By Brig Samson S Sharaf
Even since the hyped negotiations captured airwaves, the carnage in Karachi and Peshawar has increased manifold. Sometimes these acts of terror are blamed on the unknown forces that work to stall the negotiations; at others the TTP squarely takes responsibility for the killings. The division in governmental responses is of grave concern. In Peshawar, FIRs are registered against unknown assailants while in Karachi against TTP. As an effect, this creates cracks in Pakistani politics while more blood continues to flow down the streets.
Negotiations in history have never been the singular tool of conflict resolution. The strategy itself remains part of a higher policy in which placation, pacification, persuasion, coercion, threat of the use of force and force all are employed in tandem. This creates divisions within the ranks of militants so that some are engaged while the most unpliable are destroyed piecemeal. This road map has been played repeatedly in history; from the Jungle War in Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Chechnya, Sri Lanka and Ireland. In context of Sri Lankan 25 years conflict, it was Pakistan Army that trained the Sri Lankan Forces in counter insurgency operations. To say the army is limited to 40% capacity is wrong. What it implies is that the other 60% is civilian capacity that events prove is non-existent.
However, a policy is directly related to the credibility of the government backed by political will and affirmative action. In the course of negotiations, each side will demonstrate postures, initiate actions and put forth demands for discussions. It is tiring and complicated. The idea is to create a Cognitive Construct (an image of losses) in the mind of the other and reinforce it through imaging to make the other blink. More than the physical battlefield, it is a battle of minds and wits. Lamentably, in this ongoing soap opera and the virulent airwaves, the governments are guilty of blinking once too often, while the militants have displayed their daring nuisance, resolve and imagination. So where does this road lead us to? Surrender, capitulation or failure? The answer is ‘one of the above’.
The idea and intentions of negotiating with militants were good. The federal and KP Governments were hard pressed to deliver on their election mandate. But ‘haste causes waste’ and this is exactly what the two have forced. As time passes, both will realise that they have put their hands on a red hot iron which they lacked capacity to handle. This inability is not due to the lack of resources at their disposal, but the callousness in crafting a policy that would make the entire exercise fruitful. A wide divide separates election sloganeering and a hands on job. Elections can be contested by slogans and electable candidates, but policy making needs professionals and experts. Doable do not become doable on the basis of a wish list and simplifications. The need is to assemble a team of experts comprising strategists, political economists, sociologists and jurists from all the provinces of Pakistan to prepare a policy. This policy should then be deliberated by a representative parliamentary committee and discussed in camera before the heads of all political parties. The policy should then be approved by both houses and become a legislative instrument. Based on the policy, each instrument of policy should then make a strategy within its areas of specialisation. The comprehensive broad spectrum policy will have a dampening effect on militants and act as deterrence. It is half the battle won.
The second flaw is that the APC Declaration was a policy guideline and not a policy in itself. The two parties promoting negotiations forgot that converting a policy guideline into an imaginative policy and strategy needs time, intellect and consultations. In fact the ruling PMLN never consulted PTI on what it was planning to do. This disconnect between the two and at large with other parties in the Parliament resulted in a narrow versioned initiative that lacked substance in tackling the issue at large. The issue is terrorism and not TTP. The government should have initiated dialogue with all groups involved in militancy through various teams with proven expertise in conflict resolution. The present team comprising two journalists, a retired intelligence officer and a retired bureaucrat is not representative of the aspirations of neither the People nor the Parliament. Similarly, the group representing TTP comprises ultra-rightists who seem eager to reject the constitutional bounds (asserted by them in the past declarations) and adopt the TTP hard line. As regards FATA, the writ of the state is represented through the governor and tribal maliks. Where are tribal representatives in this team? As time passes and more bloodletting continues, these teams would have lost their credibility.
Thirdly, TTP is not representative of all militants in Pakistan, yet the methodology gives it more prominence than it merits. Various groups allied under its umbrella exercise independence to carry out terrorist acts. Many groups under are sectarian in nature and their roots lie deep in Punjab. Groups of Baloch separatist who ally with them and get training in Afghanistan are not being addressed. It is now known that these groups carryout both ethnic and sectarian killings in Karachi and Balochistan. For reasons of argument, it is always possible for TTP to disassociate themselves from these floaters and yet keep its linkages with them intact. Unless all groups are not engaged concurrently in isolation, the inter group cooperation will continue to strengthen. I remain in awe of a probability, if the various Afghan groups also join hand with them. It will then become the biggest challenge to Pakistan’s integrity and sovereignty.
Fourthly, Pakistan needs to internationalise the issue to gain foreign diplomatic and economic support. Many groups are getting funding from hostile intelligence agencies like Afghan NDS, India’s RAW, CIA, American civil contractors and many agencies operating from otherwise friendly Middle East. Unless, the foreign support bases are not severed, the militants will not run out of their lifelines.
Fifthly, the militant financial and logistic lifelines within Pakistan have to be blocked. These are in terms of manpower, ideology, munitions and money. Karachi is the hub of financial crimes through kidnapping, burglaries, extortions and hired assassinations. Till recently, there were reports of a tense turf war between Mehsuds of TTP and Swatis of Fazal Ullah group. Similarly, their ideological moorings are rooted in Punjab which is also a fertile ground for recruiting suicide bombers. A recent video chanting songs of ‘Taliban Aa Gayay, Taliban Aa Gayay’ is distinctly Punjabi. Hence for comprehensive enforcement, Waziristan, Punjab and Karachi will have to be tackled simultaneously within a single policy framework but different plans.
Lastly, the government needs to brief the media and ask it to act in the best interests of the state. Television channels need to establish their own research cells and conduct healthy debates with insight and foresight at premium. All negotiators should be banned under the Official Secret Act to appear on Talk shows or air their views through the print or social media. This will contain sensationalism and not pollute the perceptions of Pakistani public that is confused and could be led astray by the ultra-rightist propaganda.
The most lethal tool in the hands of the militants is the propaganda on religious lines ably supported by Jamaat e Islami, JUI (S), some anchors and media persons. The aim is to create a psyche-social wedge amidst Pakistanis for imposition of their brand of Islamic Ideology. This should not be allowed to happen lest it results into a Syria like, widespread civil war in Pakistan which the majority of peace-loving Pakistanis lack the capacity to fight. This is what is meant by Surrender, capitulation or failure.