Lt. Gen. (R) Javed Alam Khan*
While thinking about the title for this article, I decided to call it “A Blueprint for Victory.” Later I realized that it appears quite immodest and that my friends would pull my leg about it by separating “blue” from “print” or by hyphenating the word. Having read a large number of articles and seen various discussions on television, I realized that most of them try to trace the “why it happened” but very seldom attempt to develop a wholesome way forward. In this article I will attempt to suggest the way forward for the Government and various institutions and segments of society to address the problems facing Pakistan today relating to Talibanisation, militancy and extremism.
There is a strategic term which is called “The End State” which is the state that you wish to achieve at the culmination of application of strategy. Too often in the past Governments and institutions have been accused of adopting strategies without realizing what the end state would finally be, therefore in this article I want to first define what Pakistanis require as an ‘ End State’ for any strategy that addresses the problems presently facing Pakistan. Although this amounts to putting the cart before the horse, I would like to give the readers of the article a preview of what the strategy that is to be devised is meant to achieve.
-The writ of the Government must be established over all of Pakistan resulting in prevalence of law and order in all parts of the country. All segments of society should co- exist in peace and harmony.
-Justice at affordable cost should be available to all segments of society
-The root causes of terrorism, militancy and extremism such as poverty, lack of education and obscurantism should be addressed and eliminated.
-The foreign policy of Pakistan should reflect the aspirations of the people of Pakistan and we should co-exist with our neighbours and the world peacefully.
-Administrative, law enforcing and reporting agencies should be strengthened and equipped to avert any recurrence of the present situation.
Let us take stock of where we stand today. After years of fighting in which we have lost over 1500 soldiers, hundreds of police personnel and a large number of civilian casualties we still face a situation in which the vast majority of Pakistanis feel that we are fighting a war for the United States and not for ourselves. The degree of condemnation that the public at large should feel and express for the Taliban is not visible in the media. I feel that this is due to several reasons but the most important is the incorrect public perception that the Taliban are closer to Islam than those that oppose them and this includes the Government, the Police and the Armed Forces. The vast majority of Pakistanis profess Islam to be their religion but as the Holy Quran and prayers are in Arabic and most of us perform our religious requirements in Arabic which we do not understand we remain hostage to the Mullah. Most Mullahs also do not understand Arabic but having memorized various verses of the Holy Quran they appear better versed than the common man. So every Friday and every other opportunity that they get Mullahs across the country making illegal use of loudspeakers spout venom against the Government, the military, the police and aspects of society that they dislike. The public forgetting that Islam is a religion without a clergy give up their fundamental right to question and correct the Mullah. Religious parties who in spite of all this have never won significant victories in elections have a strong vested interest in ensuring the strength of the Mullah. The Taliban are presently in the NWFP but could soon effect areas of the Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan as poverty, lack of education and obscurantism provide a fertile breeding ground. Today we find ourselves as a part of a society which does not stand up to the Taliban primarily because of lack of knowledge about Islam or because of fear of reprisals. The lack of justice in society portrays the Taliban and slogans like Nizam-e-Adl as good alternatives. The root causes of terrorism, militancy and extremism which are poverty, lack of education and obscurantism require to be addressed at a pace faster than the Taliban can advance. The people of Pakistan were abandoned by the United States and other Western countries after the US “invented” the Mujahideen who transformed into the Taliban. The US is not considered a friend by a large majority of Pakistanis so we should distance ourselves from them very visibly to prove to the Pakistani people that the Government is working in Pakistan’s interest. If and when the US manages to improve its image in Pakistani perceptions this stance could be modified.
