By Brig Imran Malik
The German’s aptly call it “Die Sekunde der Wahrheit ” or the Moment of Truth. One such historic and perhaps the most defining moment in Pakistan’s history is upon it. It has been epitomized by Malala and her courageous and epic stand against the forces of darkness and the lack of fortitude and decisiveness shown by Pakistan’s Government and its political elite.
How has Pakistan reached this moment? Is it a natural progression of its unending though haphazard struggle to avoid becoming the first and most prized victim of a violent movement that seeks to establish an Islamic Emirate in the Af-Pak Region (APR) and resurrect the glory of the Islamic Caliphate of yore? Or is it a deviously contrived situation by the powers that be to push Pakistan deeper into the quagmire of the GWOT to yet attain their desired though hither-to-fore elusive strategic goals and objectives.
The obtaining situation raises more questions than it answers.
Is Malala really the bold torch bearer of female education and emancipation that she is made out to be? Or has her image been deliberately so crafted to give that impression? Are she and her father unknowing and naïve victims of a deeper ploy to exploit their specially designated standing in society to create specific effects at any predetermined point in time or are they willing participants? Or have these events evolved naturally and some powers are just taking advantage of an evolving situation?
Either way Malala and Pakistan are the victims!
There are many narratives making the rounds.
The First Narrative
This tells us the story of a brave young girl from a very conservative society who raised her voice in support of female education and emancipation. She won well deserved plaudits for her courage and boldness from most quarters within the country and abroad. The Taliban tried to fell her through an outrageous attack and failed. This atrocity by the Taliban has mobilized the majority of the Pakistani civil society in her support and against the Taliban. The civil society and the print and electronic media are generating tremendous pressure on the Government and the Pakistan Armed Forces to take decisive action. The Government is now seeking unanimous support of the Parliament for a military operation in the NWA. Thus a certain effect and a particular environment supporting a military operation in the NWA is being created in Pakistan.
The Second Narrative
As the US/NATO/ISAF Combine egresses out of the APR it wants to create and maintain a specific strategic environment in the region to safeguard its interests there up to 2014 and beyond. It is thus compelled to remove all threats to that emerging strategic environment. In its wisdom the US/NATO/ISAF Combine collectively feels that the Haqqani Network (HN) in particular, is the main threat to the creation and maintenance of this peculiar strategic environment. Thus having failed to urge, cajole or even coerce Pakistan into starting military operations in the NWA, the US has tried this indirect approach. It has created an environment within Pakistan where the main civil society and the international opinion are generating tremendous pressures on its Government to take the fight to the militants in particular, in the NWA.
The Third Narrative
This relates to the timing of the expected military operations by the Pakistan Armed Forces in the NWA. Just as the Americans go to the polls they could find their Commander in Chief who has already claimed the scalp of OBL yet claiming to move against the HN – ostensibly the one group to have caused the most grief to the US/NATO/ISAF in Afghanistan and about which they are obsessively fixated.
The Fourth Narrative
As claimed by one of Pakistan’s main political parties the Government wants to conduct these military operations in the NWA to achieve multiple objectives. One, it obliges the US and in particular the Obama Administration with its timing to coincide with or have an impact on the US elections. Two, it could give the Government the reason, legally, to postpone national elections by a year by declaring an emergency. That would enable it to get Mr Zardari re-elected as President from the same parliament for the next five years.
Thus the decision to move into the NWA or not becomes critical on many counts.
This situation has caused tremendous strains on the Pakistani society which are rending asunder its unity and solidarity. The society is at a loss to find a plausible moral mooring or standpoint that helps it stabilize itself and understand the situation and deal with it. The Pakistani nation as a unified whole is yet to conclude who portends the bigger existential threat to it – the US or the Taliban. Is it either one of them or both? The public opinion is seriously split on this issue. If the origin of the threat is not clear how can they then deal with it? And this is causing gross indecisiveness, confusion and a serious split in the nation’s and the Government’s approach to the issue. Damned if it carries out a military operation in the NWA and damned if it does not!
Pakistan’s political parties have generally not shown the leadership that should have been forthcoming. Our political leaders have failed to seize the moment and opportunity to lead, rise and shine. They have been unable to capture the imagination of the people and lead them on to a safer and more prosperous future. They have largely been too cautious, circumspect about the stance they take for or against the terrorists. They have been sitting on the fence for far too long and thus have unclear, feeble, ambiguous and aimless policies towards the GWOT. A clear cut and prompt stance on the Malala episode by the major political parties could have given bold leadership and direction, hope and strength to the nation.
They erroneously feel that the Taliban are only fighting the US and its allies and that once the US/NATO/ISAF are out of the region they would somehow become more amenable to negotiations. But is the departure of the US/NATO/ISAF Combine from the APR the ultimate aim of this struggle by the Taliban? On more than one occasion they have declared their intentions of creating an Islamic Emirate in the region with the eventual aim of resurrecting the Islamic Caliphate. How then will the egress of the US from the region suddenly make them more amenable to negotiations? Why would they listen to lesser powers after having defeated the sole global Super Power and its allies? They are more likely to turn inwards and start attacking Afghanistan and nuclear Pakistan – the latter ostensibly one of their most prized objectives! Capturing Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal would place them in a great position to continue their struggle for the Islamic Caliphate.
The Taliban have to be tackled one way or the other. They could be pacified through negotiations. But having just declared the HN a Foreign Terrorist Organisation (FTO) how can they be expected to sit on the same negotiating table with the US?
They could try to neutralise the Taliban by defeating and decimating them substantially through violent military operations. The US/NATO/ISAF Combine has been trying to achieve that exactly for the last decade and failing spectacularly.
They could try to weaken the Taliban sufficiently through violent military operations and then force them on to the negotiating table. It has not succeeded thus far.
The US has thus maneuvered itself into a real strategic cul de sac. It is fast running out of strategic options and time. The US elections are not likely to make any tangible difference to the US’ withdrawal plan either. The US needs Pakistan to create the environment for a peaceful egress of the US/NATO/ISAF from the APR and also to negotiate with, pacify and neutralize the Taliban. It will continue to need Pakistan post 2014 too.
A fresh approach is perhaps the need of the hour. Pakistan and the US have to be on the same page – literally. A unified desired end state of a peaceful APR must be agreed upon. And the ways and means to achieve those ends must be agreed upon too. Of necessity the strategic direction, goals and objectives of the US and Pakistan will have to converge for this final phase of the Afghan Campaign.
The militancy must of necessity be dealt with decisively. Militants groups must be pacified through negotiations or neutralized militarily under a carefully conducted selective methodology. No meaningful hostile militant group must remain by the time the US egresses from the APR. The loop must be closed fully and comprehensively. The fissures between the various militant groups could be exploited by dealing with them as independent entities. Parallel efforts must be made by the US-led west and the international community (Tokyo Conference-?) to address the development, administrative, genuine democracy, governance, economic and security issues of Afghanistan. A judicious mix of tact, diplomacy, military muscle, incentives, compromises and trade-offs might just help deal with the emerging situation. An unfair political dispensation in Afghanistan would be disastrous for the APR.
And without Pakistan’s unqualified support the US may be hard pressed to find an acceptable solution to the simmering Afghan imbroglio! The ball is squarely in the US” court!