By Brig Samson S Sharaf
The folklore of five blind men describing an elephant through the experience of touching has diffused to all cultures and schools of thought. The lessons of the parable are so objective that even Rumi included it in his poetry. The story illustrates a range of limited truths that lead to falsifications meaning that subjective experience though true is inherently limited in reaching a totality of truth. It explains the fallacies of generalisation and specialisation with incomplete information to reach wrong conclusions. The parable provides insight into the relativism, opaqueness or inexpressible nature of truth; and the behaviour of experts in fields with deficit information, lack of communication, and respect for different perspectives. Yet the five could sit together, share experience and reach an accurate description of an elephant. National security policy, or counter terrorism policy or whatever is being drafted with subjective experiences shall elude the national consensus. It will open cracks and wounds that shall take ages to heal. The weakness demonstrated by the state in acting against militancy has emboldened militants and Pan-Islamist in Pakistan. In some ways, they are the soft political face of militants.
The parable has a lesson for Pakistan’s policy makers. No national policy can be made by a select team of individuals who lack the larger experience and requisite intellectualism to perceive the broader picture in the accurate perspective. Policies by very nature are inclusive; promote national consensus and an overall national well-being. In the ultimate, they build National Power that dictates the short, mid and long term objectives for national cohesion and development. The spirit of these objectives then flow into the full spectrum of policy to provide national security in terms of economics, welfare of the people, exploration of resources and responsibilities of federating units. Pakistan’s continuous problems of governance and insecurity prove that the country despite six decades has yet to evolve a meaningful consensus. Fissures in Pakistan’s politic and social body have widened after each major event.
It is also a concern that Pakistan’s parliamentarians, scholars, strategists and opinion makers have never been assembled under one roof to draft a national policy that touches each sinew of our existence. For instance, the US national security policy is led by economic objectives through full spectrum domination. Their naval, air and military policies are designed to achieve access and consolidation of US economic interests. Military interventions are only a means to achieve these objectives. What is Pakistan’s core interest?
It is a concern that though Pakistan’s political gurus, bureaucrats and military establishment may be on the verge of repeating the past with alacrity; and in the process exclude the broad based ‘national consensus and aim’ in the fight against militancy. It will open up many more wounds.
First, it is debatable what exactly the government is trying to enunciate against militancy. Is it a counter terrorism policy, a national security policy or a narrative encompassing the vision of egalitarianism under the principals of democracy, freedom, equality and social justice? Seeing in chronology since May 2013 and after the APC declaration in September 2013, the prevailing methodology is a probably a military led fire-fighting plan sans support mechanisms and complementary accessories. This means that Pakistan will remain vulnerable to expediencies, exploitation and outside interference. The military maybe very good at its own job and perhaps even succeed in clearing North Waziristan within a few months; but what then? Who and how will the spill over be combated in urban centres? Does that state have the ability to surveil every sleeper cell hidden in least probable of places as also within the ranks of their political apologist? If not, do we wish to create a Syria like situation in Pakistan in which respite could only come after we have abandoned our most prized assets?
Secondly, Pakistan cannot have a National Security Policy if it is not an appendage to a National Policy synchronising elements of national power on a continuum of a systemic baseline beginning from the relatively stable gradations to fleeting opportunities of national character, leadership and morale. This involves national consensus, imaginative subservient policies, parliamentary oversight and popular support. It implies therefore that national security policy is an adjunct of the broader vision and not an end in itself. In crises such as this, it is not the military but the national leadership that has to be on one page and prepare the nation to brave odds however ugly they may get. Barring a debatable APC resolution that ignores sectarianism and the constitution, there appears no consensus to synergise the masses. Federal relations with Sindh are sour and with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa non-existent. The prime minister despite a request of over three months has yet to grant his regal audience to the chief minister of KP. In the press leaks, there are already rumours of imposing emergency in some parts of KP. If this be the logic, then what about Karachi, parts of Balochistan and the heartland of Punjabi Taliban. There is a looming danger that the treatment of political opponents will be selective and subjective.
Thirdly, in the fourth generation warfare, the military is just one instrument of violence that can be utilised for the ends of policy. Hence the corner stones of any security policy will be the defence policy, technology, economics including logistics and the people. In case these elements of strategy what Clausewitz calls the Trinity and Michel Howard the dimensions, all military plans are likely to operate in a vacuum and become a ‘Swat Syndrome’ in a long drawn conflict. Singular reliance on military forces will create psycho-social reactions likely to further polarise the society. It may lead to a civil war with some rightist parties under duress, succumbing to the temptation of exploiting militants as political instruments. Recall that post 9/11 and thereafter, violence in Pakistan increased. It means that the lessons of 1971 and Lall Masjid must not be lost. Military plans have to be restricted solely to a military role and complemented by a full spectrum policy that exploits military success through other means.
Fourthly, capacity building or lack of it is the most pressing challenge. In case military and law enforcement operations begin in earnest and succeed, how does the civilian establishment intend positioning itself within the spatial void for an enduring peace. As civilian inability in Swat, Dir, Bajaur, Mohmand, Orakzai, Khyber and South Waziristan indicate, civilian peacekeeping and pacification operations will be a tall order for administrations that have neither been trained nor taken into confidence for an onerous mission. Pull-out the army and militants will regain their positions! If this be the baseline, how will the civilian governments deal with the reactionary rise in urban terrorism, a scenario that keeps surfacing in Karachi? Certainly not with the existing composition of police who are subject to political tinkering, are poorly trained and badly led. If the primary mission of policing is elevated to urban fighting, it implies organisational reforms, re-equipment, training and an entirely new outlook. Nothing has been done so far.
A broad spectrum policy also warrants rehashing the entire intelligence mechanism down to the level of a union council with checks and balances. Judicial and political oversight has to be built at every tier to ensure that personal vendettas do not override mission concerns. At the provincial and federal levels, appropriately empowered parliamentary committees with judicial oversight will have to ensure that the use of force, internments and trials though not public are transparent and justified and that law is not used for witch hunt of opponents.
Lastly, timings are of crucial importance. If the policy is implemented forthwith, it will result in knee jerk reactions and create internal/external complications. External sponsorships and funding of militants will tax the foreign office. It will also impact on the withdrawal plans of ISAF and suck Pakistan into a dangerous situation.
Prudence demands that the government should continue surgical sting operations in selected areas that keep militants on the move negotiate with those who are pliable and build its capacity to crack the toughest nuts. In the interim, it must get onto the serious business of framing a broad spectrum policy, shore up capacities against vulnerabilities and start thinking beyond its political gains for national solidarity. Peace in Afghanistan will become an important pre requisite. Only then will a fight against terrorism bear fruits.