THE truth is never as dangerous as a lie in the long run,” wrote the late Ben Bradlee, editor of The Washington Post whose exposé of the Watergate scandal led to a president’s resignation. Pakistani state and society have to face the truth that the hydra-headed monster of militancy has permeated every institutional, social and political portal of power, and the war against it cannot be won through military means alone.
As illustrated so vividly in Quetta in recent days, sectarian terrorists, political insurgents and regional purveyors of violence are fully exploiting the fault lines that the state machinery has failed to address through a comprehensive national security policy.
How do we get out of the mess we have created on account of faulty and unwise state policies pursued for over three decades? What use is an unimplemented and ownership-deficient National Internal Security Policy (NISP) that was unveiled with such fanfare by the interior ministry earlier this year? A headless National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) with an ineffective legal and organisational framework reflects policy paralysis resulting from turf battles within the government’s civilian and military components.
It is time we put our house in order. The prime minister has to take some quick and tough decisions to galvanise the state apparatus to combat the scourge of militancy.
The first and foremost task is to bring all the federal and provincial governments as well as the military and civilian security agencies on the same page against the mortal threat posed by the militants. The National Security Committee (NSC) should come up with a policy that unequivocally declares that no militant organisation will have the covert support of the government and its agencies. The state should completely dissociate itself from the proxies created in the past.
The Quetta killings show how militants can exploit state apathy.
Second, the prime minister should appoint a professional internal security adviser to implement NISP and coordinate with all the federal and provincial stakeholders as well as agencies dealing with terrorism and militancy.
Third, Nacta has proved a non-starter with the government unable to find a suitable serving BS-22 police officer as its head and the issue of placing the authority under the prime minister or interior minister still unresolved. Setting up a new organisation will take time. However, the NSC should constitute a national intelligence directorate under the internal security adviser for streamlining intelligence gathering and sharing to enable effective anti-terrorism operations.
The ISI should deal with militants with external links and agendas, including those operating from Fata. The ISI’s counterterrorism wing should be given legal protection under the Protection of Pakistan Act to formally detain and interrogate TTP and foreign-linked militants. The Intelligence Bureau and police, including crime investigation departments, should focus exclusively on sectarian terrorism.
Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) and other banned groups will continue to flourish if the activities of their patrons and facilitators are not curbed and their movements not curtailed under the Anti Terrorism Act.
Moreover, the activists and criminal elements associated with them are known to local police; they should be detained and interrogated by joint investigation teams in a countrywide crackdown.
Fourth, religious extremism can only be curbed through zero tolerance against hate speech. The state has looked the other way for far too long. The virulent mullah-militant combine has done irreparable damage to tolerance in our society. The provincial special branches and local police should monitor and regulate the use of loudspeakers in mosques and madressahs and keep an eye on wall chalking as well as printed material aimed at creating sectarian trouble.
Fifth, firm gun control is now required as gun-toting militants mock the state by silencing voices of dissent through violence. The police will have to play a major role in the recovery of illegal lethal weapons.
Balochistan needs these measures: one, constituting a joint task force of police, Frontier Corps, ISI and IB to apprehend and bring to book known LJ militants in order to stop Hazara killings. Two, the kill-and-dump strategy against Baloch activists has to be curbed and no private militias allowed under state patronage. Three, the role of police and its jurisdiction should be gradually enhanced and the FC restored to its original mandate of border control. Four, the chief minister should be given the mandate and the autonomy to win back the ‘angry Baloch’.
Above all, the heartland of militancy is the Punjab province. The real battle will thus be fought in this most populous and prosperous region. This dangerous truth has to be faced by our security and military establishment. The lie has had a long run. It is time to change course and adopt a saner path for a peaceful and prosperous future.