Since General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani made his Yaum-e-Shuhada
(Martyrs’ Day) speech on April 30, 2012, there had been speculation about at
least he, if not the Pakistani security establishment under him, had had some
change of heart vis-à-vis the use of jihadist proxies as so-called strategic
assets. Then came the COAS’s August 14, 2012 address in which he spoke more
specifically about the twin dragons of extremism and terrorism breathing fire
all over Pakistan and its neighbourhood. The general is not an orator but he
really did strike a chord with even the worst critics. The diplomatic corps in
Islamabad were ecstatic and already declaring the discourse as a paradigm
On the heel of these two speeches came the talk of the Pakistan
army revising the so-called Green Book, i.e. its doctrinal manual, to add that
the entities such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) perpetrating
sub-conventional warfare pose a bigger threat to the country than its eastern
neighbour against which all military planning has revolved to date. Prime
Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf, when addressing the National Defence
University, talked about the need for the army to redefine and redesign its
military doctrine. What are the odds that the PM came with the idea of asking
the army for a course correction of one of its premier institutions all by
himself? I would say slim to none! Someone somewhere wants to sell this idea of
the new thinking to someone else.
Unfortunately, no hard information has
emerged in the media to confirm if even such cosmetic changes — let alone the
paradigm shift — have indeed taken place in the army’s thinking and actually
made it to its doctrinal manuals. In the absence of the actual chapter or essay
that purportedly identifies extremism and terrorism as one of the pre-eminent
threats, if not the existential threat, to Pakistan, one has to go by exactly
what the country’s security establishment has done in the last few weeks since
this Green Book whitewash made the headlines.
I had lamented last week
that the unbridled powers to the Frontier Corps (FC) in the aftermath of the
January 10, 2012 slaughter of Quetta’s Hazaras — the most recent chapter in the
ongoing Shia genocide — will likely result in a bigger FC/army footprint that
will target the Baloch nationalists but not protect the Hazara. The priorities
were clear when the Governor Balochistan and his council announced giving a
“free hand to crackdown on elements responsible for the deteriorating law and
order situation in the province.” The council also announced Rs10,000 stipend
for the ‘rebels’ who lay down arms. There was not a word about the
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) that had claimed the responsibility for killing the
Hazara Shia. And then as was expected, in its first reported action since
Governor’s rule was imposed in the province, the FC raided a village in Mastung
last Friday and killed two Baloch whom it called Baloch Liberation Army (BLA)
insurgents, including one who was described as a BLA commander, Rasheed
Shahwani. It is perhaps safe to predict that we will not see any action against
the LeJ in Balochistan.
In the Pashtun area, the FC has come under
criticism for what the tribal locals and elders have called a ‘kill and dump’
campaign by the law enforcement agencies. The Afridi tribesmen are protesting
such an episode in the Afridi territory just outside Peshawar where scores were
killed execution-style and then dumped. The FC has responded with a novel claim.
It alleges that the militants killed the locals and then left their bodies mixed
with those of the dead militants to malign the FC. Needless to say, neither the
locals nor the human rights activists are buying into this hogwash.
last but not the least is the Dr Tahirul Qadri phenomenon unleashed on Pakistan.
Widely seen as an attempt by the powers that be, the Dr Qadri long march was
supposed to do two things. Firstly, the ‘puppeteers’ hoped that it would
snowball into something big to either dislodge the incumbent political setup,
paving the way for a technocrat model or at least make it kneel and accept a
manner of accommodating such pious technocrats as may suit the establishment.
The latter hope may have materialised to a certain extent but the march clearly
fizzled out, and the jury is still out if the smart president and a determined
Mian Nawaz Sharif would concede anything come the time for a caretaker
The second and more ominous motive was a Barelvi revolution
of sorts, alluded to by a veteran English columnist last week, to neutralise the
militant Deobandism that the security establishment has been nurturing for
decades now. The idea ostensibly was to energise the Barelvi base. Someone
really ignorant of the political — and militant — landscape of Pakistan would
have had to come up with this idea of bringing a Barelvi leader to the top not
through years of political fieldwork and toil but by jostling and toppling the
democratic setup through a measly long march. Before it is analysed why it is a
patently bad idea to replace bigotry of one kind with that of another variety,
one must say that Dr Qadri on his part has done tremendous disservice to the
cause of Sufism, the Barelvi school of thought, and indeed diversity by signing
on as the protagonist in the sordid political drama. As I have noted elsewhere,
when the dust settles on the recent events, Dr Qadri’s long march will most
likely be remembered as the last hiccup of political Barelviism in
The sum total of the events of the last few weeks seems to be
that while there is a lot of hullaballoo about course correction and search for
an anti-terrorism doctrine, in actuality what is being sought is a shortcut. And
that is to restore the status quo ante to circa 1992-2001, where jihadists
operated in the neighbouring lands — never mind their moonlighting gigs killing
the Shia at home — and the democratic dispensations at home could be dispensed
with at a whim.
