February 22, 2014

THE FALLACY OF PEACE. An undited version of what appeared in Nation today

‘Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both’

Benjamin Franklin

In Pakistan, a yawning gap separates political positions and the art of state craft. Politics is the game of the rich and corrupt with linkages within to thwart the mandate of the people. In addition, Pakistani establishment is also amenable to foreign powers in subverting the aspirations of the people. Status quo pundits may cite 1970 elections as transparent at the cost of disintegrating the country. What they unlearn is that populist politics is like a river with anarchic meanders that ultimately find equilibrium. The establishment, turncoat politicians and their handlers outside do not have the patience to allow Pakistan to pass through such a metamorphosis. They want a quick fix solution. Perennially, the urgency to learn and acquire statecraft takes a backseat in preference to the long list of dos and don’ts. This list does not flow from the heart and leads to indignity. State craft is serious business. As national resources of a country like Pakistan get wasted and dwindled, it is the statesmen and leadership who are required to tenaciously hang on to fleeting opportunities to wrest victory from jaws of defeat. Leaders have to train to rise beyond the self and synergise the ocean of popular emotions into a constructive business of nation building. Pakistan has not seen it happen since 1947.

The seesaw of constitutionalism and military interventions in Pakistan is a story in contrary. Politicians have learnt to switch loyalties and abide by the dotted lines. So a checklist in the pocket though belittling is extremely important. Within this matrix, they also have a personal wish list of reinventing wheels their way. These conflicts of interests are played below the threshold of disturbing the equilibrium.

Another limitation is the inability to separate sloganeering politics from the larger interests of the state. Serious business of the state is relegated in favour of the wish list and the larger agenda. The National Reconciliations since 2007 are a case in point. Despite surgical procedures at the hand of butchers, the nation refuses to die.

Broad daylight robbery of a state in May this year has widened the cracks within the politic body and the confidence of at least 10 million voters. This has created a very large division within the country. Pakistan Tehreek e Insaf does not trust the system and is frequently at odds. Imran Khan inevitably positions himself as a symbol of change to rid Pakistan of these afflictions for good. Therefore, the larger narrative demands that he must be kept out; as for Imran Khan? He must keep attacking the system. ‘When the hurly burly is done and when the battle is lost and won’, Imran Khan places himself in posterity as a man who made the right noises and one who could lead the right way.

The airwaves of Peace Talks have eclipsed other serious business like introspection, learning, economic crises, legislation against terrorism and a broad based national security policy built around the core national interests. Despite repeated rants about the indispensability of a broad based national counter terrorism policy that works in synchronisation with selective and accurate use of force, no one seems to comprehend the urgency of the message. Military led counter terrorism with no complementary legislation, parliamentary and judicial oversight and policy implementations in other areas will keep putting the country back to square one after each pause. Going by the experience of past ten years the history will repeat itself for pursuing an approach that has failed once too often. Military operations are not the only solution.

In contrast, the militants with their apologist in mainstream politics are putting forth more broad based demands whose intentions are clear but logic dangerous. Their policy of threat, awe and selective imaging of violence before a hapless public whose leaders lack statesmanship will keep subduing willpower. They will continue creating cracks in the society till challenged with a broad based superior counter narrative. Where is this counter narrative?

So let us have a look at how this menace of militancy needs to be tackled. Clausewitz’ greatest contribution to the study of war was centrality of politics earlier seen as an exclusive and discreet activity by generals. Unfortunately in Pakistan, some generals and most politicians still think so. For Clausewitz, the use of violence is only logical if it flows out of a logical political action that leads a military battle plan. Limiting the coercive application of policy, Clausewitz insisted that policy must not promise itself a wrong effect through military means. Pakistani rulers are guilt of just that. He set the objectives of limited use of violence as ultimate submission of the enemy through a limited defeat to be used for bargaining at peace negotiations. In Pakistan, no one is clear of how the issue has to be tackled.

To explain further, Julian Lider referred to armed conflict as an activity of choice and opportunity on a perspective of relative equilibrium bonded from cooperation to coercion in which violence is exercised in rare and extreme cases to restore the political equilibrium. Therefore, modern conflicts [wars waged on non-state actors] are not an independent phenomenon, but instruments statesmen must handle with political acumen balancing the ends-means relationship. In case of Pakistan, where is this ends-means relationship?

