OPINION: Extremism is what matters all else is secondary

What is destroying our country: Extremism + Terrorism = Sectarianism.
K. Bajwa

Extremism is what matters all else is secondary

 
 
Ayaz Amir
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 
From Print Edition
 
 

Islamabad diary

 
Punjab, heart and soul of Pakistan, will it also now be the death of Pakistan? Dangerous thought but relevant question because the land of the five rivers, now also the land which rules the rest of troubled Pakistan, has its head buried deep in the sand, conscious of every problem under the sun except what is destroying this country: extremism, terrorism and the by-product of these two, sectarianism.
 
Not theoretical sectarianism… with that most societies can live…but murderous sectarianism, its work accomplished by the bullet and the bomb. So much so that the Shiite community is on the verge of mentally exiting from the ideological confines of a republic confused by nothing so much as its ideology.
 
Spectacular jailbreaks which reveal as much about Taliban skill and daring as the bankruptcy of our defences, or random killings across the country…but it’s much more than that. Consider the sweep of Taliban strategy. They strike at targets in the Frontier – Bannu, DI Khan – and just when we think the problem is the Frontier, there is an incident across the Line of Control and, overnight, a crisis with India, thus diverting, like nothing else could, the attention of the Pakistan Army.
 
Not just strategy but grand strategy, Mumbai on a smaller scale: just when the army is engaged in the west, pull its attention to the east.
 
Yet we are still thinking what to do….still, Allah be praised, trying to stitch together that exercise in metaphysics called our counter-terrorism policy. Pity the strain on our minds because the government of the mini-mandate, in essence a Punjabi government, is still not mentally ready to grasp the true dimensions of this problem.
 
It is not ready to accept the fact that Taliban terrorism is no longer just about the American presence in Afghanistan or the Emirate of North Waziristan. Its sources, its support bases, are now spread across the country, not least in the sacred land of the five rivers.
 
But to strike at these madressahs and watering holes in Punjab, to take up this fight in earnest, is to court the hostility of conservative Punjab. And conservative Punjab, retail-bazaar Punjab, middle-class Punjab, is from where the big or small mandate draws its primary strength.
 
This is a paralysis of politics. It is about evenly matched by a creeping paralysis on the military front. For all practical purposes the army chief is now a lame-duck chief, his over-extended term ending in November. He has done good things including resuscitating army morale after the disasters of the Musharraf years, although one wishes he could have kept some check on the business skills of his brothers.
 
Of what use present pomp and glory if in years to come what is remembered about him are the exploits of his near and dear ones? Musharraf did a lot of good too. But in today’s climate is anyone willing to say a kindly word about him? In a Republic like ours we never seem to learn. And our paladins never seem to know when to depart.
 
So there we have it: a government to all appearances with all the authority it needs, a prime minister certainly with more authority than his predecessors or even Musharraf, but heads buried deep in the sand, and an army command ruefully contemplating the evening sun as it is about to set.
 
This is a vacuum of the deepest sort, government and command at a standstill. Chaudhry Nisar, the interior minister, is an able man but he talks too much, a loudspeaker constantly on. Jaish-e-Muhammad, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, Sipah-e-Sahaba, the tentacles of what we have started calling the Punjabi Taliban, are all in Punjab. The frontlines of extremism may be in the Frontier. But the ‘strategic depth’ of this phenomenon is now in Punjab. From the attitude of the Punjab government, which claims infallibility for itself, one wouldn’t suspect this at all.
 
Forget about formulating a policy on terrorism. That can wait. Mosque loudspeakers in Punjab now defy the Loudspeaker Ordinance, as they defy common sense. If the interior ministry tackles this nuisance first maybe its words come to merit greater credibility.
 
Surprising thing is that where the government wants to act, and where its heart is, it can act very fast. Look at the circular debt payoffs to power producers. No questions asked and no list of who’s been given what. Nandipur power project, its cost jacked up and up, but government unfazed. When it comes to interests close to the bone, all innocence disappears and alacrity is the watchword. When it comes to extremism and terrorism, probably because there is no immediate profit in this, it is either (for more meditation) a trip to Murree, favourite summer destination, or the way of the ostrich.
 
The Taliban are inhibited by no such compulsions, minds distracted by no Nandipur adventures. They are focused utterly on the destabilisation of the Pakistani state and the spread of extremist thought. This is what makes this an unequal contest. The Republic has resources and guns and the atom bomb. But it lacks leadership and what leadership there is, gifts of a wayward destiny, is without conviction.
 
One thing is for sure, and this can be the first commandment of war. Expect no Battle of Stalingrad, no Vietnam, no victories in the mountains, from a leadership which has most of its money parked abroad. This is a contradiction in terms, not resolvable by platitudes. Similarly, an army command infected by that most alluring of fancies, love of real estate, can lead a nation in no life-and-death struggle. Call this the second commandment.
 
How many houses did Churchill own? Only Chartwell Manor which he bought with his money from his books and journalism. And after the war, imagine this, he couldn’t afford to keep the house and a consortium of businessmen bought it and the arrangement was that as long as he and his wife lived they would pay nominal rent and after their deaths the estate would go to the National Trust. On Churchill’s death in 1965 his wife decided to hand over the house to the National Trust immediately. How many suits did Stalin possess? How extensive was Ho Chi Minh’s wardrobe?
 
So what are we talking about? In normal times none of this would have mattered. The Sharifs could have doubled their Raiwind estate and army chiefs could have more private homes than they have become accustomed to. But the Taliban are at the gates and they have the initiative and a better sense of strategy, a better sense of the indirect approach, than the Military Operations Directorate.
 
For most of us this is the only country we are likely to have. We have already made a cult of the ‘internally-displaced person’ (IDP). The greatest Partition of the last century fell to our lot. Dismemberment we have experienced. How many more traumas can we go through, especially when the space for traumas is shrinking? The IDPs of the Khyber Agency can find refuge near Peshawar, those of North Waziristan in Kohat. To which kingdom on the hill will the IDPs of Punjab go?
 
So the luxury of half-measures is not ours to afford because time is slipping by, and time is not on our side. And please select a proper army chief, a fighting man, not a desk-bound general, or someone keen on remaking his fortune. If the Sharifs fumble this, and they will have their own calculations, then forget about Churchill. Let the spirit of appeasement guide us as we respectfully approach the Taliban, peace-offerings in hand and ingratiating smiles on our lips.
 
Tailpiece: Two excellent columns on terrorism I have just read, one by Ayesha Siddiqa, the other by Tariq Mahmud, former interior secretary. This means we have people who understand the problem. Why are our bonzes so dumb?
 
 
 
 

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