It seems Pakistan and other countries in the region are imploding. With the existing dichotomies of the state of Pakistan as ‘the heartland’ vs. ‘the periphery’, conservatism vs modernism, centralization vs decentralization, populism vs Elitism, Iran vs. Saudia, parliament vs other institutions, quest for federalism vs quest for authoritarianism, and indigenous narrative vs alien narrative, the federal and provincial governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan have to put their heads together before it is too late. Here are some suggestions:
The complexity of the religious-militant phenomenon in Pakistan and Afghanistan can be gauged from the fact that Talibanisation, insurgency and terrorism are intertwined and present themselves as a seamless, organic whole.
Indeed, it would be difficult to altogether separate all the aspects of the militancy, which are interdependent, on-going in the two countries. From the classic ‘clear, hold and build’ paradigm of counterinsurgency to the more recent three D’s (dialogue, development and deterrence) of counterterrorism, the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan have assumed a correlation between economic and political deprivation and terrorism in their respective trouble spots. These are more the triggers than the causes of militancy.
More often than not, regional and other countries fail to differentiate between the causes and triggers of militancy, and hence respond to the complex phenomenon in a simplistic manner. This leads to more complications and further frustration for the security establishments, the governments and victim states in the region and beyond. The absence of a multi-pronged, comprehensive counterinsurgency, counterterrorism and counter-militancy strategy in Pakistan and Afghanistan clearly indicates a vague understanding of the complex phenomenon.
A five-pronged, comprehensive counterterrorism strategy should be considered by the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the facilitation of the international community. Implementing this strategy might bring about substantial results in reversing the tide of militancy, insurgency and terrorism in the states of the region. The five-pronged strategy is seen in the light of the ideological (militant) discourse, and includes political, military, economic and communication responses to the challenges. The composition of the five-pronged strategy takes into consideration long- and short-term measures, socio-cultural interventions, socio-economic development, the political process and strategic initiatives.
First, the construction of a counter-militant discourse needs to be initiated on an urgent basis. The militant discourse is based on a unidimensional reading of reality. Though the core of it is apparently and purportedly religious, the discourse, in fact, focuses on socio-cultural and sociopolitical homogenization, and excludes or rejects diversity in the social, cultural and political domains. ‘Otherization’ is used as a tool to allow the militant discourse to permeate the socio-cultural and sociopolitical spheres of state and society. Human civilization at its current stage is presented as an arch enemy of religion and the common people. Conspiracy theories with respect to the West, India and the Jewish lobby are propounded. The spread of the militant discourse over the past three decades owes much to the use of mosque loudspeakers, FM radios, pamphleteering, posters, decrees, periodicals, websites and word of mouth. Militant organizations have so far succeeded in advancing their cause as the environment has lent itself to their ambitions, thanks to the curricula of public schools here, the mainstream media as well as the mentality of religio-political parties. They have managed to bring about a shift in the concept of jihad — once regarded in the light of a struggle for spiritual purity, and even in the use of war requiring the state’s blessings, and now viewed as a privatized entity in conflict. For constructing a counter-militancy discourse, the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan need to initiate consistent and purposeful consultations with civil society organizations, the academia, liberal democratic parties, professionals and think tanks. A movement to initiate work at the grass-root level to promote a pluralist, democratic discourse based on the universal concept of human dignity but tackled through locally evolved wisdom needs to be initiated on an urgent basis. Public-school curricula need to be revised substantially and immediately.
Second, a political response to militancy includes a review of previous state policies and the political inclusion of various ethnic, cultural, religious, economic and social narratives. The social contract must be able to provide for the masses. Social justice, good governance, transparency, equal opportunities and the continuity of the democratic process must be ensured.
Laws related to women and minorities should be revisited through a broader political consensus. This will win state institutions some credibility, provide a sense of ownership in the state to the public and isolate militant organizations.
The process of reconciliation and meaningful dialogue may be started with those elements belonging to militant organizations who are convinced of playing their part within the framework of constitutional democracy. The dialogue process should be undertaken by the elected government and elected representatives.
Third, socio-economic inclusion and mainstreaming may take away from the militant organizations a big chunk of the youth recruited in the peripheral areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan to carry out acts of terrorism. A comprehensive and holistic plan of socio-economic development could well deal a blow to the present illegal avenues (drug trafficking, kidnapping, etc) of the war economy. One of the reasons for the continuous insurgent and terrorist activities in the region is the expansion of the war economy and the absence of a legal, documented one.
Fourth, the media has emerged as a strong player and a vibrant tool to help the public form opinions. Keeping in view the deep-rooted militant discourse present in many sections of the mainstream media, the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan need to develop a comprehensive counter-militant media policy to deprive militant organizations of public support.
Fifth, a military response to insurgent and terrorist activities must be surgical, targeted, time-bound and accountable in nature. The security forces of Pakistan must succeed in dismantling militant centres, cut off militants’ networking points and break their supply lines. Reliance must be placed on efficient and coordinated intelligence gathering rather than on heavy weapons which inevitably affect the local population and create space for militants.
A plan for the purpose may be borrowed from Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Baacha Khan) who was able to apply his strategy of dialogue, mediation and reconciliation successfully in what was then the NWFP, Fata and Afghanistan in the first half of the 20th century. Baacha Khan constructed a non-violent narrative, attempted to de-legitimize tribalism, adopted pluralism and inclusion as a way of life and as a core element of the pro-people, political struggle. He went to the doorstep of the common masses, shared their grief, stood by them in their struggle for empowerment and built on the legacy of collective wisdom.
Khadim Hussain currently works as Managing Director of Baacha Khan Trust Educational Foundation (BKTEF) and also a Research Fellow at the Strategic Center for International Relations and a member of Editorial Board of its quarterly publication.
The Afghan Tribune | Khadim Hussain | Published: November 29, 2015 09:20 AM
The article originally appeared on The Dawn.