The militant conflict in Pakistan by non-state actors has replaced conventional warfare. This is and remains the war of the future whose strategy and tactics are different from conventional military planning. Like daemons who draw energy from their hosts, terrorists live amongst people like fish in water. They melt away at will and re-emerge at the place and timings of their choosing. Invariably, they are motivated by an ideology and sustained through logistics that transcend international boundaries. Their supporters are both state and non-state actors. Unlike the interior and exterior lines of logistics in strategy, they evolve from home grown and cost effective solutions based on improvisation and exploitation of available means. The effective use of the internet, alternate means of communications and home based dual use technologies remain their leading edge. Hence a state needs to come up with superior counter narratives, effective diplomacy and awareness themes that deprive these fish the water they need. Apart from selective use of force, the major counter terrorism operations are to be fought in the societal realm of schemes.  In Pakistan, we lack such a scheme.

As technology and nations continue to evolve, Clausewitz’ Trinity of People. Army and the Government evolved into a larger spectrum of operational, logistical, technological, and social dimensions bonded by a single dynamic policy. According to Michel Howard, “The main lines along which military events progress and to which they are restricted, are political lines that continue throughout the war into subsequent peace. Do political relations between peoples and their government stop, are diplomatic notes no longer exchanged? Is not war just another expression of their thought? Its grammar, indeed may be its own, but not its logic”.

So unless the government does not come up with a comprehensive ends-means relationship, military operations will continue to provide 20-40% respite and nothing more. The cycle will continue to be repeated. If politicians lack the capacity, they must engage professionals, specialists and experts on the subject to provide the needed impetus. Successful military operations can only be a part of the larger political victory and not a solution. A political rather than a short lived military victory is the order of the day. 

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.

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February 15, 2014



Even since the hyped negotiations captured airwaves, the carnage in Karachi and Peshawar has increased manifold.  Sometimes these acts of terror are blamed on the unknown forces that work to stall the negotiations; at others the TTP squarely takes responsibility for the killings. The division in governmental responses is of grave concern. In Peshawar, FIRs are registered against unknown assailants while in Karachi against TTP.  As an effect, this creates cracks in Pakistani politics while more blood continues to flow down the streets.

Negotiations in history have never been the singular tool of conflict resolution. The strategy itself remains part of a higher policy in which placation, pacification, persuasion, coercion, threat of the use of force and force all are employed in tandem. This creates divisions within the ranks of militants so that some are engaged while the most unpliable are destroyed piecemeal. This road map has been played repeatedly in history; from the Jungle War in Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Chechnya, Sri Lanka and Ireland.  In context of Sri Lankan 25 years conflict, it was Pakistan Army that trained the Sri Lankan Forces in counter insurgency operations. To say the army is limited to 40% capacity is wrong. What it implies is that the other 60% is civilian capacity that events prove is non-existent.

However, a policy is directly related to the credibility of the government backed by political will and affirmative action. In the course of negotiations, each side will demonstrate postures, initiate actions and put forth demands for discussions. It is tiring and complicated. The idea is to create a Cognitive Construct (an image of losses) in the mind of the other and reinforce it through imaging to make the other blink. More than the physical battlefield, it is a battle of minds and wits. Lamentably, in this ongoing soap opera and the virulent airwaves, the governments are guilty of blinking once too often, while the militants have displayed their daring nuisance, resolve and imagination. So where does this road lead us to? Surrender, capitulation or failure? The answer is ‘one of the above’.  

The idea and intentions of negotiating with militants were good. The federal and KP Governments were hard pressed to deliver on their election mandate. But ‘haste causes waste’ and this is exactly what the two have forced. As time passes, both will realise that they have put their hands on a red hot iron which they lacked capacity to handle. This inability is not due to the lack of resources at their disposal, but the callousness in crafting a policy that would make the entire exercise fruitful. A wide divide separates election sloganeering and a hands on job. Elections can be contested by slogans and electable candidates, but policy making needs professionals and experts. Doable do not become doable on the basis of a wish list and simplifications. The need is to assemble a team of experts comprising strategists, political economists, sociologists and jurists from all the provinces of Pakistan to prepare a policy. This policy should then be deliberated by a representative parliamentary committee and discussed in camera before the heads of all political parties. The policy should then be approved by both houses and become a legislative instrument. Based on the policy, each instrument of policy should then make a strategy within its areas of specialisation. The comprehensive broad spectrum policy will have a dampening effect on militants and act as deterrence. It is half the battle won.

The second flaw is that the APC Declaration was a policy guideline and not a policy in itself. The two parties promoting negotiations forgot that converting a policy guideline into an imaginative policy and strategy needs time, intellect and consultations. In fact the ruling PMLN never consulted PTI on what it was planning to do. This disconnect between the two and at large with other parties in the Parliament resulted in a narrow version initiative that lacked substance in tackling the issue at large. The issue is terrorism and not TTP. The government should have initiated dialogue with all groups involved in militancy through various teams with proven expertise in conflict resolution. The present team comprising two journalists, a retired intelligence officer and a retired bureaucrat is not representative of the aspirations of neither the People nor the Parliament. Similarly, the group representing TTP comprises ultra-rightists who seem eager to reject the constitutional bounds (asserted by them in the past declarations) and adopt the TTP hard line.  As regards FATA, the writ of the state is represented through the governor and tribal maliks. Where are tribal representatives in this team? As time passes and more bloodletting continues, these teams would have lost their credibility.