Today we have a domestically and internationally recognised democratically elected government in Pakistan. To face the huge problems confronting us political stability is indispensible. Without political stability we cannot move decisively in any direction. Pakistan’s political leadership must display maturity and agree that the present Government should complete its term without any attempt at de stabilisation. While the government will do what it can to solve the problems of the Pakistani people, the complexity of these problems is so large that a single political party or a coalition will not be able to produce solutions acceptable to all of Pakistan. In order to address the problems confronting the vast majority of Pakistanis, it is essential to have a consensus between all the political parties of Pakistan. This should even include those parties not represented in Parliament as sometimes they are more vocal than all the rest. For this purpose an All Parties Conference needs to be organised at which all political parties are represented and they bring with them a priority list of problems that Pakistan is facing today. Using these lists a political consensus on Pakistan’s problems should be developed, discussed, debated and be open for public discussion. The methodology of achieving a consensus could be based on a weighted average of seats currently held in the National Assembly related to a similarity of view point. The next stage should be to ask all the political parties to come forward with solutions to the problems that they have prioritised. These suggestions and recommendations should be taken up by the Parliament, debated and approved for action by various institutions and agencies. The initiation of this process will provide hope for all Pakistanis that action has been initiated and how it is managed will strengthen resolve and hope for the future. This process is likely to take a few months and in the interim period the elected Government should continue to deal with our problems as best as they can using both carrot and stick.
The extremist and militants have killed soldiers, sailors, airmen, police personnel, civilian men women and children in various parts of Pakistan over the last several years. In spite of this mayhem and carnage the large majority of Pakistanis still appear to have a soft corner for them in their hearts and this is borne out by their words and actions. This perception is given strength by the lack of condemnation of the various crimes that these extremists have committed. While some of this lack of condemnation can be attributed to fear instilled by terrorists; I feel that it is strongly related to the incorrect perception that the Taliban militants are closer to Islam than those opposing them, that is the Government, the Armed Forces and Police. The lack of response on the ideological front is simply because an idea can only be fought with a superior ideology. As the Taliban claim to be the proponents of Islam the only stronger ideology available is Islam itself. We have to base our ideological battle on Islam and ensure there is unity of thought and action in opposition to the Taliban. In this ideological battle the ideological response should be based only on the Holy Quran. As the troubled areas are basically Pashtun, we should flood these areas with Pashto translation of the Holy Quran. In addition taking a leaf out of the Taliban handbook FM Radio stations, out numbering the militants by 20 to 1 should be installed all over the Pashtun areas of the country as well as those areas likely to be effected in the future based on local language and dialects (this would actually cover the entire country). These programs both on radio and television must be based on detailed research and aimed at producing optimum psychological effects stressing “Haquq Al Abad.” The role and place of women in society and their rights and privileges as taught by the Holy Quran also needs to be stressed. Fifty percent of our population are women and they stand to lose the most with Talibanisation. These measures will definitely produce greater Islamisation of Pakistani society but this Islam would be far different from that taught by the Taliban. Throughout this process we will have to jealously guard the aim of this program to ensure that it is not hijacked for ulterior reasons by any party, political or otherwise. This approach may not be appreciated by our so-called “friends,” however we have to chart the path that suits us best. We also have to ensure that the present anti-Taliban awakening is not a push in the direction of an anti-Islam movement. By using all these methods we should try to achieve a state in which no segment of society provides any support to the Taliban. We should treat the Taliban, the militants and terrorists as guerrillas and apply the basics of guerrilla warfare against them, to ensure that without the oxygen of public support they wither and die.
Many years ago while being briefed by a brilliant senior police officer in Faisalabad on the law and order situation, I was horrified to learn that of a total population of about 7.5 million in the erstwhile Faisalabad Division nearly 1 million people were nominated in court cases which would never be heard. This was because at that time approximately
24000 cases were registered in courts every year in the Faisalabad Division while only 12000 were resolved and 12000 cases were added to 80,000 pending in courts (each case names 8-10 people). With so many pending cases it is not surprising that both those who want to register a case and also those who want resolution of a case are willing to pay bribes to achieve their ends. This sorry state of affairs ensures that there is a continuous lack of justice available to the common man. The judiciary has been restored and the lawyer’s movement has prevailed, it is now time for them to address this important problem. Lack of justice is a prime factor which drives people to engage in or support terrorism and militancy. The terrorist also sees the lack of control and is emboldened to act. There are solutions available from various parts of the world that we can borrow and apply to our situation; for example the Justice of the Peace system in the UK, would reduce a great deal of pressure on lower courts.
