Thursday, December 18, 2014

Is a political paradigm shift possible in Pakistan? Think again!

Guest contributor, Farah Jan, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ, USA, specializes in South Asian security affairs.

The massacre of almost 145 people, out of which 132 were children, at Army Public School Peshawar has plunged the Pakistan into a state of mourning. The attack that initiated at the start of the school day lasted for many hours and left scores of school children all under the age of 16 dead. The barbaric attack by the Pakistani Taliban was in retaliation to the army’s operation in the tribal areas.

The date is indeed ironic, on December 16th 1971, 43 years ago Pakistan lost its eastern half that later became Bangladesh. The question is, did Pakistan learn any lesson from losing its eastern wing years ago? For one, the decision makers in Pakistan fall behind on learning by past mistakes. The atrocities that took place four decades ago were forgotten and never realized. 

There was neither a national dialogue to try to understand what went wrong nor how to prevent another catastrophe. Instead, a religious-oriented policy was adopted as the best option for national cohesion and the state continued focusing on external security rather than looking within for a comprehensive assessment. 

Currently, Pakistan is experiencing the boomerang effect of the jihadist policies that were adopted then, which in turn has further propelled it to the verge of another tragedy. Once again, the decision depends on the guardians of Pakistan to either continue with business as usual by strengthening their own myopic interests or acknowledging the problem and getting rid of this decomposing appendage conclusively.
Funeral of a student killed during the Dec 16th attack
I am not very optimistic that anything will change. Most probably, the politicians and military will make grand (albeit useless) proclamations of bravery and unity in fighting this war against the terrorists for another week/  However, by the end of the month they would have forgotten and it would be business as usual, until another soft target is hit.

If the guardians of Pakistan truly want to shift gears, then the following prescription would address the ailment that Pakistan is afflicted with for many years. This is similar to a person being diagnosed with cancer and the oncologist recommends surgical removal of the tumor followed by an aggressive dose of chemotherapy. Similarly, in Pakistan’s case a total Talibanectomy, along with other Islamic-militant-ectomy is a critically needed. 

With further combination of Rx: education + professional training + fixing the judicial system, and if affordable improving the economy and curtailing corruption, Pakistan could begin the process of serious political and social reform.  For the patient (in this case Pakistan) to pull through, the first steps must to be taken, while the latter would increase the chances of survival and decrease recurrence of the disease.

The Greek word ektomē stands for ‘excision,’ further breaking the term ek meaning ‘out’ + temnein ‘to cut. This is precisely what Pakistan needs to do with ALL the proxy elements, those that are kept for its India policy like the LeT (Lashkar-e-Taiba); JeM (Jaish-e-Mohammed); HuA (Harkat-ul-Ansar); the ones for Afghanistan like the Afghan Taliban, and of course the groups like the LeJ (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi); SSP (Sipah-e-Sahaba-Pakistan) that target the domestic minorities. A war on these groups is imperative and a shift in policy is indispensible for Pakistan’s guardians. 

The question of the hour is will the ruling elite change course? Is it going to wake up before the political crisis reaches the point of no return? As mentioned earlier, the chance of any major policy shift is very slim. This pessimistic assumption is grounded in the fact that a Pakistan court on Thursday (the two days after the Peshawar massacre) granted bail to Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, a militant commander of LeT accused of the 2008 Mumbai attacks that resulted in over 160 deaths.  Not unexpectedly, India has sharply condemned the court's decision.

Furthermore, the Pakistan political elite's "good and bad militant" line needs to be rejected once and for all. For the last few years we have heard the claptrap of the good and bad Taliban.  However, it is time to call a spade a spade. History has proven there never were good or bad Nazi soldiers, neither have there been good or bad Al Qaeda militants. 

How can this distinction be made for the Taliban or militants groups in Pakistan? The crux of the matter is that what makes them bad is when the attacks are on Pakistani cities, but these militant groups are considered good when the same incidents take place in Afghan or Indian cities. It’s high time the realization kicks in that these groups are like Hydra, the serpent with multiple heads each capable of a poisonous bite, and who was only defeated when all the heads were decapitated and cauterized.

Pakistan has entered a period where all efforts of salvaging domestic security have failed and war against the Taliban/Islamic militants is unavoidable. The civilian government and the people of Pakistan should pay attention to George Orwell’s advice, "he that is not with me is against me." And in this case the adversary is obvious - the TTP, LeT, JeM (a list much too long) militants, their supporters, their defenders and, of course, their apologists. 

For once, let us not draw the line of distinction between the good Afghan and the bad Pakistani Taliban. Let us not defend one group because they promote our national interest in our neighboring country, Afghanistan, and scorn the other because they attack our school kids and innocent civilians in Pakistan. 

More importantly, let us not support and provide sanctuaries to militant groups to fight an unavailing war against India. For Pakistan, the best course of action is to take steps of handing over terrorists to its neighbors. This would send a signal both to the militants and the international community that the Pakistani authorities are finally learning from past mistakes and are resolute in the war on terrorist movements.

Only through this policy can Pakistan prevent tragedies of the sort that were witnessed in Peshawar this week. Unfortunately, a paradigm shift is an unlikely scenario and one that does not suit the strategic interests of Pakistan's Guardians.  It is sad to say, but this tragedy will wither like the previous ones. I agree with Christine Fair that "tens of thousands of Pakistanis will die before the army gives up its jihad habits."

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