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Consensus on terrorism

The tone for a much-needed multi-party conference has finally been set. The leadership of the Awami National Party (ANP) has started contacting the leadership of other political parties.

The plan is to have the crucial discussion somewhere in the middle of next month with the focus on a consensus response to terrorism, militancy and insurgency.

If such a conference becomes a reality, it would reflect the response of the majority of Pakistan’s citizenry belonging to ideologically, ethnically, geographically, religiously, politically and culturally divergent backgrounds.

The conference earns immense importance for three overwhelming reasons. First, Pakistan is facing an existential threat due to active militancy and insurgency. The scope of this threat extends to the constitutional polity, economy and cultural diversity of the state of Pakistan. Militancy through terrorism and insurgency through guerrilla warfare have started pushing Pakistan towards civil war, economic bankruptcy and a cultural black hole. The collective defence mechanism of state and society thus needs to come into action before it is too late.

Second, both the state and society of Pakistan are being pushed into isolation due to terrorism and militancy; they are being isolated from both regional states and societies and those further away, with respect to divergences in worldview and in terms of Pakistan as a viable polity. The viability of a state in the modern international state system is heavily contingent on its capability to develop multilateral alliances with regional and international states.

The governments of almost all states have developed serious reservations with respect to the policies, responses and strategies of the Pakistani state in terms of world peace and security. This is an alarming situation to which all segments across Pakistan’s political divide must give serious consideration.

Of late, policy and research papers by various think tanks dubbing Pakistan a failed state have been doing the rounds in political and academic circles both domestically and internationally. The frustration of the people due to mass murders and indiscriminate killings in bomb blasts or suicide attacks has reached a stage where they find no other explanation other than that which is given for a failed state.

Third, almost all stakeholders in Pakistan’s state and society have suffered badly due to religious militancy. Irrespective of differences in ethnicity, culture, language and ideology, members of virtually all segments of society have been attacked:  killed or maimed in bomb blasts, incidents of targeted killing and shootouts.

Though the ANP has borne the brunt of religious militancy in Pakistan, no adherent of liberal democracy or Islamic democracy is safe from attacks by the militants’ network.

The current provincial president of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has been attacked five times. Maulana Fazlur Rehman, chief of the Jamiat-i-Ulema Islam, has been attacked twice. The president of the Qaumi Watan Party has similarly been targeted several times. Former head of the Jamaat-i-Islami, the late Qazi Hussain Ahmed, was also targeted in Mohmand Agency. Earlier, the chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party was assassinated after an address at a public meeting in Rawalpindi.

Various institutions of the security forces, including the police, Frontier Corps and the military, have been targeted continuously, with attacks, kidnappings and beheadings of their personnel having become almost a norm in the tactical paradigm of the militants’ network.

According to the figures collected by the Islamabad-based Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, 1,577 terrorist attacks were carried out in the country last year alone, killing some 2,050 people and injuring 3,822. It is likely that this pattern will remain in evidence this year too.

It seems that the proposed multi-party conference will draw a clear line between those who stand for a constitutional democratic polity, social justice, an assertive civil society, a sovereign parliament and an economy of peace in Pakistan and those who want otherwise. This might bring to the fore the forces that stand for a prosperous, progressive and peaceful Pakistan and help identify the forces that consciously or unconsciously resist the preservation of human dignity, pluralism and indigenous wisdom.

Most of the time, debate on terrorism in Pakistan ends in a deadlock due to the lack of understanding of the causes and triggers. Moreover, militancy, terrorism and insurgency are confused with one another because of the lack of understanding of the complexity of diverse factors. This results in more complications and frustrations for the political parties, the security establishment, elected governments and the people. This seems to be the major reason for the absence of a multi-pronged, comprehensive counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and counter-militancy strategy in Pakistan.

This confusion and the consequent deadlock might be avoided if the conference’s agenda is clearly and carefully delineated. Its agenda can be set to deliberate on the socio-cultural, socio-economic and socio-political aspects of religious militancy on the one hand and to take into consideration the construction of the militant discourse, its permeation and tactics of social control in Pakistan on the other.

The conference might also explore the local, provincial, national, regional and international factors that contribute to terrorism in Pakistan. Deliberations on the various layers of religious militancy and terrorism might result in a comprehensive policy that incorporates military, political, economic, strategic and tactical responses to terrorism in Pakistan.

The conference could clearly define the role and responsibilities of elected federal and provincial governments, the political parties, the military establishment, media and civil society organisations and the intelligentsia in implementing the comprehensive policy devised. It is hoped that this will result in a clear strategy with targets achievable within a certain time frame.

The writer is a political analyst. khadimhussain@hotmail.com

Khadim Hussain, "Consensus on terrorism," Dawn. 2013-01-28.