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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Dealing with militancy: Pakistan’s self-inflicted wound! – Gen. Tariq Khan

Lt. General (R) Tariq Khan, Ex-Head of Pakistan’s Central Command, opines in a hard-hitting piece how continuously appeasing militants in the hopes of peace makes a government weak as such groups only announce a ceasefire to regroup. The only thing the militants need to negotiate is the terms of their surrender and there should be no other demand entertained by the government!

History furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil, as well as religious leaders, will always avail themselves for their own purposes – Thomas Jefferson

Dispensing justice and appeasing criminals are mutually exclusive to one another. You can never have both. The primary function of a Government is to defend the State; the purpose of the Constitution is to protect the people from their Government. The Government needs to come clear and state its position regards how this State will be run in the future to meet the needs of what is normally defined as governance. The current environment needs to be studied and analyzed leading to cogent conclusions.

As one writes about the prevailing situation, the phenomenon of extremism, religiosity, and violence, and how one should deal with it, one is confronted instead by a babble of allegations, that it was the military that did it. At this moment we should be seized with the thought of how to correct the aberration rather than remain paralyzed in debating who was responsible.

It would suffice to state that all governments, without fail, regardless of military or civil, had a role to play in it. Political expediency, the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, or proxy wars instigated by a Saudi-Iranian ideological rivalry is the road we traveled to get to where we are today. Determining who and what was responsible for Pakistan’s present predicament must be a separate study and should be done but this is not the scope of this paper.

Read more: Policing extremism and terrorism in Pakistan

Woes of bad governance

However, we begin this dialogue with the certainty, that we are living in that critical moment, where the Government is compelled to make hard decisions and must make a choice, where it either takes measures to save the country from obscurantist thought or then alternatively, it succumbs to the religious right throwing us in a perpetual search for divinity. There is no easy way out and any briefings, advice or counsel, given to the Government, that suggests taking a reconciliatory route, appeasing extremism in the hope of securing peace, is the product of an over-cautious mindset, tentative, confused, and directionless.

It is based upon a simple premise – an assumption where it is assumed that the Maulvis will sit together and structure a peaceful future for Pakistan. The thought is naïve, forfeiting one’s own defined authority, jurisdiction, and responsibility in resolving this critical situation once and for all. In fact, it is indicative of how Governments are so willing and eager to surrender the people of Pakistan and their future to the Maulvis rather than take the political route and the administrative steps needed to execute the terms of Law and Order. It is a reflection of poor governance, lacking in political will, administered by weak leadership – struggling with moral authority, that has precedence of failing to protect the State or apply the Constitution in letter and spirit.

In the recent TLP case, the Government was caught up between a hard place and a rock and one can sympathize with its predicament. It was damned if it did and damned if it did not take action against the unruly mob challenging the writ of the Government. Regardless of what it did the outcome was not going to be pleasant – the decision was probably based upon the conclusion – which of the two had the least consequences that could be unpleasant and where was it easier to apply damage control measures to spin one’s way out of the crisis.

Read more: 10 days of TLP protest that shook the government

In my own opinion, the decision was not motivated by how Pakistan should be Governed in the future or what would be the direction of the nation as a State in effect or practice. The unintended consequences of dealing with the TLP will throw up a number of other issues such as Sipah Sahaba, Lashkar- e-Taiba, MQM, and subsequently FATF; all of which may return to revisit this Government, sooner or later. The first rule of governance is that one cannot be selective in its approach – whatever is good for the goose is also good for the gander.

Dealing with self-inflicted chaos

Nevertheless, it is the Government’s prerogative to take the decisions it needs to take but it is only fair that the decisions that it does take must have a proper and correct narrative based on logic and reasoning. Failing this, the consequences could be horrendous, especially if they are based on expediency just to clear the air immediately but not take into account how it affects the State in the long term.

First and foremost, the government must take into consideration that this continual conflictual environment is a product of incremental omissions and commission by misgovernance over the years but nevertheless, will have to be eventually confronted and resolved by someone. Is this Government that someone? What needs to be addressed by the Government if it wants to go down the road to stability and peace is to deal with some of the main reasons for this self-inflicted chaos and confusion.

Here, first, the judiciary stands out by not being able to dispense justice, equally or timely, and people set up their own system of dispensing it through local jirgas which was preferred. This led to parallel systems of justice where the State became irrelevant. In defense of the judiciary, one can safely state that they were never given the security and protective support that they deserved and to expect that they give brave and courageous decisions in a very volatile environment, was asking for too much.

Second, a total intelligence failure where the agencies were neither aware of what was happening nor were they in a position to contain it. Capacity and capability remained a limited resource as these agencies muddled through from crisis to crisis. For example, intelligence was woefully absent from FATA during its most critical days that allowed things to blow out of proportion.

Read more: Governance Challenges in Ex-FATA region

Furthermore, instead of dealing with militancy at that time as it should have been, the intelligence played games trying to play one group against another, and this snowballed out of control. Hafiz Gul Bahadur is a good case in point, who was always willing to become an asset whenever he found himself in a critical situation but would immediately become hostile when he thought he had the upper hand. He signed three agreements and violated all.

