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Paralysis of the state



By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, January 24, 2014


The state’s tepid response to a renewed terrorist onslaught is a recipe for disaster

The latest wave of violence in Pakistan betrays the pattern that we have seen since December 2007, and needs to be looked at in a different way.

Firstly, these attacks are indiscriminate – targeting both civilians and soldiers, in an obvious attempt to undermine security and instill fear in the hearts and minds of the people of Pakistan.

Secondly, they occur in the context of bickering amongst mainstream political parties that underscores the deep polarization on peace talks with the Taliban. The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on the other hand is very clear about who they are fighting. “The army is our enemy,” TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid said in a policy statement delivered on January 19, following a terrorist attack in Bannu in which 22 troops were killed. “We will carry out many more attacks like this one.” He said the attack was “part of our fight against a secular system”.

He said the TTP’s stance on dialogue with the government was very clear. “If the government proves that it is sincere and has the authority [to conduct meaningful dialogue], then we are ready to talk despite the losses inflicted on us.”

The statement indicates the Taliban’s resolve, while our politicians squabble shamelessly. “To talk or not to talk,” is the question, but there is no identification of the enemy, and no clarity on which of their demands the government can give in to. Any initiative that ignores these two fundamental prerequisites is bound to fail, and will only embolden non-state entities.

Major political players in the country argue over whether we should talk or fight, but do not understand who they would talk to – terrorists who only want instability and destruction, or tunnel-visioned, religiously-driven, Al Qaeda-inspired zealots striving for a so-called Islamic emirate in Pakistan?

In either case, the proposition of talks is doomed. A government committed to the constitution will not venture to talk to terrorists, and concede to militants an emirate of their own.

Thirdly, we need to probe whether these recent attacks are an attempt to thwart the talks initiative?

Fourthly, the Rawalpindi attack came within 72 hours of the deadliest Taliban strike in Kabul since 2001. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Friday assault on a Lebanese restaurant in Kabul in which 22 people were killed, including three Americans, two British citizens, two Canadians, the IMF head of mission, and the Lebanese owner of the Taverna du Liban.

Was the Rawalpindi attack, apparently on a security checkpost, a tit for tat by those who hold the Pakistani security establishment responsible for the attack, and for continued instability in Kabul?

That is quite possible considering suggestions by the Afghan security officials that “such sophisticated and complex attacks are not the work of the ordinary Taliban”. “Without a doubt, foreign intelligence services from beyond the border are behind such bloody attacks,” a statement from the Presidential Palace said. From foreign intelligence agencies, they either mean the Pakistani ISI or the American CIA. Both would deny a role in such inhumane acts, but perceptions far outweigh denials.

Dr Rangin Dadfar Spanta, national security advisor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, blamed Pakistan’s intelligence agencies for the assassination of his brother at his funeral in Herat province early last summer. “The foreign elements are training and hiding some people in Peshawar and Quetta. After the training, they are sent on terror missions during which they kill our brothers, sisters and relatives,” he said.

“If any talks are underway between America and these groups – America and the Taliban, America and the Hizb-e-Islami, and America and other foreigners… – such talks will be a failure,” an enraged President Karzai told a news conference on Afghanistan’s national television on August 24 last year, soon after the controversy over the Taliban’s Doha office. “We will make them fail,” he said. “If the foreigners make such efforts, we will break their teeth.”

This was Karzai at his best – almost squarely blaming the US and Pakistan for acting behind his back. US and Afghan officials insist the Pakistani security establishment, or at least parts of it, are inextricably linked with the Taliban and are jointly waging the war on Kabul.

Regardless of whether it is rooted in reality, mutual mistrust among Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and India continues to shape the perceptions of foreign interference in Afghanistan – a big hurdle to the reconciliation process.

This issue also resonated at a recent regional peace and stability conference organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Pakistan in Islamabad. Conveners of policy groups from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia took cognizance of Afghanistan’s bitter past and present, essentially dominated by competing external geopolitical interests. They said the Afghans should be left on their own to handle the Taliban and other internal problems. Treat Afghanistan as an equal, sovereign state rather than treating it as a strategic backyard, the participants demanded. Facilitate the intra-Afghan dialogue rather than imposing your own favorites on the crisis-stricken state, the joint declaration said. Most panelists also called on Pakistan to do its utmost to prevent its territory from being used against local and foreign troops in Afghanistan.

Clearly, the world wants Pakistan to disprove its association with Taliban, end its policy of supporting non-state actors on its western and eastern borders, and join hands with India, the US, and Afghanistan to neutralize the insurgency.

A major question that keeps being asked is how to interpret the proposed 20,000 “residual” foreign troops, a majority of them Americans. Will the Taliban gloss over their presence in Kabul, or keep targeting them as occupiers because they do demand “an end to all foreign interference”?

While the Afghans seem beset by overbearing external geopolitical factors, the Pakistani civil and military leadership also appears in a state of paralysis. Despite being involved in more than a decade of so-called counter-insurgency with the help of 26 intelligence agencies and half a million strong army, standard operating procedures are missing or not adhered to. The January 19 attack in Bannu is an example. Private vehicles hired for the movement of troops, one of which was used in the attack, were not screened before boarding. The fact that they did not have enough vehicles for the movement of troops and were dependent on private vehicles is a sad comment on the state of preparedness, of which preemption is a crucial element.

Amidst yet another onslaught by terrorists, the state machinery is agonizingly inactive – a recipe for a socio-political disaster. 

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the recently released book Pakistan: Before and After, published by Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk