Nothing illustrates better, the level of training and morale of the law enforcement agencies than the heist by a single deranged individual holding two AK-47 carbines. He held the Islamabad police at bay in a high security zone, for over five hours till an unarmed civilian grabbed him, providing LEAs a window albeit with excessive use of force. Worse still, it reflects the initiative quality of leadership of LEAs, caught between an intrusive judiciary, undecided government, and an ambivalent policy. When combatant lead a charge at the peril of their lives and safety of families, they need backing from the entire nation. If not, the much needed adrenaline will never rush the body to conquer fear and indecision.
The militants in Pakistan are striking targets of their choice with alacrity and getting away unchallenged. As the US exit from Afghanistan seems imminent, the internal conflict appears to be moving to lower and more violent trajectories. Since May 11, there have been over 60 terrorist attacks leaving 450 dead and over 600 wounded. Attacks on intelligence headquarters in Sukkur, targeting tourists, Parachinar, jailbreak in D.I. Khan and successive attacks on the police in Balochistan are as bad as it could get. Internal security, mainly a civilian responsibility, has hit its nadir inasmuch as the morale of LEAs under constant criticism, reprisals and scrutiny.
Two months have proved that the much talked pre-electoral negotiated settlement was a delusionary bubble. It seems the COAS has failed to sell his counter-terrorism strategy to the federal and provincial governments. The situation gets further complicated with the impending change of command in the armed forces. This civil-military disconnect provides militants with windows of endless opportunities. While the military and LEAs have 10 years of combat experience, the political simplifications and delusions bemoan a deficit in conflict management converting this experience into battle fatigue.
The jailbreak in D.I. Khan is a sorry example of this multi-dimensional failure. The ISI and military intelligence insist that they provided accurate advance information, but the local and provincial administrations failed to pre-empt or fight out the threat that lasted less than 30 minutes (not three hours as reported by the media). The local administration on conditions of anonymity insists that the threat level was beyond them to handle. They allege that the provincial government was insensitive to requisitioning military in advance. The military retorts that it had carried out all contingency planning, but was never requisitioned. They deny that the Chief Minister had at any stage of the incident made any complaint to the Corps Commander about non-cooperation by the military. The provincial government alleges that the military despite repeated requests failed to react. The statement of a Provincial Minister summed up the lack of preparedness and knowledge of ground realities at 5:00am claiming that the attackers had been beaten back.
As written in “Defining Frontiers” (The Nation, August 3, 2013), no provincial government can perform its role in counter-terrorism till convinced that ground realities substantially differ from its simplification of a so-called US imposed war on terror. Political ownership of the conflict is essential to conflict management ranging from negotiations to use of force.
To call militants as reactionaries is a fallacy. They are well trained, logistically supported, and organised groups that plan to the last detail. “Operation Rah-e-Rast” by Pakistan Army in Swat resulted in a trove of information on computers, pen drives, CDs and laptops corroborated by similar data collected from other parts of Pakistan. The terrorists had built a database of law enforcement agencies, armed forces, civil administration, and politicians, along with their families and locations. Their sleepers were operating as household servants, cab drivers, shopkeepers, and government employees. Consequently, abductions, target killings, and assassinations to coerce functionaries were expected. The individuals of law enforcement agencies and their families are under constant threat. Why must they fight if they are not backed by a strong political leadership? Till such time the pyramid is not complete, the people of Pakistan will continue to be hostage to events.
According to one study, there are over 68 militant organisations. Approximately half of them have some level of contacts with political parties. They also have external linkages and funding. Over 20 foreign intelligence agencies maintain links with these organisations. Proliferation of foreign funded NGOs and their surreptitious activities complicate internal insecurity. Missing containers, missing persons, pre-positioning of military hardware, creation of a fifth column across the entire spectrum (military, social, economic, political, and media), operations other than war (described as sub-conventional threats), economic manipulation, and pressure exerted by India are all part of this destabilisation. This disruptive narrative with militancy as its lynchpin can only be countered without a realistic political roadmap.
In the absence of synergy, military operations against the militants are futile. The spate of incidents post-May 11 highlight the disastrous effects of this disconnect and a lesson learnt at our peril. This ambivalence will continue to adversely affect the morale of the military and law enforcement agencies resulting in psychological scars.
Is the federal government reluctant to bring the military and political parties on board; or is it fire-walling the issue; or is it waiting for the tenure of the present COAS to expire, and then have a freehand? If true, these options give a poor and uneducated account of their knowledge in military sociology and its robust corporate and inclusive culture. Whatever? The limbo is emboldening the militants. This leads to the conclusion that none of the parties in power have a policy narrative of how peace will be negotiated with militants, leaving hapless citizens and law enforcement agencies at the mercy of terrorism. Islamabad is a case in point.
This indecision, expediency and lack of management capacity are a bad omen for a post-exit Pakistan. As opined in “Doha Initiative” (The Nation June 22, 2013), the most dangerous variant could be reversing fronts of AfPak like switching North Pole. As winter approaches and conflict in Afghanistan hibernates in frigid weather, lawlessness in Balochistan and Karachi could peak to engage Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, this is happening earlier than appreciated. Time and tide do not wait.
n The writer is a retired army officer, current affairs host on television and political economist.