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Double talk


By Imtiaz Gul

The Friday Times, September 13, 2013


The All Parties Conference (APC) backing for initiating a dialogue with 'all stakeholders' and a crackdown against groups shy of peace talks can at best be called a growing confluence of civil and military views on the strategy for dealing with the scourge of terrorism. They may still hold different views on the nature of the terrorist threat, yet as a first major tangible outcome, the civil-military synergy augurs well for a country that has faced the wrath of terrorists for nearly a decade, and thus far without a counter-terror strategy.

The second encouraging tangible outcome of the APC - if media reports are any indicator - relates to Imran Khan's insistence on Pakistan Army's phased disengagement from the FATA regions. Imran Khan reportedly convinced army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to initiate a 'phased withdrawal' of troops from FATA while opening talks with militants." This resonates Khan's oft-repeated criticism of the troop deployment in the border regions which he says "was a big mistake". Negotiations and fighting terrorism side by side is not a wise move, Khan reportedly told Gen Kayani. (One would hope that Imran Khan is aware of the fact that deployment of troops in FATA is a bilateral arrangement with the United States, which pays up to $60 million a per month for these deployments under the Coalition Support Fund.)

And the third tangible outcome was the demand for a peace process that "should be as inclusive as possible, with full participation of the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other stakeholders". Although a legitimate requirement for conflict resolution, the desire for an "inclusive process" in the current Pakistani context portends a big issue - insiders say that during their presentations , Gen Kayani and ISI chief Lt Gen Zaheerul Islam ruled out dialogue with foreign elements active in the tribal areas of the country. They pointed out that the presence of a considerable number of foreign fighters - Arabs, Arab-Africans, Uzbeks (from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan), and Uighurs (including from the Islamic Turkestan Movement) still represented a huge threat, and that the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan's (TTP) protective umbrella for these foreign militants made it a complex issue for the security forces.

This clearly indicates that the ISI and the GHQ remain firm in their diagnosis of the "enemy", a phrase Gen Kayani in particularly has invoked on several occasions to define the TTP's inimical approach towards the state of Pakistan.

"Increasingly complex external environment and our rather precarious internal dynamics have created a myriad of security challenges... Today, we are pitched against an amorphous enemy when the conventional threat has also grown manifold," Kayani had said while addressing the 98th Midshipmen Commissioning term and 7th SSC Officers class at Pakistan Naval Academy PNS Rahbar, late in December.

Should we presume that despite their commitment to follow the civilian leadership, both the generals reiterated their view on the TTP and their foreign surrogates and that is why the eight-point resolution did not mention the TTP or any other militant group currently operating in the tribal region, while calling for "negotiating peace with our own people in the tribal areas"

This also distinguishes the declaration from those made in two previous APCs - one organised by the Awami National Party (ANP) on February 14 and the other by Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl on February 28. Both had recommended dialogue with the Taliban fighting against the army, although they too did not specify which Taliban. Except the TTP and Fazlullah's Swat Taliban, most of the major Taliban factions in Khyber Agency, North Waziristan, South Waziristan, Mohmand and Bajaur are in fact in tacit deals with the military or civilian authorities.

This brings us to the primary question - regardless of the conflicting definitions of the enemy, is the civil and military leadership diagnosing the problem correctly? Are they still looking at this complex issue as the consequence of Pakistan's unwilling involvement in America's Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (Since 2002), and Operation Sherdil (Bajaur-Kunar, August 2008)?

While the military may be right in singling out the TTP as the biggest "amorphous enemy" of Pakistan, it also owes the nation an explanation as to whether the Haqqani Network - which along with Hafiz Gul Bahadur in North Waziristan serves as the social shelter for Al Qaeda and the TTP - also belongs to this category. The network's support extends also to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, splinters of Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and by implication it is as lethal to the interests of Pakistan as the TTP. Will the government engage the Haqqanis too?

Secondly, the civil and military leadership must contemplate as to whether the present chaos - the presence of disguised radical militants and their destructive operations in Pakistan - stems just from the war in Afghanistan or is rooted in the de facto "lawless nature" of the FATA regions.

Thirdly, has the foreign intervention and occupation in Afghanistan spurred terrorism in Pakistan, or has it do with the social support infrastructure that is available to religious militants - unchecked growth of madrassas that serve as sanctuaries for terrorists, mosques which peddle jihadist and anti-shia themes, and religio-political groups whose loyalties rest with Al Qaeda instead of the constitution of Pakistan?

These questions and reservations also resonated at an international security conference on Afghanistan held at Dhaka this week. No discourse on Afghanistan beyond 2014 is complete without the mention of the Haqqanis, the lashkars, or terrorist havens in FATA. While the world appreciates Pakistani sacrifices, it still awaits categorical answers to the aforementioned questions. Talking to religious militants is wise but equally important is to correctly diagnose the malaise. We are probably still far away from that.

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