The PML-N government’s directionless counter-terrorism policy seems to have emboldened the terrorists. Being led here and there by an assortment of interests, the government does not seem to have ideas of its own for reining in the monster of terrorism. It chose to hide under the comfortable blanket of consensus instead of taking its exclusive responsibility as the executive to take decisions. Yet another APC later, we are no closer to defeating terrorists that are uncannily grouped together under the convenient label of TTP.
Problems with the approach adopted by the government to establish the writ of the state and bring an end to acts of terror that continue to be perpetrated against unarmed citizens and military personnel are not too difficult to identify. Despite promises to disengage from the US game plan made in one APC after another, we continue to play the role of a supporting actor in its meddlesome games. There is no effort to engage with Afghanistan’s neighbours or the SCO to bring an end to the destabilising presence of the US in the region. The government is bracing up to backtrack even from the decision to take the matter of drones to the UN. Do APC declarations mean anything at all?
Had it been serious about formulating an independent counter-terrorism policy rather than feeding the mess created by the US and facilitating it in its efforts to put in place a pliable government before its exit, the government would have done better than releasing terrorism-tainted prisoners and bending over backwards to engage in a dialogue with the so-called leaders of terrorists. Who do they really represent? By offering them a place on the table and recognising them as interlocutors for the terrorists, aren’t we adding to the weight and influence of these particular leaders and actually building them up?
The only reason for engaging in a dialogue with militants that makes any sense is that the process would be helpful in isolating the hardcore terrorists, those with agendas that are irreconcilable with the Constitution of Pakistan and foreign agents out to sow chaos and anarchy. Winning over tribes disgruntled by military operations and drones and rehabilitating tribesmen motivated by revenge or money and recruited by a plethora of militant groups and factions is all very well, but it is difficult to see how talking to the TTP would help achieve these goals. For that, the dialogue process should be oriented to engage locally with individuals, groups and tribes rather than pumping more air in the already inflated importance of TTP. Besides, is it even possible to have a dialogue with the TTP?
By all accounts, the TTP is not an entity like a disciplined communist party with a centralised command but more of a concept that is constantly given flesh by the TTP spokesman, brought to life by the media that faithfully reports his propaganda and made more important by the government’s timid indulgence. Cleverly projected as a loose conglomerate of various factions, it is not even that. There are serious divisions, leadership issues and turf wars among these factions and they could be hardly bunched together under the TTP umbrella.
While the TTP says it is driven by its devious rhetoric disguised as Islam, some groups are only interested in maintaining their control of areas for unhindered continuation of their criminal activities. Some are in it for revenge and some for money. To club all of them together and to think that the TTP spokesman speaks for all of them is rather simplistic if not downright naïve.
A fictitious TTP monolith dominates the discussion in the media that goes around in circles mouthing the same misleading discourse on terrorism that also informs government policy. The external linkages are brushed under the carpet despite clear indications that many militant groups are being supported by foreign agencies ala Syria. The TTP’s terrorist activities, its targets and its extremist sectarian rhetoric, carry the signature of the empire and, dialogue or no dialogue, it will continue to hurtle along the same violent path chosen for it by those who fund it.
There is also the problem of what the TTP wants. The terrorist outfit believes in imposing its demented brand of Islam on everyone through violence. It considers every other interpretation of Islam as kufr and believes in killing those who subscribe to these different interpretations as well as minorities. It does not believe in democracy and the right of women to education and does not mind nipping these ‘evils’ in the bud by killing election candidates and blowing up schools. What is there to discuss with a mindset like that? Will a person whose language is violence understand anything else? While trying to win over the disgruntled and misled tribesman is a good idea, there is no alternative to devising a comprehensive strategy to isolate and defeat the hardcore terrorists.
The government cannot afford to treat something that is so crucial to Pakistan’s future in a slipshod manner. It must get out of the shadow of US interest and policy, see the problem with its own eyes and define the problem within a framework that rests on the ground, a framework that is not suspended in the vacuum of a deceptive narrative steeped in meaningless jargon and fancy terms that are used to obfuscate the problem so that it is never sorted out.
Building the TTP as a player in Pakistani polity is a way to ensure that our problems multiply and swathes of our territory are gripped by lawlessness so that they could be used to foment further mayhem through funded agents of violence. This model has been replicated in many parts of the world by the empire and its friends in the Middle East.
It is imperative to understand the problem of terrorism in Pakistan more deeply rather than getting on the devious US bandwagon that only serve to secure its imperial interests in Afghanistan post 2014. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must shed off this lackadaisical attitude and put his act together.
The writer is a freelance columnist.