Third, the absence of governance where the people felt that they were abandoned and had no one to turn to and this really led to the total erosion of the State’s writ in huge swaths of spaces. Concessions were given to breakaway factions that were allowed to hold the public hostage through so-called aman committees that passed themselves of as representatives of the Government. The people were and are still disenchanted blaming the government and its institutions for playing into the hands of thugs, criminals, and gangsters.

Swat is a good example, where the Government felt it more self-serving and pragmatic to hand over the people of Malakand Division to Sufi Muhammed rather than to protect them – thereby allowing an individual to construct his own constitution, to his own liking, apply it in his own method, while everyone looked the other way in criminal indifference. So the Government has its work cut out but if its priorities are and should be, stability, cohesion and security, then it will have to deal with these matters.

Violence: A Pakistani dilemma before 9/11

This brings us to the Government’s argument that this violence is on account of President Musharaf and fighting the US war. There can be no greater travesty of truth just to suit one’s own skewed argument. How Pakistan was involved in the War on Terror has already been explained earlier

Read more: “Was this our War?” A General reflects back!

Nevertheless, by stating this repeatedly, loudly, and with enough conviction, it appears that one wants to wish it actually become true. The implication of such an accusation, amongst many other things, implies that Pakistan was a very peaceful country before 9/11 and that violence only came about after it. The same paper mentioned above explains, how violence has remained a Pakistani dilemma long before 9/11 in its many facets such as sectarianism, ethnical, political, or language-based.

By deliberately misquoting reality, it appears that the Government wants to absolve itself from taking the hard decisions it needs to be spreading the belief that this was not its doing and that it is hard-pressed in dealing with an aberration, not of its creation. Now that the TLP is here and the TTP is on the way, whatever happens, will be the responsibility of this Government from which it cannot run away regardless of the past. One cannot be an apologist for these groups, searching for an easy acquittal, by inventing causes for militancy that were never there.

No point in negotiating with TTP

While dealing with the TTP, history and precedence make a good guide to establish methods and parameters in how to manage any engagement. In the first instance, the TTP is not known to comply with any agreement that it has ever made and there is no guarantee that they would do it now. Experience has shown, that they always find an excuse to violate the agreement whenever it suits them.

The Government, should not find itself compelled to talk to the TTP since there is no reason for any such compulsion. It is best that the TTP makes a request for the Government to ‘consider’ if it finds it appropriate. That this request be made publically by the TTP and that they must openly announce their acceptance of the Constitution of Pakistan as it stands. Some points that need to be understood so as to determine the nature of such talks are recommended below:

The popular belief is that the time available remains a window of opportunity and that if not taken now other hostile agencies may step in and begin influencing the group to activate against Pakistan. However, the TTP is about 5000 fighters at best. They are a defeated force and still are. They are no longer being supported by CIA, NDS, and RAW as they were – pressure can be applied on the Afghan Government to help in securing an outright surrender of the TTP? If TTP was defeated with all the support they had then, why should the Government be fearful now, when there is very limited support possible from anywhere.

Read more: Should we be talking with TTP? Gen. Tariq Khan

Another viewpoint in favor of negotiating with the TTP is that the State cannot be in a perpetual war. The implications are that a beaten force, depleted and demoralized, dependent on foreign lands, is better placed to fight such a ‘perpetual’ war than the State. The State must do what it has to, otherwise, to avoid a ‘perpetual war’ a line has to be defined which when you arrive at, then State is compelled to surrender only because it wants to avoid a perpetual war. Operations are not conducted like this. There is a proper closure and conclusion to an operation and it is never left open-ended. Objectives are defined and an end-state determined before embarking on an operation. If that not be the case, it is advisable not to initiate such operations in the first place.

Why TTP’s demands should be treated as a joke

The TTP’s known demands must be publically turned down for being ridiculous and treated as a joke, which they are.

Asking for a third country involvement for talks like in the case of the TTA and the US is totally out of place. TTA was engaged in a war against foreign occupation forces. TTP was structured on criminal gangs supported by foreign fighters who usurped the leadership of FATA and replaced the traditional tribal system of governance.

Their only purpose was to expand space to generate revenue through coercing the populace and their only target was the State of Pakistan and the Army. There was no legitimate rationale for pursuing a militant campaign against the State other than enhancing personal power and fortune. Thus the question of negotiations of any kind is questionable what to talk of one being done with the auspices of another country

Restoring FATA to its original status is another silly demand. It is neither in their jurisdiction nor their responsibility to determine how FATA is to be run. Being part of the settled area now, how can it be reverted back to a tribal status. Does the FCR become the law of the land once again?

Read more: Pakistanis must not draw wrong conclusions from Taliban victory– Lt. Gen. Tariq Khan

To demand that the Pakistan Army withdraw from the erstwhile tribal areas is another stupid demand. The State can decide wherever the Army needs to be employed/deployed and no other groups/party has any authority or legal relevance to demand otherwise.