Thirdly, TTP is not representative of all militants in Pakistan, yet the methodology gives it more prominence than it merits. Various groups allied under its umbrella exercise independence to carry out terrorist acts.  Many groups under are sectarian in nature and their roots lie deep in Punjab. Groups of Baloch separatist who ally with them and get training in Afghanistan are not being addressed. It is now known that these groups carryout both ethnic and sectarian killings in Karachi and Balochistan. For reasons of argument, it is always possible for TTP to disassociate themselves from these floaters and yet keep its linkages with them intact. Unless all groups are not engaged concurrently in isolation, the inter group cooperation will continue to strengthen. I remain in awe of a probability, if the various Afghan groups also join hand with them. It will then become the biggest challenge to Pakistan’s integrity and sovereignty.

Fourthly, Pakistan needs to internationalise the issue to gain foreign diplomatic and economic support. Many groups are getting funding from hostile intelligence agencies like Afghan NDS, India’s RAW, CIA, American civil contractors and many agencies operating from otherwise friendly Middle East. Unless, the foreign support bases are not severed, the militants will not run out of their lifelines.

Fifthly, the militant financial and logistic lifelines within Pakistan have to be blocked. These are in terms of manpower, ideology, munitions and money. Karachi is the hub of financial crimes through kidnapping, burglaries, extortions and hired assassinations. Till recently, there were reports of a tense turf war between Mehsuds of TTP and Swatis of Fazal Ullah group. Similarly, their ideological moorings are rooted in Punjab which is also a fertile ground for recruiting suicide bombers. A recent video chanting songs of ‘Taliban Aa Gayay, Taliban Aa Gayay’ is distinctly Punjabi. Hence for comprehensive enforcement, Waziristan, Punjab and Karachi will have to be tackled simultaneously within a single policy framework but different plans.

Lastly, the government needs to brief the media and ask it to act in the best interests of the state. Television channels need to establish their own research cells and conduct healthy debates with insight and foresight at premium. All negotiators should be banned under the Official Secret Act to appear on Talk shows or air their views through the print or social media. This will contain sensationalism and not pollute the perceptions of Pakistani public that is confused and could be led astray by the ultra-rightist propaganda.

The most lethal tool in the hands of the militants is the propaganda on religious lines ably supported by Jamaat e Islami, JUI (S), some anchors and media persons. The aim is to create a psyche-social wedge amidst Pakistanis for imposition of their brand of Islamic Ideology. This should not be allowed to happen lest it results into a Syria like, widespread civil war in Pakistan which the majority of peace-loving Pakistanis lack the capacity to fight. This is what is meant by Surrender, capitulation or failure.

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.

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February 8, 2014

DANCING WITH FLAMES: Pakistan’s double edged strategy of negotiations




Talking peace with militants who operate in violation of the Constitution of Pakistan; whose ever morphing entities massacre minorities with impunity; who behead soldiers and play soccer with their heads; who have external lines of logistics and support; and who represent a narrow and militant version of religion imported through foreign legions unwelcome in their own lands, is an issue come alive. As mainstream religious parties (representing TTP) and rightists vie to take hardened positions on the issue, the broadcasts at large widen fissures in a society already polarised on sectarian and political lines. The Objective Resolution of 1948 and Islamic clauses of the Constitution will be a subject of heated debates within the negotiating teams, between political parties and diverse segments of Pakistani society. This is a bad omen that could lead to further violence amongst groups and sects in Pakistan.

As negotiations progress, their speed and fluidity will impact on the future of the state itself. Already, many theories and simplifications on terrorism are proving to be wrong. A combination of delusions, emphatic emotions and compulsions of making political mileage have led most political parties to lose sight of national interests for petty gains. Each actor is prepositioned to extract its pound of flesh.

The simplification of direct US intervention in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s complicity with USA, and drones has lost relevance. With the declaration of USA to minimise drone strikes in Pakistan and confine them only to Al Qaeda and foreign militants appears to have had no effect on the TTP strategy.  They are looking far beyond this argument to assert their legitimacy in the agencies of Pakistan and perhaps into the main land. In an article titled Conflict of Ethnic Vulnerability (Nation, 27 June 2013) I had warned: –

“The recent activity on the status of Durand Line, TTP sanctuaries in Afghanistan, nationalist card being played by President Hamid Karzai and the melting pot that is Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) warrants, that the nation must be apprised of the vulnerabilities and challenges therein. Having failed to nibble into Pakistan’s integrity through the Baloch separatists, strategists have now turned their eyes on the north-western areas of Pakistan. The absence of an inviolable international border along AFPAK lends credence to this threat”

Chickens have come home to roost and the nation will have to pay a price for having gone to sleep through toxic scripts. Facing such challenges, it is doubtful if Islamabad will be able to reassert itself in a situation it hastily created for itself.  

