Saif Ullah Nasar
With the recent rise in tide of terrorism, we are again in the maze of whether to fight the militants or to get into talks with them. The way both ‘talk or operation’ positions are framed, a starker reality is ignored: unless the role of our army and intelligence agencies is properly harnessed, terrorism would continue to sprout and export from this country under one pretext or another.
Until now we have only thought within the ‘fight-flight’ paradigm justifying one or the other stance merely on normative grounds: either to combat the militants or to get ourselves screwed (leaving behind the talk option without due consideration). Let’s have an audacious attitude to confront a practical judgement over the issue at hand: In case we dismiss the talk option before opting for it or we come up with dismal results out of the talk process, what would be the next step? Of course, as majority will posit, to do away with the militants by iron hand.
Well, let’s delay the judgement for a while and be not so apt in taking the decision. Let’s ask ourselves simply, is our army capable of wiping out the militants? And whether the military can be trusted sufficiently to conduct operation sincerely against its supposedly ‘strategic assets’?
Within few years after the so called ‘successful’ operation in Swat, we could not succeed in keeping militants away from it. Apparently our civil administration could not keep them aloof from the area after the military had left. Obviously, we cannot afford stationing our army for a long time in one area; at sometime we have to handover it to the civilian authorities. This proves, however, anything but failure of a state.
Moreover, arguably it was not the army that brushed aside the militants in Swat. Rather it could be attributed more to an established tactic of guerilla fighters, as no doubt the Taliban are, i.e. to withdraw, adding into their elusiveness, and then recoil back with new strategies adopted, rendering the army more vulnerable. But it does not necessarily mean that guerillas cannot be defeated. Of course, they could be but it will also mean, besides many other factors, needing more money and resources which, unfortunately, would be a greater stress for already crippling state of economy.
Also cracking militant’s ideological support in the region – of which mainly our establishment is responsible for – with disparate thought on religious issues, is such a task that seem to make it an unending war to be won. Unless we actively counter the ideological support of the militants in the region, we cannot eliminate the possibility of a steep rise in the militancy.
Furthermore, another important fact that should be highlighted is that our armed forces are at loggerhead against Baloch separatists for more than a decade but could not claim a decisive victory against them. Over years, with no effective filibuster from media, politicians and civil society, Frontier Crops, occasionally augmented by the Army, has not come up with a great success against the movement. Instead provocation is much on soar than ever before.
In comparison Baloch separatist organizations are less dreadful, small, poorly organized and have no better resorts as Taliban usually have, by and large. These factors further add to the skepticism about our armed forces’ capacity to eradicate or at least contain terrorism in the country. Gen. Kiyani has probably sensed this powerlessness, thus had to defend the army’s morale while addressing recent passing out candidates in Kakul.
Also, those who continue to celebrate the armed forces’ entry into Waziristan should keep in mind that the armed forces won this right to entry with permission of the ‘good’ Taliban. This fact implicates a serious doubt on prowess of the military in the region.
Apart from the issue of capability, the sincerity factor in our army raises more concern. The question remains, what is after all the use of militants?
It is has been reported by various sources that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipah-e-Sahaba or Ahle Sunnat wa Al Jammat along with the Jamat ul Dawa are recruiting many Baloch youth to keep them away from joining separatists’ ranks, under the alleged tacit patronage of the Army.
Besides this, with the Taliban Shura shifted from FATA to Balochistan – later named Quetta Shura – accompanied with transfer of Taliban’s training camps is a significant development with regard to the rapid recruitment of Baloch youth by various militant organizations. It seems as if Army is in haste shifting its ‘strategic assets’ from FATA to Balochistan for two reasons: firstly, the Army wants fresh and loyal breed of militants raised and trained under and through reliable militant organizations aka the ‘good Taliban’ (and meanwhile to get rid of the bad ones). Secondly, this would also help abate the separatists’ movement in the region by redirecting the Baloch youth.
With these developments taking place, those who advocate military operation against the talks might get dishearten to realize that the army does not appear to have clear intentions to completely eradicate terrorists from this country. In fact, for the time being, our policy makers along with the army seem consumed only with the TTP or the ‘bad Taliban’ but not with the militancy on a broader level. There are few sane voices that take on the establishment for playing its old game, i.e. to pat the ‘good’ militants and intimidate the ‘bad’ ones. On the contrary, those who are voicing for peace talks must bear in mind that since the military lacks will to eradicate militancy, hence the interregnum would help militants expand their network in the country.
The army, this time, is relocating and planting the good Taliban on new ground, i.e. Balochistan. With this brutal fact in mind, one must have serious apprehensions about the ‘operation’ option. At the end of the day no one would want more IDPs, orphan children, and destitute families without any future betterment regarding militancy. Moreover, the misdirected attempts that making Baloch youth more patriotic and Islamic by relocating the good Taliban in Balochistan would bring us nothing but an increase in terrorism and rivalry with neighbouring Iran. And our Shia brethren in the province and elsewhere in the country who are most vulnerable along with other minorities are expected to suffer immensely from such developments.
Whether the talks or the military operations, both options have to take place under nose of the army and related intelligence apparatus which are so far elusive to constitutional regulations and parliamentary oversight. Unless the army and intelligence apparatus are harnessed by the Parliament and can be trusted enough, the operation option would come up with dismal results.
The writer hails from Balochistan and has attended Forman Christian College.