Their insistence to release prisoners is based on a time-tested habit of such militant groups. Negotiations are always done by such groups to gain time to improve their position and to try and get their people released from prison. Their main argument is that the Government must establish ‘trust’. The State must make it clear, that it does not need to establish trust or credibility with the militants and it is the other way around, the onus of proving sincerity in this process lies wholly on the militants.

Ceasefire with TTP: An illusion?

The Government wants to deal from a position of strength but that’s where the Government stands today anyway. It need not take any action to establish trust, good faith, or credibility – it’s a take-it or leave-it position for the Government. Negotiations with the militants usually lead to fulfilling the militant’s objectives: gaining time and relocating positions, under the so-called ceasefire. This further enhances their militant capacity and allows them to improve their operational posture. It then becomes an additional basis for further negotiations and the cycle goes on.

During the process of these thoughts being put together, Noor Wali, the leader of the TTP, was freely roaming around in North Waziristan, where he was seen and heard motivating the people to get prepared to wage war against the Army. There was nothing reconciliatory about his tone.

Besides, the best time for the militants to ‘win’ a ceasefire from the State is in the winter season. This is when the militants have limited sustainability in the field due to snow and the cold because of limited snowline equipment. The Army has a huge advantage over them. If ceasefire must take place, it should start in spring and not the winter, in the meanwhile own military assertions must continue, till the TTP reach the terms set for any negotiations as already specified above.

Read more: Taliban style diplomacy: From militants to diplomats

Militants should publicly accept the constitution

Yet, having established some terms as listed above, negotiations are not a recommended option where the TTP is concerned, simply because there is nothing to negotiate and neither is it the need of the State to do so. The State must not take the responsibility of rehabilitating criminals by forgiving and forgetting the crimes they committed against the State and individuals of the community. This does not lie in the jurisdiction of the State to do so – and if it is done, there will be many more to follow the pattern being developed here.

However, if the State is compelled for some unknown reason that is not visible to the people, then it must do so by simply insisting that the militants should publically announce their acceptance of the constitution, hold the flag of the nation and beg forgiveness from the people of this country. Only then do they qualify to ‘surrender’, but that such a surrender must be before the people that they coerced and held hostage.

Let the agencies construct a Loi Jirga or a Peace Council/Commission or whatever name one finds suitable, that should decide the future of these criminals as they appear before them to surrender. The only thing the militants need to negotiate are the terms of their surrender and there should be no other demand entertained by the Government.

De-radicalizing society: The only way forward

In the event we manage to contain and bring closure to this aberration of the TTP militancy and other such groups – the story still does not end here. The Government will have to review the way the State is functioning and the way it needs to mold society into the future. Rules and regulations to administer Madrassas will have to be laid down and implemented.

De-radicalization of society by promoting tolerance and the concept of co-existence in a multi-ethnic society with mutual respect has to be promoted. Instead of subsidizing mediocrity by the asinine measures taken to destroy the little that was left of the education system, the Government needs to seriously reconsider what it’s doing. Long term impact of the new education system will have a very detrimental effect on the children of this nation. The interference in the syllabus based on a select religious thought is very counterproductive and will only contribute to further dividing this nation.

Read more: Is PTI’s government ready to reform Madrassahs?

On the other hand, people like Aziz Burqa of the Lal Masjid fame need to be arrested and proceeded against in no uncertain terms. Such braggarts and loud mouths have no place in this society.  Religion has gradually entered into the domain of politics; it is only logical to expect that politics too has entered into the domain of religion. The two need to be rationalized and kept apart at a reasonable distance.

The country cannot have its domestic and foreign policies being dictated to it by madrassas and mosques. Here is where the government must make difficult decisions but no one said that governing was easy.

We should be Pakistanis first!

It must be kept in mind that the TTP and the TLP etc are just events within an all-encompassing phenomenon – these events can be contained one way or the other, but the greater question is dealing with the phenomenon? The phenomenon has created a polarized society, broken and fractured into sects and extreme groups who cannot tolerate anyone or anything other than their own.

In search of one’s respective belief one has forgotten Allah and the Quran and instead practice a religion that is very far from our teachings. They now confuse sin with a crime as they go about with righteous indignity trying to reform a society that does not need to be reformed. Everyone considers himself to be an authority and is a self-appointed savior. Religion is too powerful a tool to be handed over to every ordinary imbecile who is obsessed with distorting everything in keeping with his personal thought and understanding.

The time has now come where the direction that this country needs to take is finally established and decided and does not remain confused, ambiguous, and weak; where a national identity takes precedence over an elusive Ummah who are so conspicuous in their lack of moral courage that they cannot stand by the hapless people of Kashmir or the miserable people of Palestine. If we do not change our ways, then factions such as the TTP and the TLP will make us conform to theirs. Let us learn to be Pakistanis first.

Writer, Gen. Tariq Khan, retired as head of Pakistan’s Central Command and has led Frontier Corps to victory against TTP. He has written and lectured extensively on the issues related to Afghanistan, the United States, and the Taliban. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.