When killers become patriots

Source:  Dawn.com Published in Politics on Friday, March 14, 2014

OUR interior minister epitomises all that is going wrong with the country’s internal security. His histrionics defy rational thinking. Trust him to come up with the most outrageous defence of the Taliban even when they stand completely exposed. However, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan’s statement before the National Assembly last week on the Islamabad court carnage borders on insanity.

There is nothing to worry about the Taliban, the majority of whom are not anti-state, the minister assured a nation still reeling from the latest killing spree in the heart of the capital. He even sought the TTP’s help to track down the attackers who may well have come from the banned group’s own ranks. What an excellent example of bonhomie even though the newfound ‘patriots’ never falter when it comes to blowing up soldiers on the frontline and killing innocent civilians in the country’s heartland.

In the same breath while praising them for their ‘patriotism’ the minister revealed that the militants had plotted to carry out an aerial bombing on Islamabad. This shocking disclosure came just a week after he had declared the capital as the safest city in the world. How can one take this politician, who happens to be in charge of the country’s internal security, seriously? The minister seems to have lost all sense of rationality. No wonder the terrorists seem to be more emboldened.

Not surprisingly, these irresponsible utterances from a senior member of the government have sent jitters across foreign diplomatic missions and international agencies. Many of them are now planning to relocate their staff to the Gulf countries. Can one blame them? It is not comforting to see a man like Chaudhry Nisar at the helm of the country’s security. He is becoming an embarrassment, maybe not for the government but certainly for the country.

Under his stewardship the country may have become more secure for the Taliban, and increasingly unsafe for the people. The impunity with which the terrorists went on a killing rampage in the Islamabad court compound proves the point. Instead of taking the responsibility for security failure, he defended the Taliban in his speech at the National Assembly. It is often difficult to differentiate the interior minister from the Taliban spokesman. Remember his mourning the death of Hakeemullah Mehsud? But there was no such show of emotion on the killing of judges and lawyers by the militants. Instead, the murderers were legitimised as not anti-state. Even before the investigation was completed the minister told parliament that Judge Rifaqat Hussain was killed accidentally by his own guard. The guard and other witnesses have challenged this version of the incident.

Such a stubborn defence of the militants by no other than the federal interior minister increases the prevailing sense of insecurity. He may next ask the Taliban to take over Islamabad’s security. He has already requested them to help find the perpetrators of the Islamabad shooting.Chaudhry Nisar merely exemplifies the prevalent confusion and disarray in the government, particularly when it comes to dealing with the Taliban. After initially staying in the background, the interior minister is back as a focal person for direct talks with the TTP. His stamp of patriotism may have further endeared him to the Taliban, but there is no sign of talks getting off the ground.

The decision by the military leadership to keep their institution out of negotiations has dealt a serious blow to the so-called peace talks. Yielding to the demand of the Taliban committee, the prime minister had tacitly agreed to have a representative of the military and the ISI in the government’s negotiating team. The move seemed a Taliban trap to suck the military into the farce and get operations completely suspended in the tribal regions.

This has brought the growing fissure between the civil and military leadership over peace negotiations to the surface. It is apparent that the two are not on the same page on the issue. The military has strong reservations over unconditional talks with the insurgents who have been responsible for killing thousands of soldiers and are not willing to give up violence.

A day after the prime minister announced that the talks’ option remained his top priority militants killed six soldiers in an IED attack in Kurram Agency. The latest Islamabad attack has reinforced scepticism among the security forces about talks delivering peace. The widening division between the civil and military leadership could aggravate the existing policy paralysis.

Many in the federal cabinet and within the ruling PML-N also share this scepticism. While Chaudhry Nisar is engaged in sweet-talking the Taliban, the defence minister has warned of a possible military operation as early as this month. He does not rule out the resumption of aerial bombing on militant sanctuaries in the tribal territories. Unlike the interior minister, the defence minister does not seem convinced that the TTP is seriously interested in peace

These conflicting positions within the cabinet raise the serious question of who represents the actual official policy. This also underscores the policy confusion and indecisiveness that have become the hallmark of the third Sharif government.

There is a strong view that it is a deliberate state of confusion generated by the prime minister himself and is intended to send different signals to different lobbies. This is illustrative of Mr Sharif’s style of governance. This is a very dangerous game and may have serious repercussions for national security.

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Written by Zahid Hussain

Author Information: The writer is an author and journalist.

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