Dec 03, 2017 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on Appeasing extremists
Pakistan has a long-standing habit of appeasing extremists. But the latest capitulation in Faizabad was particularly depressing. For the last 2-3 years, the state had started exhibiting some appetite to fight terrorism-the extreme-most point of extremism crystallized in the shape of well-armed violent organizations. There was less action on more diffused and less crystallized forms of extremisms so widespread in society. But for the last several years, there had not been any highly visible and major capitulation to extremists, like the ones we repeatedly saw under Musharraf and occasionally under PPP.
So this massive capitulation came as a major shock. To gauge the extent of capitulation, one only needs to take a cursory look at the agreement signed with TLY after it had held the capital hostage for 3 weeks, destroyed property and used extremely filthy language against all and sundry. The Law minster has resigned, in line with the central but highly unreasonable TLY demand. The changes in the electoral law had already been reversed and it is unclear if any further action was needed, especially against the Law Minister. If the changes were a clerical mistake, then the clerk/Section Officer and the immediate supervisors responsible for proof-reading the draft were responsible. If the changes were a conspiracy, it could surely not have been hatched by a lowly Law Minister but someone higher up in the government. So, in either case the sole focus on the Law Minister was unreasonable. At best, a demand for a probe to discover the reality or release of the Raja Zafar-ul-Haque report could be deemed realistic, though even the latter was dangerous as release of the names of those held responsible would have jeopardized their lives at the hands of extremists.
To make matters worse, these unreasonable demands were expressed through illegal and violent dharnas that violated the principles of democratic protest. But not only did we accept the central demand but a host of others which amounted to placing the blame on the state and rewarding extremists. How did we end up doing so? Clearly, many parties are responsible for the capitulation, especially the government, and the military, and to a lesser extent the opposition parties playing politics at such a critical time. But to assign responsibility more precisely, we must differentiate between two levels of response by state institutions: formulating an appropriate overall strategy and secondly its implementation.
To start with the civilian government, the central player in the response, no sane person can fail to assign a big chunk of the blame on it. The failure to act earlier, the conflicting messages from different officials, the open verbal appeasement by the Damaad-e-aala and some others in the PML, the failure to stop the extremists in Punjab, Ahsan Iqbal’s cowardly statement about him being not in charge and many other similar acts reflect the blunders committed by the government. But if we look closely at all these acts, they either represent delay in formulating an apt strategy or implementing the strategy poorly. But none of the actions represent the actual capitulation. In fact, much of the delay in formulating a strategy stemmed from the difficulties involved in developing an apt strategy which did not represent capitulation to the extremists but also did not cause much bloodshed given the determination of the extremists to cause violence. The delays also reflected the competing pressure that a political government faces in a highly politicized country like Pakistan as well as the fact that the PML had recently lost its PM and its top leadership is mired in cases. Furthermore, this dithering is not unique to this government but all recent governments, civilian or military, have exhibited it even when they were not mired in top leadership crises the way PML is. But despite all these caveats, there is little doubt that the government must shoulder the primary blame for delaying the formulation of a strategy and then implementing it poorly though not for the actual capitulation as we will see below.
Despite all the errors and blunders, the government did finally develop a sensible strategy in line with the requirements of the rule of law by November 25th once repeated negotiations had failed to convince extremists to abandon their unreasonable demand and tactics. The strategy was to not accept the extremist demands and to launch an operation to evict the extremists and arrest their leaders that did not use excessive force but relied on water cannons and tear gas to minimize casualties. These light tools did not succeed in evicting the extremists after the first attack since they were well-equipped to deal with them. But the first failure did not mean giving up but only regrouping and trying again with more human resources and better planning. For this purpose the much better equipped army was also requisitioned.
But in the midst of this regrouping came the highly shocking and inappropriate tweet from Pindi expressing its displeasure at even this lightly armed and appropriate operation and “advising” talks. This tweet was the beginning of the capitulation and appeasement. Should one arm of the state contradict the other arm of the state when it is in the middle of an operation? Should the disagreement have been made public through a tweet? What must have been the impact on the morale of the police and the government and conversely the protestors due to this tweet from the most powerful institution in the country? This was followed by the meeting between the COAS and PM, in which “both” decided that there will be no further operation but talks to be carried out by the DG Rangers. And the DG Rangers negotiated an agreement which represented complete capitulation. It is difficult to believe that a Major General could not have negotiated a more even handed agreement with thugs. Clearly, the government must also be blamed much for accepting this agreement. But then how much more blame should be assigned to the DG Rangers who negotiated it (and was later recorded shamefully giving money to the protestors and patting them on the back) and to those in Pindi who “advised” talks.
Pindi supporters say that Pindi could not have become involved in this matter as its involvement would have meant the use of heavy arms. This is actually not true. The government had just requisitioned the army to be available on stand-bye. It had not asked it to start shooting immediately. The most important contribution Pindi could have made was actually symbolic in showing to everyone that it was fully supportive of the government’s sensible strategy of November 25th. That would have lifted the morale of the police and government and punctured that of the extremists without a shot being fired by the army. Just the mere presence of a few armored vehicles near the dharna would have made negotiating an honorable agreement much easier and in controlling the reaction throughout the country.
So, in summary, while one must assign much blame to Islamabad for delaying and poorly implementing the strategy, the primary blame for forcing the abandonment of a much delayed but ultimately sensible strategy and the abject capitulation lies a few miles further up in Pindi. This capitulation may mean that while we are finally successfully eradicating the last generation of terrorists in FATA, we are simultaneously facilitating the emergence of the next generation of terrorists in the heartland of Punjab.
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