Dr. Haider Shah

Opinion is the medium between knowledge and ignorance (Plato).

OVER A COFFEE: Dawn of Kemalism or return of Caesar?, The Daily Times, January 10, 2015

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Turkey is already a very close friend of Pakistan and is investing a lot in infrastructure improvement. Is our national action plan a manifestation of Kemalism?
Dr Haider Shah

The Peshawar tragedy stung year of 2015 has begun amidst a 20-point anti-extremism action plan announced by the government. Perhaps the government was in a big haste and hence jumped to an action plan without any strategic planning. We have to now decipher the vision and objectives from the 20 points included in the plan.

Military courts have been authorised by parliament to assume judicial powers. Four viewpoints can be identified in the national narrative over this debatable public policy issue. First, the positive rationalists take it as the best remedy under the given circumstances as our traditional criminal justice system has utterly failed to deal with the menace of terrorists. Second, apologists denounce the diluting of constitutionalism but declare it a short-term measure dictated by the harsh realities of our country. Third, madrassa or religious seminary affiliated leaders like Fazlur Rehman and Sirajul Haq openly oppose the move as discriminatory as it is ill defined and targets only religious sections of society. Fourth, outright sceptics believe that giving judicial powers to military courts amounts to abdication of the constitutional government. The legal fraternity, led by prominent leaders of various bar associations, is extremely jittery about the new development. Some newspapers in their editorials also aired similar concerns. If the photos of the all parties meeting in which General Raheel Sharif and other generals were also present are seen, one gets the impression that Julius Caesar had entered parliament. However, this entry has one major difference if compared to its historical parallel of antiquity. From Longus to Brutus all politicians appeared firmly to be loyal to the general who wore looks of satisfaction and accomplishment on his face.

Honestly, I find some merit in all four viewpoints. I can go along rationalists and apologists if I am clear about the strategic objectives of the new scheme of things. About a century ago Kemal Ataturk also undertook the arduous task of rescuing Turkey from the jaws of obscurantist traditionalists. Using his charisma and national hero status he forced a strategic change upon his country. At times he was brutal and unfair. However, his is one of the success stories in the inauspicious discipline of change management. Turkey is already a very close friend of Pakistan and is investing a lot in infrastructure improvement. Is our national action plan a manifestation of Kemalism? Have we finally realised the destructive power of placing religion at the centre of public policymaking? In order to make an informed guess let us inspect the 20 points of the action plan.

There are seven points that are aspirational and give some clues about the strategic aim and objectives of the change managers. Point no 15 is “zero-tolerance policy for extremism across Pakistan”. Perhaps this point of doctrinal importance should have topped the list as militancy and terrorism are the consequences of the unbridled culture of extremism. I would have rearranged the remaining six points to make some logical sequence to the action plan: “crackdown on literature promoting hatred, intolerance and extremism”, “complete ban on publicity and glorification of terrorists and their ideology on print and electronic media”, “complete protection for minorities and weeding out religious extremism and persecution”, “decisive action against promoters of sectarianism”, “no promotion of terrorism on social media and internet” and “no to armed outfits or militias in the country”.

After these doctrinal principles the remaining points are what we can genuinely call an action plan. However, the haphazardly listed points can also make more sense if they are assigned four categories after some rearrangement. First, judicial points that include “revamping the criminal judicial system to strengthen counterterrorism departments and empowering the provincial CIDs to intercept terrorist communications”, “execution of convicts on death row” and “special trial courts under army officers for two years”. Second, operational level points that include “reactivation/strengthening of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA)”, “setting up an anti-terrorism force”, “wiping out financial assistance of terrorists” and “dismantling of terrorists’ communication networks”. Third, political points that include “logical conclusion of Karachi operation”, “reconciliation in Balochistan” and “developmental reforms in FATA along with repatriation of IDPs” and, fourth, regulatory points that include “developing a new Afghan refugees policy that includes registration of all illegal refugees”, “registration and regularisation of religious seminaries” and “not allowing proscribed outfits to re-operate with new names”.

These doctrinal seven principles and 13 action points in essence reiterate what many progressive analysts have long been demanding of successive governments. About two years ago I had written a four-part piece titled “Need for deradicalisation in Pakistan” in which I had also argued for a paradigmatic shift in our public policy. I contended that we had always been in denial mode while the spectre of radicalisation kept growing, devouring our peace and development. Has our military establishment responded positively to our clarion calls for ending the deadly embrace of radical jihadists and has it decided to reorient itself as the bastion of liberal, progressive and nationalist values? Under Pervez Musharraf, enlightened moderation was a farce as we continued the double game. Have we finally decided to come clean and act like a responsible democracy? If that is the case then we should give the army a genuine chance to clean the house it muddied and bloodied in the past with its short-sighted strategic depth doctrine: “Fojon ka lahoo janta se mila, janta ka lahoo fojon se mila”(soldiers’ blood mixed with people’s blood and people’s blood mixed with soldiers’ blood”). I hope our generals give a happy turn to our national history this time.

Author: Dr. Haider Shah

Academic, Researcher and Writer

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