state’s authority is challenged by the terrorists. It is nothing less than criminal abdication by an elected administration of its responsibility to defend the state, Constitution and the democratic values being threatened by the insurgents.

It seems a deliberate move by the government to maintain ambiguity and not commit itself fully to an all-out operation. This war, it believes, is the military’s and let it deal with it, while the government plays the peace card. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, who never misses an opportunity to placate the Taliban, not surprisingly appears optimistic about the resumption of the so-called peace talks with the militants.

His invitation to the Taliban to play a friendly cricket match may be dismissed as a crude sense of wit. It also reflects his non-serious attitude towards the most critical issue confronting the country. In fact, it is a cruel joke.

It is typical of Nawaz Sharif to rule by stealth. This characteristic comes out more glaringly in his handling of some of the most critical issues concerning national security and militancy. There has not been any formal policy thinking on the future course of action. There is no clarity on whether the prime minister has finally decided to use force and to what end. This state of uncertainty has intensified political polarisation imperilling national security.

Mr Sharif’s latest decision to support the Saudi-backed Al Qaeda war in Syria is bound to strengthen the radical Sunni militant groups involved in sectarian killings and terrorist attacks on Pakistani security forces. There are already reports of Pakistani militants joining the new jihad theatre in the Middle East.

This irrational decision to take sides in another country’s civil war may suck Pakistan into an international conflict at a time when the country is in the midst of a battle for its own survival. Pakistan would effectively be supporting the same forces in Syria who we are fighting here. This senseless policy to please Mr Sharif’s Saudi patrons threatens to push the country to the brink of civil war.

For sure the military operation is critical to dislodging the militants from their bastion. But it is only half the battle. Success in this complex war would largely depend on whether we can defeat the militant narrative as well. Unfortunately, the national leadership seem to have completely handed over the initiative to the religious parties and hardline pro-Taliban clerics making it much more difficult to mobilise public support for the military offensive.

Failure to build a strong counterterrorism narrative has given a huge advantage to the Taliban and their allies among the mainstream political parties. But the barbaric beheading of FC soldiers and the posting of ghastly internet videos showing militants playing football with their severed heads may prove to be a turning point in defeating the narrative of violence.

The government has wasted more than eight months trying to appease the militants and playing on their ideological turf, thus allowing the terrorists a free hand. This flawed approach has led to many more deaths and destruction.

More half-hearted measures will have disastrous consequences for the country’s unity. It is important to clear North Waziristan of militants, but it’s not the end of the battle. It will be a protracted struggle to not only eliminate the terrorist network, but to also defeat the extremist ideology.

The writer is an author and journalist.


Author Information

Written by Zahid Hussain

Author Information: The writer is an author and journalist.


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