Since General Ashfaq Pervez Kayani made his Yaum-e-Shuhada (Martyrs’ Day) speech on April 30, 2012, there had been speculation about at least he, if not the Pakistani security establishment under him, had had some change of heart vis-à-vis the use of jihadist proxies as so-called strategic assets. Then came the COAS’s August 14, 2012 address in which he spoke more specifically about the twin dragons of extremism and terrorism breathing fire all over Pakistan and its neighbourhood. The general is not an orator but he really did strike a chord with even the worst critics. The diplomatic corps in Islamabad were ecstatic and already declaring the discourse as a paradigm shift.
On the heel of these two speeches came the talk of the Pakistan army revising the so-called Green Book, i.e. its doctrinal manual, to add that the entities such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) perpetrating sub-conventional warfare pose a bigger threat to the country than its eastern neighbour against which all military planning has revolved to date. Prime Minister (PM) Raja Pervez Ashraf, when addressing the National Defence University, talked about the need for the army to redefine and redesign its military doctrine. What are the odds that the PM came with the idea of asking the army for a course correction of one of its premier institutions all by himself? I would say slim to none! Someone somewhere wants to sell this idea of the new thinking to someone else.
Unfortunately, no hard information has emerged in the media to confirm if even such cosmetic changes — let alone the paradigm shift — have indeed taken place in the army’s thinking and actually made it to its doctrinal manuals. In the absence of the actual chapter or essay that purportedly identifies extremism and terrorism as one of the pre-eminent threats, if not the existential threat, to Pakistan, one has to go by exactly what the country’s security establishment has done in the last few weeks since this Green Book whitewash made the headlines.
I had lamented last week that the unbridled powers to the Frontier Corps (FC) in the aftermath of the January 10, 2012 slaughter of Quetta’s Hazaras — the most recent chapter in the ongoing Shia genocide — will likely result in a bigger FC/army footprint that will target the Baloch nationalists but not protect the Hazara. The priorities were clear when the Governor Balochistan and his council announced giving a “free hand to crackdown on elements responsible for the deteriorating law and order situation in the province.” The council also announced Rs10,000 stipend for the ‘rebels’ who lay down arms. There was not a word about the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) that had claimed the responsibility for killing the Hazara Shia. And then as was expected, in its first reported action since Governor’s rule was imposed in the province, the FC raided a village in Mastung last Friday and killed two Baloch whom it called Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) insurgents, including one who was described as a BLA commander, Rasheed Shahwani. It is perhaps safe to predict that we will not see any action against the LeJ in Balochistan.
In the Pashtun area, the FC has come under criticism for what the tribal locals and elders have called a ‘kill and dump’ campaign by the law enforcement agencies. The Afridi tribesmen are protesting such an episode in the Afridi territory just outside Peshawar where scores were killed execution-style and then dumped. The FC has responded with a novel claim. It alleges that the militants killed the locals and then left their bodies mixed with those of the dead militants to malign the FC. Needless to say, neither the locals nor the human rights activists are buying into this hogwash.
And last but not the least is the Dr Tahirul Qadri phenomenon unleashed on Pakistan. Widely seen as an attempt by the powers that be, the Dr Qadri long march was supposed to do two things. Firstly, the ‘puppeteers’ hoped that it would snowball into something big to either dislodge the incumbent political setup, paving the way for a technocrat model or at least make it kneel and accept a manner of accommodating such pious technocrats as may suit the establishment. The latter hope may have materialised to a certain extent but the march clearly fizzled out, and the jury is still out if the smart president and a determined Mian Nawaz Sharif would concede anything come the time for a caretaker government.
The second and more ominous motive was a Barelvi revolution of sorts, alluded to by a veteran English columnist last week, to neutralise the militant Deobandism that the security establishment has been nurturing for decades now. The idea ostensibly was to energise the Barelvi base. Someone really ignorant of the political — and militant — landscape of Pakistan would have had to come up with this idea of bringing a Barelvi leader to the top not through years of political fieldwork and toil but by jostling and toppling the democratic setup through a measly long march. Before it is analysed why it is a patently bad idea to replace bigotry of one kind with that of another variety, one must say that Dr Qadri on his part has done tremendous disservice to the cause of Sufism, the Barelvi school of thought, and indeed diversity by signing on as the protagonist in the sordid political drama. As I have noted elsewhere, when the dust settles on the recent events, Dr Qadri’s long march will most likely be remembered as the last hiccup of political Barelviism in Pakistan.
The sum total of the events of the last few weeks seems to be that while there is a lot of hullaballoo about course correction and search for an anti-terrorism doctrine, in actuality what is being sought is a shortcut. And that is to restore the status quo ante to circa 1992-2001, where jihadists operated in the neighbouring lands — never mind their moonlighting gigs killing the Shia at home — and the democratic dispensations at home could be dispensed with at a whim.
(To be concluded)
PS: It is most concerning that the Supreme Court of Pakistan has admitted a petition against Pakistan Ambassador to the US Sherry Rehman for allegedly committing blasphemy by criticising the anti-blasphemy laws. The honourable court had the opportunity to stop such malicious, nay poisonous, litigation in its tracks but regrettably did not do so. While expressing solidarity with the ambassador, one must submit that the brutal assassination of Salmaan Taseer has not left this country any wiser.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and he tweets @mazdaki