OVER A COFFEE : While the state lies sleeping — Dr Haider Shah
The policy of silencing any critic with the threat of violence must be condemned wholeheartedly and no allowance should be given to any militants by becoming their apologists
Soon after the arrest of Masoom Billa, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi’s chief of their death squad, the militants have struck in Sukkur and Peshawar, targeting the ISI and police personnel with daredevil attacks. Once again officials have lost their lives while the state sleeps on, brandishing the lollypop of an All Parties Conference to the dazed onlookers. The incessant barrage of terrorist incidents suggests one thing clearly. The militants are achieving their strategic goals while the state sleeps with intermittent snoring sounds indicating that it is still alive.
The situation in Pakistan reminds me of Sir David Attenborough’s documentary on dragons. In one of the scenes a buffalo is encircled by a large number of dragons. With their coordinated attacks the dragons keep inflicting small wounds while the buffalo does its best to keep the attackers at bay. After hours of standoff, the poor animal becomes exhausted and the poisonous wounds further weaken the hapless creature. Once the buffalo gives up resistance and falls to the ground, the dragons devour the animal within no time. The militants seem to be waiting now for that moment.
The tactics of attacking the icons of the state’s authority have not been invented by our jihadi elements. There is a wide body of literature that was written by various idealists like anarchists and communists, which propagates that government is an instrument of control and hence should be abolished. While the anarchist philosophers argued that voluntary cooperation, rather than force, should be society’s organising principle, many action-oriented anarchists preached that the state could only be dismantled if all icons of the state were demolished by sustained violent attacks. The strategy followed by jihadi groups borrows heavily from the writings of the late 19th century anarchists. They have singled out law enforcement agencies for bringing the state down. They know that they will cause immense despair among the masses if it is demonstrated that the law enforcement agencies are unable to even protect themselves, let alone safeguard the lives and property of ordinary people. Political parties, the courts, media, law enforcement agencies, educational institutions and communal places of worship are the most important pillars of any state. The militants have been attacking all of these institutions so that the building of the state crumbles and anarchic conditions prevail. In militancy-infected areas, civil institutions stop functioning as individuals fear for their lives. The militants then bring their own courts, tax collecting organisations and law enforcement mechanisms to fill the vacuum. We have seen this model implemented in FATA and Swat by the militants. They have done their homework well and have a clear vision and strategic milestones. Planning from their safe havens in Karachi and FATA, they choose their own timing and mode of attack. The state reacts nervously. But no more than that!
From the urban centre of Karachi to the rugged mountains of Waziristan, they are all over the place. They can plan and execute anything. The other day a female journalist narrated her tale of helplessness and today we witnessed an attack on the deputy commandant of police in Peshawar. They are so emboldened that they take pleasure in planning, staffing, resourcing, motivating, directing and executing their attacks on important high profile personalities of the state. Nawaz Sharif has assumed the office after the nation mandated him with a clear majority. They did not even spare the peace preaching prime minister and planned a very cunning terrorist attack on him. And the state sleeps on.
Amid the growing power of the militants, there are some confused leaders who keep harping on the negotiations option. They very fondly refer to the US peace talks with the Afghan Taliban and conclude that Pakistan should also follow suit and hold negotiations with the Pakistani militants. As I have argued in my previous writings, we should not miss the point that the Afghan Taliban when ousted from power were ruling a country where no constitutional form of government ever existed before. One may loathe their view of the world but one cannot dismiss their stakeholder status in any future arrangement of Afghanistan. On the contrary, the Pakistani Taliban and sectarian hatemongers have never ruled our country. We have a constitution and if a group differs with the government it can seek the support of voters and when in power can change the policy. In the UK more than a million people marched in London to express their disapproval of the then Labour government’s policy on the Iraq War. But the protesters did not go about shooting those that did not bow to their point of view. If our government chooses a pro-US or pro-China or pro-Russia foreign policy to finance its policy objectives, it is no one’s business to show his anger by resorting to violence. The policy of silencing any critic with the threat of violence must be condemned wholeheartedly and no allowance should be given to any militants by becoming their apologists.
The fact that the army prefers action against the militants, as per media reports, is a positive development. But the real dividends of this thinking will only be realised if the ill-advised policy of good or bad Taliban is also scrapped and terrorism is tackled as a regional problem, which is threatening Pakistan, Afghanistan, India and to some extent China and the Central Asian states. It is high time the state woke up, as the militants call the shots freely while the state lies sleeping.
The writer teaches public policy in the UK and is the founding member of the Rationalist Society of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org