By Humayun Gauhar
Pakistan is on fire. Terrorists have the run of the country while our rulers are mannequins in show windows to create the illusion that we have governments while terrorists run the store. Is Pakistan in terminal decline?
Last week alone there have been so many terrorist attacks, so many of our soldiers, police and innocent civilians killed, that words are now inadequate. Only counterattack will do. Instead, there are rumours of talks and talks about talks and little action.
Why doesn’t Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ask the president to impose a state of emergency so that he can grapple with the deteriorating situation, not just terrorism but degradation in virtually every sector of society? If time isn’t ripe for it now, one doesn’t know how much worse things have to get before the realization dawns. Then it might be too late.
Emergency is vital and automatic in times of war. If this isn’t war, what is? We are fighting enemies on many fronts, internal and external, including their sympathizers in our politics, some in media and even in government. What else is the provision imposing emergency in the constitution for? Get rid of it if you cannot use it. Let the jungle rule without let or hindrance and let the devil take the hindmost. If you tell me that the jungle is already ruling, you might be right.
I suspect Nawaz Sharif balks from imposing emergency because he is trying General Pervez Musharraf for ‘treason’ for imposing a state of emergency and it will make him seem hypocritical. Why, the Supreme Court might overturn it through a fake and forged order and a successor government might try him for treason too. I can assure him that the new chief justice is not so stupid as to issue a forged order and no successor government will be so stupid as to unconstitutionally start a treason trial against him. Article 6 pertaining to high treason is a bad law and when the law is an ass you don’t follow it, you change or trash it. People have been successfully tried for treason in other countries throughout history without such an article in their constitutions. Musharraf’s emergency was purpose-specific: to sack runaway judges who would damage the state and the judiciary. Sharif’s emergency should be purpose-specific too: to fight terrorism in the country and end it once and for all. That will be the first necessary step towards halting our alarming economic decline. Go on, prime minister, show us that you don’t have a soft spot for the Taliban. Impose emergency, launch a once and for all military operation against terrorists of all hues all over Pakistan and rid us of this menace. We will be with you and if you succeed you will go down in history as a statesman.
The prime minister looks like he has seen a ghost. He has been busy contemplating his navel while terrorists have been killing our soldiers and police and many, many more innocent people than the US drones have. A few days ago we saw how effective our air force can be. It is time to take a decision, not hold endless meetings and issue bootless statements to fool us into believing that there is great action. We think it to hide inaction and confusion.
Some US think tanks say that terrorists will “overrun” Pakistan by 2017. Correction: Nawaz Sharif’s unwillingness to come down hard on terrorists and prefer to talk to them instead with Imran Khan and political mullahs going along makes one believe that the Taliban have already overrun Pakistan. It is good to try and end a fight peacefully, which is why Sharif insists on talks. But what does one do when the Taliban say they are not interested in talking, don’t accept the constitution and would destroy the state? One fights, right? Sharif says he will talk to those Taliban that wish to talk and take action against those who don’t. What sense does that make? Those that wish to talk would not be such a problem anyway, would they? It is the ones who refuse to talk that are the problem. So get on with it prime minister. Hit them hard and when they are on the run then try and talk from a position of strength.
To be sure we will need American and Afghan cooperation in this, for if the Taliban and their leaders find refuge in Afghanistan the problem won’t go away. That, however, will require a quid pro quo, like we shouldn’t host Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. It will also require a change in the strategic thinking of all three governments, which is possible but not easy for small minds. All of us will have to shed our misplaced and outdated strategic thinking to succeed. America can play the most powerful role in guiding the Afghan leadership towards this new thinking. Else we should be prepared for hot pursuit so as not to make our military operation futile.
So far, a part of the government says one thing while another part says another, like a headless chicken. The government says that it asked the mullah Samiul Haq to bring the Taliban to the table; Samiul Haq says that the prime minister seems no longer interested as he doesn’t respond to his messages. The government replies that it only asked him to “use his good offices” to bring the Taliban round. What else does “use his good offices” mean, except help us to start talks?
To be sure, when a military operation commences there is certain to be a blowback. If that is what makes our government wary one can understand. The answer is to have a good anti-blowback strategy, not balk from a military operation. Our military is very good and given the right support by the government and the people it can destroy the terrorists. Just give them a chance with a free hand. If fear of blowback is causing paralysis in government, it should pack up and hand the country over to the Taliban for they are obviously not scared of the government. The Taliban are familiar with our incompetence born of confusion. But before you wittingly or unwittingly hand the country over to the Taliban there could be a bigger blowback: another military intervention, just what Sharif doesn’t want.
While we are mired in a great spike in terrorism, our government holds endless meetings and makes bootless statements. There have been so many terrorist attacks all over the country except the Punjab in the last week alone that one has lost count. By the time you read this there could have been more. Our soldiers have been killed, our police have been killed and our innocent citizens, men, women and children have been killed, even polio workers who are doing a good thing have been mercilessly slaughtered. Many more have been injured and maimed, their lives destroyed. Who is responsible? First and foremost it is the darkness of ignorance (‘Jahiliyat’) that has taken grip of the minds of many people, terrorists the most. I thought that it is the first responsibility of government to ensure the safety and security of its citizens and their properties. But where are our governments? They are fictions, studies in paralysis and logjam, unable to decide between carrot, or carrot and stick, or stick alone. In a great leap of imagination it calls All Parties Conferences and now talks of a joint sitting of parliament while the country burns and people die horrendous deaths. Why? To cover their backs by spreading responsibility for the inevitable military operation against terrorists and their hideouts, not just in FATA but everywhere there are terrorists of any ilk. Meantime, more killings, mayhem and destruction continue.
From carrot only the government has progressed to carrot and stick. Very soon it will have to transition to stick only and when it has got the upper hand it can meaningfully talk to the Taliban from a position of strength. Even that may not work because people driven by ideological zeal want the entire cake, not some of it. Then the prime minister will have to transit to total annihilation, which rarely works unless he, his party and his government too are driven by a realistic ideology and anchored in a tangible and doable vision for their country. Else they will just bumble along till they fall on their faces yet again. Meantime, the country will regress further.
Let’s be careful. An operation might be just what the Taliban want. An organized military has rarely defeated a guerilla force and they could have that lesson of history in mind: China, Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Kashmir and Palestine. The world has gone to fifth generation warfare. How about going to zero generation and devise a warfare to combat a guerilla force driven by misplaced ideological zeal? That will not only include counterterrorism and anti-terrorism but raising a guerilla force (not to be confused with commandos) to fight guerillas. They will need high-tech robots on the ground, air and water. They will have to adopt a new mentality to fight people without morality or principles while an organized army is ‘burdened’ with principles. Its zeal should come from its ideology of saving the country. For example, the terrorist doesn’t care about collateral damage; an army does.
One cannot ignore the reaction of clerics of the wrong kind. Government will have to coopt clerics of the right kind, like Barelvis that is the movement the majority of Pakistanis adhere to as well as the Shias who are the target of terrorists and have been slaughtered in great numbers.
Let’s find our chicken a head.