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Military Action is Necessary But Not Sufficient

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The recent police brutality resulting in 11 deaths and blatant vandalism by a notorious goon on the occasion of a demonstration by the followers of rabble-rouser Tahirul Qadri is a stark reminder that our political class is still vindictive and uncouth.

By Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed *  

At long last the Pakistani military has decided to take strong action against terrorists in the tribal areas of FATA. It was correct of the Nawaz government to try to resolve the conflict with the Taliban and their associates peacefully through negotiations but, after the attack on Karachi airport, little doubt remained that the terrorists were hell-bent on imposing their reign of terror on the whole of Pakistan. In this regard, let me say that military action against the Lal Masjid terrorists was equally justified.

One cannot apply the same principle arbitrarily. Consistency is crucial if we want to ever establish some sort of law and order in Pakistan. There is some discussion going on in the media as to whether this is another limited action against the terrorists premised on the absurd distinction between good and bad terrorists and thus of limited nature, or an all-out operation to destroy the scourge. Limited actions have hitherto yielded only momentary success.

Terrorism means, to me, the wilful use of brute force to impose an ideology on others. In achieving such an end, indiscriminate as well as targeted use of violence is employed. Violence is glorified and celebrated. Anyone who has seen the Taliban playing football with the severed heads of our army jawans (soldiers) and officers need not be explained in greater detail what I mean. Terrorism in action is always preceded by years of indoctrination and training. Therefore, terrorism as a state of mind has to be tackled as well. Consequently, if one really wants to root out terrorism then, after the military action destroys terrorist networks, a comprehensive programme of recovery and rehabilitation must be instituted. After German Nazism and Japanese militarism were defeated militarily, the victorious powers undertook necessary political and economic measures to move those societies in a democratic direction and with ample chances to make economic progress.

We have to do something similar but, in our case, the changes must include both our power elite and the terrorists. The terrorists are a brainchild of our establishment, which evolved out of the CIA/Saudi-sponsored Afghanistan jihad executed in the field by our men in khaki. Our vain attempt to export terrorism in the name of liberation created the monster, which is now out to devour us. In my latest book, Pakistan: The Garrison State — Origins, Evolution Consequences (1947-2011), I have demonstrated that we have been living in a make believe world where we see ourselves as a fortress of Islam with a global mission. That must be abandoned. The ‘age of conquest’ is over. Even if we must remain a Muslim state constitutionally, it is necessary that minorities and women be guaranteed security of life and human rights. A thorough discussion on democracy, de-radicalisation and the rule of law needs to be conducted. Equally, the educational curriculum must be expunged of all prejudiced and fictional material and, instead, based on enlightened modern principles and norms.

The direction Pakistan takes in the coming months and years will depend on the role the military plays. It remains the most powerful institution in the country and, for any break with the convoluted past to materialise, it must indulge in serious introspection and self-criticism. There is no doubt that, in traditional terms, security means national security and state security; that role can and must only be played by the military. We will always need a strong military whose role can be redefined if we can somehow develop normal relations with India and Afghanistan. In fact, this should receive top priority because military or defence expenditure must be brought down radically. In our age, human security is as important — if not more — than conventional security and without peace and open trade we cannot solve the burgeoning problems of unemployment and economic deprivation. Suicide bombers are almost invariably recruited from the most deprived sections of society.

The truth, however, is that democracy has not been subverted in Pakistan by military coups as is often asserted by politically correct writers. There was no democracy in Pakistan prior to the coup of 1958; there was only bad, inept and unrepresentative government. Zulfikar Bhutto’s years in power were by no means a return to civilised norms and conduct. His highhanded and vindictive policies laid the basis for the coup of July 1977. The recent police brutality resulting in eight deaths and blatant vandalism by a notorious goon on the occasion of a demonstration by the followers of rabble-rouser Tahirul Qadri is a stark reminder that our political class is still vindictive and uncouth.

Our greatest curse is corruption. I strongly recommend Dr Ikramul Haq’s, Pakistan: Drug Trap to Debt Trap (2003) to anyone who wants to understand the origins of the current corruption in Pakistan. It is a most thorough study indeed. Mian Nawaz Sharif heads a business-friendly government but there are people who complain that top jobs and ministries as well as business deals are being monopolised by the prime minister and his family, relatives and biradari (community). Nothing can be more damaging to the state than it becoming a family fief. Even if the US is the citadel of global capitalism, its founding fathers were fully aware of the dangers of business interests and political power being combined in the same person and place. Consequently, the capital cities of the US states are in a different place from their financial hubs. Of course, the lobbying system has compromised that separation of politics and economics but the principle remains important and is worth emulating. In our situation, dynastic politics have allegedly reached an unprecedented level of perversity. Such glaring concentration of power is a sure recipe for conspiracies and plots by those denied a share but, more importantly, a fair trade culture never gets going and the government is seen as no better than a regime of robber-barons.

* The writer is a PhD (Stockholm University); Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; and Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. Latest publications: Pakistan: The Garrison State, Origins, Evolution, Consequences (1947-2011), Karachi: Oxford Unversity Press, 2013; The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed: Unravelling the 1947 Tragedy through Secret British Reports and First-Person Accounts (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012; New Delhi: Rupa Books, 2011). He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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