The police force in Pakistan has always been criticized for its inefficiency and corruption, it has been made the butt of jokes resulting in low morale. This force happens to be our first line of defence on the internal front and has to be built up and handled accordingly. Currently the police lack manpower, mobility, communications, firepower, accommodation and most of all the will to impose the writ of the Government. While this has a lot to do with political control of the force it is time to set things right. Successive Governments have either failed to overhaul this force or did not have the resources to do so. This aspect needs to be addressed on priority. Centres of excellence have been developed like the Motorway Police and the Elite Force which gives us hope that given the will a police force that is effective can be developed to combat terrorism and extremism. Public perception of this is reflected in the slogan behind many trucks “Motorway Police Ko Salaam.” This investment will also ensure that our last line of defence – the Armed Forces of Pakistan – do not become our first line as it happens every Muharram!
Since the Nizam-e-Adl declaration in Swat the Pakistan army has come in for a lot of undue criticism in the print and electronic media. The general public has a very bad short term memory and tends to forget how events occur. Having served in the army for 37 years I can say with some authority that what the army requires most is support of the people of Pakistan, without this support the army faces insurmountable problems in fighting an insurgency. Fighting the Taliban on our own soil is an extremely difficult task especially without the luxury of precise intelligence and precision-guided munitions. Troops are constantly faced by the specter of collateral damage while facing a foe that merges with the local populace. Spending days, weeks and months under the constant threat of an enemy without a face is physically and psychologically debilitating. I am proud of those officers and men of the Pakistan army that have borne this fatigue and faced the odds with a resoluteness and courage that has few parallels in history. The sacrifices made and that are continuing to be made deserve accolades and not misguided criticism. When a soldiers body goes home he deserves to be buried with pride and honour for dying in service of his country but some misguided Mullahs decree that his Namaz-e-Janaza is Haram! Besides public support the armed forces require to be equipped with the latest intelligence acquisition means, precision-guided munitions, ground and air mobility and secure communications.
In the Malayan insurgency which lasted about 18 years, from 1948 to 1966, the communist guerillas numbered 8000 at their peak. The forces deployed against them were 45000 soldiers, 45000 police and 1,250,000 Home Guards to root out the insurgents and to protect the population. Besides this over 600,000 villagers were “resettled” from remote areas to places where they were safe and also could not help the guerillas.
General Sir Gerald Templer who was the High Commissioner in Malaya coined a phrase – ‘Winning Hearts and Minds,’ this became the slogan of the counter-insurgent force. The entire Government machinery operated under one Command utilizing all means – development, financial support and military means to win “Hearts and Minds.” Learning from history we should realize that the problem we face was neither created in a day and nor can it be solved in a hurry, we have to buckle up for the long haul and apply ourselves to solve our problems.
Last and definitely not the least we need to address the print and electronic media. Today while we can be proud of a completely free media we also need to evaluate the effects created by the media whether advertently or inadvertently when it is totally free. Freedom should be jealously guarded, however we must also realize the negative effects that can and have been produced on various occasions. Lately a fatigue can be detected within the public related to the media and this can spread which will produce very negative effects. If people turn away from the media we lose our most potent weapon against the terrorist. The credibility of the media should be built up and jealously guarded by journalists who must develop their own accountability mechanism to root out the black sheep and blackmailers. The media must be harnessed like all aspects of society to fight against the threats that we face. The Government and the media should develop a method of working together and ensure the agreement is implemented.
To conclude Pakistan has faced many challenges through its 65 year history and we have always survived. Many predictions have been made and continue to be voiced about our collapse and failure as a state. I believe that Pakistanis are a very talented and hard working people who can surmount all problems. Our country is located where the strategic interests of many powers clash and coincide, which is a bane and a boon and we have to leverage our potential to the maximum to ensure that Pakistan flourishes and our children and coming generations of Pakistanis live honourable and peaceful lives.