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Old Wednesday, July 16, 2008
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A state adrift amid militancy and US threat of war

By Shireen M Mazari
Wednesday, July 16, 2008

There is always so much to write about in terms of the antics of our rulers. The "people's government" is certainly showing its adeptness at spending the people's money in their travels and other shenanigans. According to one report, Gilani's Dubai detour cost the Pakistani nation Rs10 million, at a minimum and no one knows how much the rushed visits to Dubai by cabinet members are costing the nation just as no one knows what is being spent on the non-state centre of political power presently. Then there are the costs of the prevailing major disconnect between government and power and there are many instances of decisions having been approved by the prime minister and duly processed, being stalled or actually overturned as a result of a command from the power centre outside the state structures.

But all these issues pale in front of the brewing crisis confronting the country in terms of the terrorism issue at a time when the writ of the state is increasingly adrift as the elected leaders of the main ruling party pamper to the idiosyncrasies of their unelected boss, Zardari. The net result is a series of bizarre and damaging statements coming forth from the prime minister down. Our foreign minister insists that we cannot refer to US attacks against our territory as "unfriendly" while the prime minister tries to justify US threats against Pakistan by saying they fear another 9/11 attack on the US mainland. What about Pakistani fears of an impending US attack and its repercussions? Why is Gilani silent on that count?

Is the prime minister going to also justify a US military attack against us in the FATA region as a response to US fears? As it is, he has still not accepted the fact that the US has been attacking our territory as and when it has seen fit. The only reality is that they may now opt for a more large scale operation inside of Pakistan which may require their ground forces to come in and stay for some time. Mullen's visit to Islamabad and the uneasy silence on the Pakistanis' part regarding the content of his visit which one can learn more about in the US media shows that the US was now conveying an unambiguous threat to Pakistan.

Before his visit, Mullen had already declared that he had been given the power to decide whether the US should conduct operations against Pakistan. In other words, the power to go to war how else should we describe such actions against Pakistan had already been delegated by Bush to the military commanders. The political Bush-Mush and other similar lines of communication have thus become irrelevant in this context.

The seriousness of the situation can be gauged by the fact that after the Mullen visit, the Afghan government has broken off all talks with Pakistan an action normally taken when one is ready to start military action (war). This expression of intent by the Afghans has been accompanied by Karzai's declaration that Pakistan was responsible for the Kabul Indian embassy blast. All this while we continue to pussyfoot around the growing Indo-Afghan-US nexus.

Within this increasingly warlike environment, our own military warns that if the US feels Pakistan cannot deliver they will attack perhaps through "precision bombing" something the US has so far been unable to do given the collateral civilian damage wreaked on civilians both sides of the international Pak-Afghan border as well as within Afghanistan. So US military aggression against Pakistan seems imminent.

At the same time, there is no denying the fact that Pakistan also confronts its own terrorist problem where armed groups are attempting to create mini states within the state of Pakistan. Sporadic deals with groups of militants have done little to assert the writ of the Pakistani state. While political dialogue and negotiations are the only rational way forward with our own militants and extremists, these cannot be done rationally unless there is first an acceptance of the writ of the state by all parties in other words political means have to be backed by a background of force.

The problem confronting us presently is two-fold. The first and most debilitating is the lack of a cohesive state presence and state policy. Our army conducts military options, but there is no political ownership nor any political strategy to move in after the operation has been conducted. The provincial government as well as the centre talks of deals but where is the writ of the state in their enforcement? What is the overarching national policy if these deals fail and there is a need to conduct paramilitary or military operations? Because the drift in the writ of the state is becoming increasingly palpable, those seeking to establish a counter writ are becoming bolder and more assertive. Another reality is that the successive failures of pro-Western governments have been creating a growing support base for a more "Islamic" political dispensation across the country.

The second issue has been our inability, post-9/11, to distinguish between our own domestically-rooted terrorism problem and the Al Qaeda brand of transnational terrorism. The result has been an enmeshing of the two with the result that our domestic polity is being rent asunder by suicide bombers and violent intolerance. The state has also been confronted with a growing credibility gap in terms of its assertion that the war against the practitioners of terrorism is our war and not the American war. There is a rationale behind this loss of credibility the jumping on to the US bandwagon of the so-called "global war on terror", which has within it a strong element of abuse of Muslims and Islam.

Is there a way out of this impasse? A beginning has to be made on two fronts simultaneously. First the state has to evolve a clear-cut, implementable policy regarding violence and extremism confronting our own polity and its fallout in the neighbourhood. But the policy can only come when the state drift is halted and there is a coherent state presence. Any such policy must have an overarching strategic framework of political dialogue, economic injections into the troubled areas and groups, and the backing of a viable strategy of the use of force such that it does not create a long term negative fallout on civil society. The effort has to be to bring the militants into the mainstream so that those committed to violence are isolated. This is the only way to deny space not just to the existing terrorists but also future recruits.

In such a situation the state has to realise it is dealing with three categories of people: those who support the state and therefore must be protected; those who are sitting on the fence waiting to see where the power balance will tilt these need to be shown the ability of the state to exert its writ; and, finally those who are actually part of the militant extremists who need to be shown that they are on the losing side and need to use other non-violent means to assert their cause, or face the use of force by the state in which case the state should have the ability to exert effective force against now heavily armed groups. All in all, if the writ of the state is asserted, the problem of infiltration can also be tackled to some extent, although an equal share of that problem arise from a lack of effective presence of state and international forces on the other side of the border.

The second front has to be to create immediate space between ourselves and the US. Unless this is done, the credibility of the state in declaring that it is fighting a national war on terrorism will continue to lack clarity amongst civil society. At the end of the day no state policy can succeed without being credible to its own people. If US aid is the cost then so be it, because we have already damaged our polity and our psyche by this disconnect between the government, military and the nation at large. In fact, the nation will rally round the state if the political and military elite show their intent and ability to create this space.

There are other tactical strategies that are also required to deal with the critical problem of terrorism within the country and its neighbourhood, but the starting point has to be assertion of the writ of the state and space between it and the US.

The writer is a defence analyst. Email:
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