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Eleven years on, Pakistan seething in violence?


By Imtiaz Gul

 Weekly Pulse , September 07, 2012


Eleven years on, Pakistan faces unprecedented consequences of what began on October 7, 2001 as a crucial partnership in the coalition against terrorism. Today, about 36 percent of Pakistan’s territory is reeling under one or other form of conflict; after over a decade, the world knows FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) as the epicentres of war on religio-political terrorism. Some even call the region as the most dangerous place on earth because of the violence perpetrated by Al-Qaeda-linked Pakistani and Afghan militant groups. The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that as of September, 2012, almost 100,000 square kilometers in KPK and FATA are directly affected by various forms of conflict (political, religious and ethnic), while nationalistic insurgency and criminal mafias lord over about one-third of Balochistan. Also, between March and August 2012 alone, as many as 2005 people lost their lives in hundreds of violent incidents. (source: Pakistan Conflict Tracker by Centre for Research and Security Studies -CRSS).

Karachi, for instance has also been badly bleeding, where politically, religiously and ethnically motivated violence crossed the 1,200 mark in the first eight months of 2012 alone. Since 2008, the total number of such killings has gone beyond 5,100 so far. Similar killings taking place under the sectarian or nationalist cover in the last two years or so also run into a few thousand. 

If viewed against responses to various security crises, the civilian government is either disconnected or not bothered about the ground realities. The military on the other hand is fighting the godzillas that it had once fed; from Karachi to Bajaur, where terrorists executed at least another dozen soldiers early September, it is fighting to survive or stave off cross-border attacks almost all over FATA – to a great extent facing the consequences of a skewed defense doctrine. And what has happened to the state as a result? The state on the whole seems to have frozen in time, hamstrung by the state of insecurity on the one hand, and stymied by incompetence on the other. 

It has, consequently, lost: 

a) sovereignty to USA-led western community which holds out the bail, serves as the ultimate financial bail-out and eventually gets away with whatever it wants; 

b) integrity to greedy, pliant-to-the boss, and self-serving bureaucracy which is given more to its own privileges than to those of the people; 

c) the goal of people’s welfare to the short-sighted, self-serving politicians who virtually behave like kleptocrats while avowing commitment to dictates of democracy; 

d) the strategic wisdom to tactical war-gaming of the armed forces, and; 

e) religion to a clergy that aims to freeze Pakistan in the medieval times by parroting an imported Saudi narrative now cutting across national borders. 

That is why the state of Pakistan finds itself surrounded by an overbearing insecurity as well as the resultant economic crisis. Both have jointly aggravated the crisis of governance that had existed for decades, but became evidently discernible with the exploding population on the one hand, and an intellectual crisis within the politico-bureaucratic structures on the other. Countless examples expose the absent intellectual vision that is the hallmark of bureaucracies in many other countries. Japan, Italy, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh stand out as examples of countries / nations which defied economic adversity and political chaos to ride out of multiple crises.

What about the mighty Pakistani bureaucrats and executives of state corporations? Have they functioned as the back-end guardians of good governance, or just sailed along as highly-placed officials playing second fiddle to the military and the political aristocracy, mostly focused on self-promotion? 

Let us look at a few examples to illustrate the crisis of intellect and vision in Pakistan: 

Firstly, imagine how many of our central government officials – not to speak of the provincial bureaucracies – maintain and operate a com.pk, or .com.gov.pk email addresses such as abc@ abc.gov.pk? How many of them envision genuine future requirements (other than personal fringe benefits or obstructive objections to new development proposals)?

A random check of the “contact us” on the websites of the crucial ministries such as Defence, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Water and Power, Commerce or the Parliament of Pakistan (Senate, National Assembly of Pakistan ) reveals that most give only phone numbers for contact. In almost all cases, email-address, if given, are all hotmail, yahoo or google.com. Doesn’t this amount to an indictment of the intellect of our envied bureaucrats? It is indeed a shame that even key officials at the Pakistani diplomatic missions abroad maintain general email accounts rather than using a more secure, customized emailing system. 

Secondly, even after almost eleven years, the entry into Islamabad’s diplomatic area at times ends up as a nightmare even for highly placed officials. Why? Because the police guarding the entry points still go by the medieval practice of noting down things in a register or on pieces of paper, at times with incorrect names of the visitors or inaccurate vehicle number. This represents an abject failure of the Islamabad police that guards sensitive and frequented areas, though such a matter can easily be resolved by deploying a computer and computer-literate officials to smoothen the traffic flow into the diplomatic enclave 

Thirdly, in an age where vertical expansion –multi-storey buildings – to optimally utilize space and under-ground parking facility are considered absolutely essential to accommodate the flood of cars, the under-construction block of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no such facility. This was a shocking revelation and the ministry officials blame another department for this blunder, without realizing that final approval in such cases rests with the incumbent department itself. 

Fourthly, during Ramazan Iftaar parties, one witnessed extremely highly-placed government officials and ministers enquiring from their foreign hosts about the fate of funding for this project or that. It was pretty depressing to see how ministers and officials who publicly keep displaying their bloated nationalism and flagging ‘national sovereignty’, spare no opportunity to take up the funding issues with donors. 

Fifth, since the war on terror became Pakistan’s internal fight with the TTP turning its guns on Pakistani people and institutions, insecurity has increased manifold, but the level of response and preparedness still falls short of what the extremely high level of insecurity demands. The interior minister promised us a few years ago high-tech, long-range screening machines that were supposed to guard all the Islamabad-bound vehicular traffic, but none has been installed yet. How does he envisage countering terrorists? By erecting concrete blocks all over to the inconvenience of tens of thousands that commute to and from Islamabad daily? And by the way, where are the metal detectors imported from China for hundreds of millions of dollars since 2008, which were supposed to be installed at strategic locations to protect lives of citizens? 

These few examples illustrate the multiple crises that Pakistan faces today. People often “mistakenly “talk about the resilience of the nation. I personally think it is the other way round; the ruling elite i.e. civilian and military institutions – ably supported by the bureaucracy -- have managed to survive and thrive despite all odds that people of Pakistan have faced. And, with sections of the media aligning themselves with the ruling elite, there is not much hope for a turnaround of this equation. 

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and the author of the forthcoming book Osama: Pakistan Before and After, Roli Books, India

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk