The contours of the PML (N)’s knee-jerk reaction to formulate a national security policy, which came into the spotlight recently, mandated a holistic, ground breaking and thunderous response to the perceived ‘infallibility’ of the government’s premier ‘stake holder’, the Tehrik- I-Taliban Pakistan. Expectations were understandably high from a populace which rendered innumerable sacrifices whilst being in the line of fire for over a decade. The day the specifics of what this national policy would entail became apparent, when the Prime Minister offered a second round of talks after a spate of attacks, the TTP came up with a wistful shake of the head. The reply to the offer was a ‘NO’.
It was not surprising that the furor which followed the decision to offer talks to the controversial outfit came to the fore, from every nook and corner of the country’s scholarly and journalistic quarters was of considerable apprehension and suspicion. From castigating the government’s reaction to toeing the ‘Anti Drone Line’ the liberal, pseudo-liberal and pseudo-centrist quarters of Pakistan’s illustrious academia had plenty to say. Few could blame them, given that the formulation process was behind the closed flaps of the GHQ and the Interior Ministry; which highlights a dangerous nexus given the restive nation’s history. The confusion also became apparent, when the process of pontificating and postulating the contours of the policy was shrouded in obscurity and public knowledge was limited to three components of the framework, which in essence, had serious loopholes which need to be examined. In addition, the establishment of an ‘Intelligence Directorate’ which will coordinate operations from the center, was enough to hush down calls for a comprehensive approach that beefs up on ground dissection of the entity in question which is the TTP. However, the duality of the policy, where red lines are not defined and the lack of strategic vision in terms of identifying the genesis of the threat in question, hijacks the entire promise and gives enough leverage for the PML (N)’s sternest opponents to censure them further.
One doesn’t have to be a seasoned academic to understand, that it is common knowledge to point fingers at the lack of strategic depth of Pakistan’s policy formulation where the failure to highlight the diabolical nexus between ingrained poverty, decapitation of the law enforcement agencies and the mushrooming of Madrassah’s which subscribe to the puritanical schools of thought across the country, is partly responsible for the clout of the TTP and its ability to assert itself as a potent force. Credit however, needs to be given to the government for identifying that training the security personnel and providing initiatives for capacity building is an important component in dealing with the stake holders. Yet at the same time what is unfathomable is the absence of a counter terrorism narrative and the identification of the threat posed by the TTP, where denouncing the TTP as a terrorist group which threatens the writ of the state is the call of the hour. As a Pakistani, one is left to wonder as to why cutting off ties with radical groups, mandates a nuanced policy and not an all inclusive one which defines the contours of the scale of operations and a comprehensive definition of the threat in question and in contention.
Important questions are inevitable regarding a policy which consists of three components: Secret, Strategic and Operational. Firstly, are negotiations with an entity which has wreaked havoc on peace and tranquility still an option, (which forms the core of the strategic policy)? If yes, then would the state pursue a strategic ploy of bifurcating the TTP into negotiable and non-negotiable entities? Would this policy of ‘pacification’ contravene the government’s and the nation’s interests of forging amiable ties with its neighbors, particularly India, where CBMs have been held hostage due to the role of ‘ spoilers’, which the latter claims is ‘ exported’? These queries if left unanswered could well spell out into the same bandwagon which previous governments have been adopting, which is to recline and submit in front of an entity hell bent on ensuring that its puritanical agenda is imposed.
Understandably, yet regretfully at the same time, the NS policy this time around could materialize as a ‘concocted’ version of revamping the national security narrative which the liberal PPP had adopted during its five years in power. However, the specifics lack the vision that the PML (N) had promised to the public in election manifestos, which focused on a comprehensive review of the national and foreign policies, in the lead up to the 2013 elections, which marked the country’s first democratic transition in light of rising insurgency.
The flimsy contours of this policy will also put into perspective erroneous claims of upholding the sanctity of the Pakistani constitution as well, which has been articulated by the Federal Government time and time again. Will blasphemers such as Mumtaz Qadri be lauded as being national icons as the TTP wants, or would any reckless adventurism be met with a stringent response? Would there be an overarching denunciation of the controversial outfit’s modus operandi, as a requisite before crippled negotiations take place?. These questions must be answered in light of the cardinal principle that when national security is at stake and spillover effects of the 2014 US withdrawal plan from Afghanistan are inevitable, definition of red lines and understanding the threat in question, takes precedence over beefing up capabilities or taking evasive measures.
The Nawaz led government, (according to their opponents) are entangled in ‘Real Politik’ which is confined to clientele considerations only, and some of their brawny advocates continue to believe that the policy which will be presented in the cabinet, is exactly the call of the hour despite the loopholes which might become apparent. Sadly, it is the Pakistani public which has to pay the irreparable cost in the immediate future and that is what matters in the end.
Image: Farooq Naeem-AFP, Getty