(To be concluded)
PS: It is most concerning
that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has admitted a petition against Pakistan
Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman for allegedly committing blasphemy by
criticising the anti-blasphemy laws. The honourable court had the opportunity to
stop such malicious, nay poisonous, litigation in its tracks but regrettably did
not do so. While expressing solidarity with the ambassador, one must submit that
the brutal assassination of Salmaan Taseer has not left this country any
Using the clergy ostensibly to neutralise the terror perpetrated in the name of religion is a double-edged sword
Deploying Dr Tahirul Qadri to march on Islamabad with his minions, whether to squeeze concessions out of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) or to regain the sectarian ground lost by the Barelvis, was a horrible idea no matter who conceived it. Chances are that none of his foreign patrons initiated the move but might have looked the other way once it was already underway. A domestic imprint was unmistakable. Dr Qadri first became known to most of Pakistan through the state-owned Pakistan Television in the General Ziaul Haq era when he did a series titled Fehm-ul-Quran on the Quranic exegesis. He has himself claimed in his Urdu lectures — though denying it elsewhere — that he was the main, if not the only, character responsible for inducing Ziaul Haq to impose the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
This is where it gets tricky. Using the clergy ostensibly to neutralise the terror perpetrated in the name of religion is a double-edged sword. No clergyman of any denomination comes to play without his own agenda. If the agenda is not anti-Shia or anti-Deobandi, it might be anti-Ahmadi or strongly in support of the blasphemy laws. After delivering what they originally bargain for, the clergy are likely to demand their pound of flesh. And in most cases it is quite literal. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto discovered that at his peril. The Wahabi-Salafi militants carried out Pakistan’s proxy wars but exacted a toll inside the country on their ideological and sectarian adversaries.
Another problem with Dr Qadri’s march was underestimating the response of the anti-Barelvi groups of all shades. While the Sunni Barelvis of Hanafi denomination perhaps remain a large, if not the largest, individual sect in Pakistan, they have never had much political success on their own. The Barelvi political clout has potentiated and benefitted from the secular outfits like the PPP or the Muslim League before it. Having Dr Qadri as the face of a ‘paradigm shift’, where the Deobandi-Wahabi-Salafi combine is neutralised and its militant wing clipped, was a non-starter. And after the fizzled out march Dr Qadri has not only lost face but the Barelvi groups have lost political ground too. The anti-Barelvi coalition, which gelled around Mian Nawaz Sharif, has come out with an energised base and is likely to reap dividends in the coming elections. Someone either did not think it through or just set Dr Qadri up for a debacle.
Of course, we may never know who ordered this latest hit on the democratic dispensation but if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it sure seems to be a duck from those marketing the new anti-terrorism doctrine. What is more distressing though is not the absence of an actual doctrine, barring General Pervez Kayani’s few good speeches, to fight terror, but the cavalier attitude and gimmicks like Dr Qadri’s march in the face of an existential threat. More than a decade after 9/11, the ISI representative had the nerve to tell the Supreme Court of Pakistan that they were holding suspected terrorists based on “moral authority”! It would really be funny if it was not so tragic. Add to this the opinion pieces by ex-military personnel eulogising the army action in Balochistan, citing an interview with the ISI’s director general no less, and it is hard to miss that it is business as usual. Yet the equally cavalier diplomatic corps in Islamabad continues to buy into, and keeps writing home about, this ‘change of heart’ theme. Perhaps it just fits the plans for the US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan to believe that the Pakistani establishment has successfully weaned itself off its addiction to jihadist proxies and can be trusted with safekeeping of Afghanistan come 2014.
But is this myopic approach not what brought the region to its present state? And has this ‘replace a bad jihadist with a good pliable one’ not been tried in the past too? Now the idea is that somehow only some sections of jihadists and a few of their leaders are bad, misguided or — going by the new and improved Green Book — induced by the Indo-US-Zionist forces to target the mother ship. If only the bad apples can be sorted out, we will be good to go. The bet is that once the US leaves Afghanistan, the jihadists that had come home to roost will fly the coop again and get busy there. There is a certain thought that considers the Salafi Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) as Pakistan’s bulwark against the Deobandi-Wahabi Taliban! But has this formula not been tried — and failed — before? The Afghan Mujahedeen were too unruly and corrupt and were replaced with the austere and disciplined Taliban. Assorted Kashmiri outfits were raised to replace the previous ones who got out of control. Unfortunately, the civilians left the security establishment to carry on with its shenanigans then so long as they were allowed to continue in power and are doing it again.
Indeed some politicians like Asfandyar Wali Khan have been trying of late to develop consensus against the terrorist menace and his Awami National Party (ANP) has called an all parties conference (APC) on the issue. But with utmost respect one must ask if Mr Khan seriously believes that something he did not do for five years can be achieved in the last five weeks of a lame-duck government. The ANP despite being physically in harm’s way throughout its tenure was relatively secure politically compared to the PPP, which faced political storms of its own and others’ making. It had the opportunity to champion a serious rethink to formulate an anti-terrorism strategy. Raising awareness at home and abroad was also part of its mandate. A party that made tremendous sacrifices against terrorism had a right, not just an obligation, to capture and mould the national narrative against extremism. A befitting remembrance for the martyred ANP leader Bashir Bilour would have been an anti-terrorism legislation bearing his name, not a redundant ritual of the Senate nominating him for the Nobel Prize. But somehow it did not happen.
The ANP’s reaching out to all parties, including the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, is certainly a welcome move but like the army’s so-called new doctrine, may be too little too late. Perhaps it still is better to begin late than never, but it would require a substantially superior and consistent effort than an APC or a revised chapter in an obscure book.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets @mazdaki