June 22, 2015


Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 5:58 am


The recent photo of the Prime Minister with the military on the right and civilians on left says it all. At the highest level, the civil-military establishment stands divided. Political will to back counterterrorism is lacking.

This is Pakistan’s unending phase of armed conflict against violence sans consensus; avoidable but inevitable; dangerous but deliberate. Confronting this menace are the armed forces (include civil armed forces) taking orders directly from military and civilian law enforcement agencies operating under a political control. Clearly, the two are divergent with different motivations. The people of Pakistan are at the receiving end.

As the rift widens and cracks deepen, futility of a twenty point National Action Plan as substitute for a Comprehensive National Counter Terrorism Policy is evident. The irrelevancy reflects that military and civilian establishment began on different coordinates from the go. Now, they have turned their backs to each other gazing in different directions. The political stratagems have moved beyond the edge while the military looks reluctantly towards the abyss. Both PMLN and PPP know that in international matrix, a military intervention could lead to irreversible destabilisation. Because the military is a reluctant coup maker, they are emboldened to stretch the military to a breaking point. By a strange notion, this will usher civilian supremacy. In the past Bhutto tried it at the cost of the country and his life. The present men are no Bhutto and ignore lessons of history.

Perhaps the military high command is also reflecting on the simplicity of its military plan and the change of commands in its structure. It has bitten more than it could chew. All military plans have limited objectives paving way for other instruments of policy to take effect and ensure victory. In prolonged counter terrorism, limiting incremental objectives assume more importance. The totalitarian notion that the spirit of Zarb e Azb would spread to rest of the country was a simplification. Entrenched political elites never bought the military idea and are hell-bent on undoing battle field success.

I had repeatedly warned that in the absence of a coherent policy, the entire exercise would be counterproductive. As a least measure, government and military should have deliberated in and gone for a pause to resettled IDPs. Concurrently they should have built national consensus for the next phase. But the motivations of each side were different. Military did not want to lose momentum especially when militants from FATA had melted into Karachi, South Punjab and Balochistan. PMLN and PPP were reluctant because it threatened to unsettle their priorities. This divergence provided a haven for hostile agencies.

A unified objective in Pakistan’s war against terrorism does not exist. I remained critical about the absence of a policy with political ownership. PPP and MQM feel irked about the singular focus on Karachi while no action is being taken against militant outfits in Punjab. Yet they are comfortable with the limbo. KPK adjoining FATA has to contend with millions of displaced people. KPK alleges it is not getting the required support from the centre. The process of resettlement of IDPS back to Waziristan has not begun due to absence of funding for resettlement, infrastructure development and compensations. A small group of foreign funded separatists operating in underdeveloped Balochistan has been augmented by concentration of hard-core militants from FATA making the settled Pashtun areas unstable. Proliferation of hostile intelligence agencies add a lethal amalgam, the government seems unwilling to handle. Had the government taken its responsibility to frame a policy to synergise the nation, events would have been different. In Islamabad, the immediate priority was the consolidation of rigged elections and winning strategy for 2018.

The military successes of Zarb e Azb in North Waziristan have run into multiple road blocks in settled areas. The cooperation by the people of Waziristan to voluntarily displace is leading to disillusion and despair. Due to lack of federal support and inability of the civilian administration to take over the cleared areas, this frustration could soon become a source of instability. From a high intensity and swift military operation Zarb e Azb extensions are synonymous to knee jerk actions in Karachi. The state and the media have made no efforts to delink the two. A perception is being framed that large scale military formations will soon come steaming into Karachi. This perception shifts the entire onus on the military and COAS thereby widening the civil-military gulf. Confronting terrorism and militancy in urban areas has entirely different characteristics. Large scale use of force is impossible, identification of targets that swim like fish in water difficult and civil military coordination crucial.  The reality that these operations are civilian led and use of military use is selective and precise is eclipsed.

Recent events highlight this disconnect. Zulfiqar Mirza makes a mockery of law by moving with large contingents of armed guards. Hooded squads of Sindh anti-terrorism police called Zardari Force beat journalists outside the courts. Following a boiling hot provincial apex committee meeting in Karachi, Sindh police swiftly arrested culprits of Safoora massacre purportedly belonging to a militant outfit morphing into Da’esh. To confuse matters and deepen the mystery, Rangers followed arrest of four MQM hitmen for alleged complicity in Safoora shooting. It is a very dangerous development if religious, sectarian and ethnic criminals have forged common grounds for survival.

This means that while the battle is being won on one front, the larger war has run into a barrier. The situation suits and complements hostile intelligence agencies and corrupt political elites. As long as their interests are secure, Pakistan can wait. Who cares?

On a conclusive note, the military is battle fatigued for twelve years. It is in intense combat for over a year. Combat battalions are being rotated for a third time. Military hardware is undergoing wear and tear. Replenishments are far and few. In a few months General Raheel Sharif will be into the retirement year. Then rumours to drive a wedge will be rife with names of his successor. This is the waiting game of political crocodiles.

Evidence of deliberate rigging in Punjab and Sindh the two main obstacles to counter terrorism is mounting. Implications of the verdict of Judicial Commission could swing either way. Meanwhile an incoherent WOT with spates of violence and misery would continue.

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

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