First, the entire exercise and the manner of the process dampen effects created by the threat of the use of force; a legitimate right of the state in asserting its writ. The hastily organised team, informed of its representation through the media had no time to neither gel nor grasp the enormity of its challenge through in-house briefings. The team neither represents the political nor the sectarian diversity within Pakistan. At least two members are known to share the sentiments of the rightists. Using layers of surrogates TTP is emboldened, opaque and rigid.

Secondly, it was always difficult for Imran Khan and JUI (F) to negotiate on behalf of TTP. PTI despite its stance on violence and drones continues to represent the moderate stream of Pakistani politics. A No by Imran Khan was always on cards. JUI (F), heading the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) had to swallow pride to be led by JUI (S) group. Their names were pot shots taken by TTP to expose certain groups and widen cracks. It appears they succeeded.

Thirdly, reports coming after the first meeting were discouraging. Would the government cede its authority and sovereignty before non-state actors; or to accept their escorts to FATA and provide helicopters till the closest proximity? If yes, it means that the government has ceded its responsibility to militants and therefore its writ over areas it is constitutionally mandated to secure. Recap Voila Federation (Nation. 20 July 2013): –

 “Pakistanis from FATA and many parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have become refugees in their own country… Over 30 years of violence in the region, influx of Afghan refugees and creation of internally displaced Pakistani has widened psychological scars in a region historically exposed to crosscurrents of invasions. I dread if recent events become a continuation of Pashtun folklore”. 

It is this deprivation and conditions set by TTP that threaten to set dynamics for new frontiers and a step towards deconstruction of Jinnah’s Pakistan.

Fourthly, TTP policy and brinkmanship is well planned by its handlers. Their demands of meeting the prime minister, army chief and DG ISI are outrageous and reek of contempt. Their definition of sorash zada (lawless) areas also needs elaboration. Is it a maximalist position they are taking at the outset that would mellow with time or is it meant to widen the conflagration of flames within the country? In addition, does it by implication pressurise Pakistan and Afghan Taliban towards reconciliation with Hamid Karzai and his men?

Fifthly, how would Taliban transit from their ambivalent representation to a more transparent face? Does Maulana Sami ul Haq represent the actual front or is there a hidden team too. Where do Maulana Shah Abdul Aziz and Maulana Fazal ur Rahman Khalil figure in this entire gambit? Beyond these surrogate fronts, when will the real nine member team become visible and approachable? These are questions that would be addressed in course of time. But TTP seems to be in a hurry. They wish to have their cake before the snow melts in the agencies.

Lastly, all negotiations are preceded by posturing and lobbying. It seems the government has done nothing and thoughtlessly acquiesced on TTP terms or did it? Certainly, the Prime Minister indicated willingness to bend the Taliban way by appointing TTP’s ideological father to revive talks. Under pressure from unknown quarters he had to withdraw. TTP shrewdly chose him as their points-man.

It appears that other than constitutional bounds, there are no Red Lines or non-negotiable. Even the term ‘within the bounds of constitution’ keeps doors ajar. As debates in Pakistan indicate, the Islamic clauses within the constitution and their enforcement will become a hot topic and cause of divisions within Pakistan. Under the existing mechanisms, the Federal Shariat Court and CII are precisely meant to suggest just that. So, does Pakistan at this point of time afford to lend credence to the interpretations of TTP and their cahoots in the mainstream to touch this hornet’s nest?  It cannot, but is doing just that. It lacks a comprehensive policy.

In July 2013, a US official summarised the bleak prospects of the visit by John Kerry to Pakistan by stating: “They (Pakistan) are working on their own counter-terrorism strategy. We just need to wait and see what they come up with internally and how we can coordinate both in our bilateral relationship and with joint cooperation. Putting Malik Ishaq of LJ on the banned list by USA indicates its worries over Pakistan.

Unfortunately, Pakistan has so far dragged its feet on this very important subject. Two days ago the government extended three anti-terrorism ordinances amid roars from opposition. It means it has no intentions of drafting a counter terrorism policy. Either the government lacks capacity or is deliberately positioning to reap advantages through this situation? Think.

Meanwhile, the dance of Pakistani politicians with flames continues.

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.

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