Pakistan's internal conflict

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 06.04.16

Is Pakistan trying to sort itself out? This is a major question one can ask in the light of the
prediction made by US President Barack Obama in January 2016 (in his final State of Union
address) that, if Pakistan does not reform itself, it would continue to be buffeted by
instability for decades. There are certain insights into Pakistan’s state of affairs.

In the hanging of the Elite Police commando, Mumtaz Qadri, on February 29, the
supremacy of law found a new abode, after jettisoning religious extremism. On March 27,
even those who marched into Islamabad and squatted at the D-chowk (or the ‘diatribe
chowk’) -- a semicircular place in front of the parliament building — found themselves
helpless in front of the law that had dismissed the justification for committing a heinous
crime in the name of religion. The law, expressed through the courts, had differentiated
between a felony such as homicide and religion. The squatters were there to try their luck.
However, the way they submitted to the reality of law was visible in the demands they
vociferously projected. The positive in this phenomenon is that the supremacy of law was
asserted by the courts and the same was accepted by the masses, including the religiously
zealous section of society. This point alone indicates that Pakistan has travelled a long
distance past the 1970s when religious parties were not very respectful of the law, and
were disposed to launch mass movements that were anti-government in nature. Secondly,
unlike the past, the clandestine patronage of the army was not available this time. Thirdly,
over the years, the electoral rejection enforced by voters has demoralised religious parties,
and precisely that is why the continuation of the electoral process is vital for Pakistan.
Nevertheless, the D-chowk has assumed the symbol of intimidation, and its existence is
considered a hazard to democracy.

Terrorism ravaging both cantonment and non-cantonment areas of a city has engendered
the metaphorical one-page on which both the civilian government and the institution of the
army can be found: it is a delusion that both are not on the same page. Between them,
there might be differences on how to fight terrorism but not on to fight terrorism. More than
the civilian government, terrorism challenged the army, which needed the help of the
civilian government to sever its own links with the promoters of terrorism. It was
embarrassing for army to find its (past) assets attacking its installations, vehicles and
headquarters and exploding themselves in cities, in the streets and in parks. The failure of
the intelligence network to seize the would-be exploding characters added insult to injury.
However, the way army submitted to the supremacy of the civilian dispensation, though not
fully, and the way it fought back from its probable isolation is both noticeable and laudable.
The utterance about terrorism as an ‘existential threat’ to Pakistan has narrowed the civil-
military divide at both political and social levels. Similarly, the space offered to army to work
in the civilian domain under the National Action Plan has also brought the two closer to one
another. Some compromising strides have also been made from the civilian side, which now
understands that civil-military cooperation is no more a luxury but a necessity. The positive
in this phenomenon is that army would learn to survive under the aegis of a civilian
government, or in close cooperation with it, and not independent of it. Secondly,
government will learn how to utilise the army inside the country during peacetime in the
future. The office of the ISPR is quite active to offer all sorts of face-saving to army. This
point alone indicates that army understands the importance of its public image and has
been making all efforts to restore it. This kind of consciousness is quite healthy for the
country. It is now easier to understand the army than ever before. The ease of
understanding offered through the social networking activities of the ISPR has lessened the
criticism of army. The overactive ISPR may also take care of the civil-military interface
instead of asserting a position that automatically brings embarrassment to government. The
characters obsequious in nature abound to exploit any available opportunity to the
discomfiture of government even if the opportunity was the product of a misunderstanding.
The reaction of government on the incident of Pathankot and its interpretation in the media
is one such example.

The ongoing military operation Zarb-e-Azb is exploratory of the size of the scourge of
terrorism. In the past, as enshrined in the Kerry Lugar Berman Act 2009, Pakistan was
asked by the neighbouring countries not to let its soil used against any other (i.e. near or
far) country of the world. Lately and contrarily, Pakistan has been found demanding from its
two western neighbours — Afghanistan and Iran — not to let their territory be used against
it. The army is engaged more inside the country than on the borders. One can say that the
military operation is in the last phase in North Waziristan and the chief of army staff can say
that he is leading from the front. However, it is still premature to conclude the timing and
fate of the operation. These military operations are episodic in nature and bear the strain of
performance to validate their existence. The moment such an operation peters out, the
veiled syndicate of terror resurfaces with the same or different exterior. The solution lies not
in perpetuation but in scheduled recurrence of the operation.

The point of reforms suggested by Obama encompasses both civilian and army domains to
avert persistent instability. Despite their mutual differences, both have to be glued to the
same page, as there is no other choice left. Religious bigotry poses a unitary challenge to
both and demands unitary attention from both. Terrorism, embodying intolerance, is about
to stay as a recalcitrant malady — save energies and foster vigorous mutual relations to
get prepared for a drawn-out battle.

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