Violence of public property and against the ordinary citizens is really soaring in Pakistan; indeed it has reached new levels in many parts of the country with militants unleashing a wave of deadly attacks aimed at the armed forces of the country. The irony being that the federal government is still uncertain and clearly dithering about what to do. Famed columnists and intellectuals are all clearly divided about what is the best solution to all this mess. The country’s top political leadership is equally confused and all that one hears is whether the time is ripe for a negotiated settlement or is it the proper time for an attack.
I see so much of great bloodshed in the country that much of it has not really been reported by the western media.
We have witnessed a sectarianism the kind of which remains unprecedented in the history of this nation. On Tuesday 21 January 29 Shia Muslims were killed by Sunni militants near Quetta in Balochistan province after a suicide bomber rammed a car filled with explosives into the bus they were travelling in. Meanwhile, in Karachi, three Shias were shot dead, in another attack claimed by Sunni extremists. On the same day in Lahore a well-known Urdu writer and professor Syed Asghar Nadeem was wounded by unknown gunmen. Meanwhile three anti-polio vaccinators, including two women, were gunned down in Karachi by Taliban militants - the third such attack in Karachi in a week.
The attacks on the army have continued even though the army claimed it had killed 40 militants in a bombing raid that was itself retaliation for a suicide attack near army headquarters in Rawalpindi the day before. That attack left 13 people, including eight soldiers, dead. On the previous day 20 soldiers were killed in a bomb attack on an army convoy in the north-west of the country. That showed that the army’s use of force only encouraged further attacks by the Taliban, who killed 12 security personnel in different incidents on 22 January.
This terrifying state of affairs has produced several consequences. For instance there has been a flight of capital in recent months and many of the elite are sending their children out of the country. In all this mess what is that the federal government is doing? For months, Nawaz Sharif’s government has had a policy of wanting to negotiate with the militants, but that has made no headway and now lies in apparent “shambles”? The high water mark of this vital weakness became a household phenomenon when on the 27th January there was the announced meeting of the political parties in the Parliament. In this meeting it was unanimously held that the reluctance of the Pakistani government to conclude this ongoing controversy was unacceptable as well as difficult to understand. Above all the Prime Minister was personally asked to explain his non-ending apparently non-attendance of the proceedings of the Parliament was becoming quite incomprehensible. He had not come to the parliament for nearly half a year and had only actually attended the sessions of the nation’s sovereign body only 7 times in the entire term in office. With Nawaz Sharif appearing paralyzed, by showing no sense of urgency over tackling the crisis, which would entail abandoning the false hope of any meaningful talks with those who are classified as militants and then giving the army orders to go after the militancy.
Since he became the country’s premier last June, Sharif has moved very slowly on his entire promised agenda of economic reform, making peace with India, encouraging reconciliation in Afghanistan and countering militancy at home. Some even suggest that he has given up on controlling this vital issue altogether.
The media in the country is also under severe strains and it would appear that there is already some sort of difficulty ——and relations between the army and the civilian government are multiplying ——- with the army now extremely frustrated at the government’s policy paralysis while its soldiers die in unprecedented numbers. Neither the army nor the government have shown any signs of adopting a zero sum approach to militancy which would mean going after all militant groups, including those from the province of Punjab who fight against Indian rule in Kashmir. On the other hand the militants are gaining ground every day by demoralizing the public and the security forces with their persistent attacks.
The anti-Shia campaign is now nationwide and affecting every city and province, including Punjab, which was considered safe until recently.
Some people think Nawaz Sharif needs to address the nation on TV and describe how dire the situation is. He desperately needs to get as many opposition political parties to his side as will join him. But that is seemingly his major difficulty……many feel somewhat differently on such delicate issues. Finally, he needs to order the army to clear up the main hub of militancy in the country but that is more easily said than actually done. The problem has become more complicated in recent months as Islamic extremists in Karachi, Sindh, Punjab and Baluchistan, who were once separate, isolated and operating independently now appear to have come under the banner of the Movement of Pakistani Muslimhood being led by the Taliban. Collectively, they are conceivably aiming at toppling the system to impose a caliphate in the country.
Internationally the world has seen the dramatic resurgence of pro-helpful elements of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Syria, which has greatly complicated the civil war in Syria as conceived by the US strategists; nobody would have thought that such elements had the power to conquer cities, but that is exactly what it has done in Iraq with the capture of Falluja and Ramadi.
Accordingly it may be submitted with some ambivalence that so bad is the security situation in the Pakistani border towns of Peshawar and Quetta, as well as in the southern port city and trading hub of Pakistan, namely Karachi, that it may not be far off when an urban area - or part of one - falls into the hands of the Pakistani militancy.
As such it seems not impossible to see that if the present security situation worsens, the next step for the militancy could be an urban insurrection, while tensions between the military and civilians could lead to a military-led state under emergency or even of “martial law”. While I am aware of the law on this subject I still think that what is just stated is now a realistic possibility. The emergence finally in the afternoon of 29th January by Nawaz Sharif in the Parliament was thus most impressive. However, he then proceeded to outline his own version of events finally concluding that he was setting up a four member committee for the task of negotiations with these militancy groups. The four nominated members are all basically journalists of high repute but lacking the political weight considered by some to be necessary in the circumstances. There is another form of criticism leveled against this committee that it has neither clear mandate nor indeed any time frame within which to finish its task. But they are relatively speaking, minor matters, and we have adequate responses for them. So the bottom line seems to be that we are witnessing in the country a strange situation which can lead in theory to disastrous consequences.
The writer is barrister at law (US and UK), senior advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and professor at Harvard University.