Militants in Pakistan are striking targets of their choice with alacrity and remarkable accuracy getting away unchallenged. As the dates of US Retrograde from Afghanistan get closer, the conflict seems to be moving to lower but more violence trajectories. Unlike the Afghan Taliban showing flexibility towards negotiations, the militants in Pakistan are jacking their impetus with dare devil operations. Since May 11, there have been over 60 terrorist attacks leaving 450 dead and over 600 wounded. Attacks on intelligence headquarters in Sukkur, targeting tourists, Parachinar, Jail Beak in Dera Ismail Khan and successive attacks on Police in Balochistan are as bad as it could get. Internal security, mainly the responsibility of the government, civil administration, police and civil armed forces has hit its nadir in Pakistan,. The breakdown is evident from the fact that as soon as downpours inundated areas, armed forces had to be requisitioned for Relief in Aid of Civil Power.
The much talked pre electoral political initiative to engage militants in a negotiated settlement was a delusionary bubble. It also appears that the COAS has failed to sell his counter terrorism strategy to the federal government and provincial governments creating a Civil-Military disconnect with windows of endless opportunities for militants to strike. The situation is exasperated by the approaching change of command in the Joint Services and Army. It appears that the political and military establishments have diverse perspectives on terrorism. While the military has 10 years of combat experience, the politicians are victims of their own simplifications and delusions.
The jailbreak in D I Khan is a glaring example of failure in threat perception and disconnect. There are three different versions of the incidence given out by the provincial government, local administration and the military. ISI and Military Intelligence insist that they provided accurate advance information but the local and provincial administrations failed to neither pre-empt nor fight out the threat lasting not more than 30 minutes (not 3 hours reported by media). The local administration on conditions of anonymity insists that the threat level was beyond them to handle but the provincial government was insensitive and refused to requisition military in advance. The military retorts that it had carried out all contingency planning but was never requisitioned. They deny that Chief Minister had at any stage of the incidence launched any complain to the Corps Commander about non-cooperation by military. They also claim they helped recover over 40 escaped inmates. The provincial government alleges that the military despite repeated requests failed to react. The statement of a provincial minister summed up the pathetic state of preparedness and knowledge of ground realities at 5 AM claiming that the attackers had been beaten back.
As written in Defining Frontiers (Opinion Maker, August 3, 2013), the KPK government cannot perform its role in counter terrorism till convinced that ground realities substantially differ from its simplification of a so called US imposed WOT. Political ownership of the conflict is essential to its management through negotiations and use of force. Till such time, all stake holders are on board, such incidents will continue to happen.
Militants cannot be simplified as reactionaries. They are well trained, equipped and organised groups who choose and plan to the last detail. Operation Rah-e-Rast by Pakistan Army in Swat resulted in a trove of information on computers, pen drives, CDs and laptops corroborated by similar data collected from other parts of Pakistan. The terrorists had built a data base of law enforcement agencies, armed forces, civil administration and politicians, their families and locations etc. Their sleepers were operating as household servants, cab drivers, shop keepers and government employees. Consequently, abductions, target killings and assassinations to coerce functionaries were expected. Individuals of law enforcement agencies and their families are under threat. Why must they fight if they are not backed by strong political leadership?
According to one study, there are over 68 militant organisations. Approximately half of them have some level of contacts with political parties. They also have external linkages and sources of funding. There are also over 20 foreign intelligence agencies that maintain links with these organisations. Proliferation of foreign funded NGOs and their surreptitious activities add to the internal insecurity. Missing containers, missing persons, prepositioning of military hardware, creation of a fifth column across the entire spectrum (Military, Social, Economic, Political and Media), operations other than war (described as sub conventional threats) and economic manipulation are all part of this destabilisation. This destabilising narrative with militancy as its lynchpin cannot be countered without a political roadmap.
In the absence of such cohesion and synergy, military operations against militants are severely hampered. Spate of incidences post 11 May highlight the disastrous effects of this disconnect and what lack of homework, preparedness and capacity building by federal and provincial governments can do. This ambivalence will continue to adversely affect the morale of the military and law enforcement agencies and hence Pakistan’s fight against militancy.
Is the federal government reluctant to bring the military and political parties on board; or is it fire-walling the issue; or is it waiting for the tenure of the present COAS to expire, appoint a new Chief and then have a free hand? If true, this wait out option gives a very poor and uneducated account of their knowledge in military sociology with its very strong corporate and inclusive culture. Whatever? The limbo is emboldening militants. This leads to the conclusion that none of the parties have a policy narrative of how peace will be negotiated with militants, leaving hapless citizens and law enforcement agencies at the mercy of terrorism.
On the eve of US led exit from Afghanistan, this indecision, expediency and lack of capacity augers badly for a post-exit Pakistan. My seven successive articles in Nation have spelled out the dangers inherent to Pakistan. As opined in Doha Initiative (Opnion Maker June 22, 2013), the most dangerous variant could be reversing fronts of AFPAK like switching North Pole. As winter approaches and conflict in Afghanistan hibernates in frigid weather, lawlessness in Balochistan and Karachi could peak to engage Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies on yet another internal front. Unfortunately, this is happening earlier than appreciated. Time and tide do not wait.