Ever since the horrible attack on school children in Peshawar, there have been a series of measures within Pakistan in responding to militancy. A National Plan has been prepared; military courts have been constitutionally set up to deal with the militants; groups have been banned, and recently the government has also decided to freeze the funds of the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD). There is a general perception within Pakistan, that today, the nation does not differentiate between the “good” and “bad” Taliban, leading to a new paradigm involving the State, society and militants.
What is this new paradigm? While many at the civil society level are keen to put the militant genie back into the bottle, does everyone within the Establishment share the same enthusiasm? Is there a section within the political and military Establishments that sees militants in terms of good and bad?
Two more important questions on this issue relate to the capacity of the State to deal with the militants and the willingness of the jihadi groups to be rolled back. Can the State really put the genie back into the bottle? Is the genie willing to get back?
The new paradigm that the civil society is talking about in Pakistan today relates to their own resolve to fight the militants, and that of the State to combat and neutralize them. Three issues are important while discussing this new paradigm in Pakistan. Is the civil society in Pakistan against the violence perpetrated by the militant groups, or against them and their ideology in principle? Is the State’s effort aimed at completely neutralizing the jihadi groups and their ideology, or only focused on bringing them under their own control, as it existed pre-9/11? Finally, is the State capable of creating an environment - social and economic - that would be competitive and not provide any substantial space for the jihadi groups and their ideologies to influence civil society?
Is the civil society only against violence, or against the jihadis and their ideologies?
This is an important question that will have a crucial impact on the future of not only Pakistan, but also the entire region. Pressure from civil society has been one of the most crucial components in the State’s proactive response against the militant groups. How far will the civil society go in pushing the case? Will it call for the complete annihilation of these groups, their infrastructure and their ideologies? Or, will it fall short?
The Peshawar attack undoubtedly has been an important event. The society has been shaken and is angry. Rightly so. But will the same sense of anger prevail against all forms of violence perpetrated by a small fraction in the name of religion? What has been the response of the civil society to the assassination of Salman Taseer, attacks on Imambaras, Shias, Ahmadiyas, etc? Unfortunately, the same sense of anger or condemnations does not exist. And even if it exists, it does not have the same intensity that has forced the government to take proactive measures after the Peshawar attack.
In fact, the attack on school children in Peshawar in December 2014 would not have happened if such resolve existed during the last two decades, when the militant groups were on a rampage against the minority communities in Pakistan. Their ideology would not have found support had the civil society rejected the case against Ahmadiyas and the blasphemy legislations that became a tool in the hands of a select few against the minority communities.
The civil society will find it difficult to succeed in Pakistan if its fight is narrowly focused. Those who are using suicide bombs against the Sufi shrines and school children did not start abruptly. They started decades ago, supported by a section within the civil society, social organisations, political groups and parties, and finally the intelligence and military. The media, even today, perhaps unintentionally (with a section perhaps otherwise) provide the much-needed space for those who support and believe in radical ideologies.
The civil society will also not be able to succeed if it is buoyed by so much anti-West, anti-Indian and multiple other “anti” sentiments. The jihadi groups and their patrons abuse this inherent sentiment to suit their purpose. While some of these sentiments are fed by different groups within the State and vested interests to perpetuate their monopoly, the rest of them have been blown out of proportion by regular ill-informed debates at various levels. Not only in Pakistan, but in the entire South Asian region, there have been such ill-informed debates, at times carefully planted and nurtured by a select few. This vitiates the entire atmosphere and provides the space for hate and anger.
The shift in paradigm will come only when the civil society distances itself from the militant groups and their ideologies. Simply condemning violence alone will not be sufficient. A crucial first step has been taken; now the civil society has to walk the talk in Pakistan.
Is the Establishment aiming at neutralizing the jihadis and their ideology, or does it simply want to bring them under its control?
The State has taken certain crucial measures during the last two months in Pakistan, the most important being the creation of military courts to deal with terrorists, banning certain militant groups and freezing the accounts of some others.
While the State seems to be serious in neutralizing those who have been attacking it, one is not sure whether the intensity and response is the same when it comes to the Afghan Taliban, Haqqani Network and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Though statements have been made that the distinction between good and bad Taliban now ceases to exist, actions during the last two months have created more confusion than clarity.
The State looks serious in fighting the TTP. The renewed measure as a part of its military offensive in the tribal regions and the neutralization of scores of Taliban militants belonging to the TTP clearly indicates the above.
But why is the State lukewarm in extending the same approach towards the Haqqani network and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)? While the TTP is being hounded in the FATA, the State has only frozen the JuD’s bank accounts; Hafiz Saeed is still being provided with State security. From analysts writing for the media in Pakistan to its Supreme Court, many are confused about the State’s approach towards the JuD and Haqqani network.
So, what is the new paradigm as far as the State is concerned in fighting militancy? Is it only fighting those who have turned against it and gone rogue?
Such an approach will backfire. The Establishment seems to be fighting only the symptoms of anti-State activities, and not the reasons that have provided the space for the jihadi groups to find root in Pakistan in the first place. The real problem in this context is the long term perception of India and Afghanistan by the Establishment and the use of proxies. Unless the Establishment changes this basic perception, the larger paradigm that provides a crucial space for jihadi groups is unlikely to change.
Besides the willingness, a larger question is related to the capacity of the State in Pakistan if it decides to fight back. Unlike other States, for example Afghanistan, the capacity of the State in Pakistan has not been questioned. At least, until now. If it leaves the genie to further strengthen and gather a critical mass both inside and outside Pakistan, the question of capacity may also come into to the equation.
Militant Groups in Pakistan: Is the Genie willing to go back?
Perhaps, this is the most important question when people talk about a paradigm shift in Pakistan vis-à-visthe militant groups. True, there may have been external reasons for their emergence a few decades ago. The State may have played a role in creating and nurturing them earlier, to be its proxies to fight the former’s battle both within and outside Pakistan.
Now, there is a realization amongst a section that the above strategy has started backfiring, and there is a roll back. Will the proxies remain committed to their patrons in the changed atmosphere? Or during the process have they developed their own objectives and are fighting their own battles? Certainly the Taliban has turned back and is not willing to go down. How about the JuD and Haqqani network?
The larger problem for Pakistan will not emanate from the Master’s changed heart to put the Genie back in bottle. Rather, it will come from whether the Genie wants to go back. The situation will become worse for the rest of the region if the Genie finds the bottle small, and wants a bigger space!
Originally published in Rising Kashmir