Efforts to Spoil Civil-Military Relations
Liberals and seculars calling themselves modern and progressive were in high spirits during Gen Musharraf’s rule because the Islamic militants and those sporting beards dubbed by them as bigoted, obscurantist and uncouth were continuously bashed from 2002 onwards. Several Jihadist groups were banned and extremists were hounded and Madrassahs raided. Many christened as terrorists were handed over to the US. The liberals were in joyous mood because secularism was promoted under the garb of enlightened moderation which was approvingly seen in the west. Expanded and liberated media went out of the way to portray soft face of Pakistan by encouraging dance, music fun and frolic, which gave way to obscenity. To their good fortune, all economic indicators jumped into positive and the economy was bullish.
Musharraf however had to first vacate his COAS seat in November 2007 and then his President seat in August 2008 and go into exile mainly because of pressure built up by secular lawyer movement, civil society and media. The seculars and not the Islamists had a big hand in his unceremonious ouster. Murder of Benazir Bhutto and PML-N winning largest number of seats in Punjab and second largest in the centre in February 2008 elections upset the US-UK game plan of allowing Musharraf to continue occupying presidency till 2013 and forming a dream government of three secular parties, PPP-MQM-ANP.
The secularist trends and policy of persecution of Islamic militants dictated by the US continued unchanged during Zardari led regime because of its secular outlook. However, all the economic indicators nose-dived and economy sank because of massive corruption, inefficiency, cronyism, disregard of rule of law and bad governance. Consequently, both Islamists and seculars suffered in different ways. The pendulum began to shift slightly in favor of Islamists when PML-N in Centre, Punjab and Balochistan and PTI in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) formed governments after May 11, 2013 elections. Both had nurtured soft feelings for the Islamic militants of FATA. Imran Khan ardently espoused their cause arguing that they had picked up arms only because their socio-economic grievances had not been addressed and the Army had barged into South Waziristan in violation to the 1948 agreement and started series of ruthless military operations.
By the time a hand of friendship was extended to the militants, the mother organization TTP had swelled. With 54 groups, both domestic and foreign under its wings, it had spread its fangs all over Pakistan and had turned into a powerful entity. Lot of blood had been spilt on both sides and people of FATA in particular had suffered the most because of repeated military operations and heavy displacements. Foreign agencies fishing in troubled waters had made deep inroads and were continuously provoking and funding both sides to continue fighting. The misled militants had been led up the garden path that they would be given full support for the accomplishment of their dream of establishing Islamic Caliphate. The government on the other hand was scared that terrorism was an existential threat which must be fought with full force to preserve the integrity of Pakistan. Security forces were kept busy under the ‘do more’ mantra. Any effort by the two sides locked in mortal combat to broker peace deal was sabotaged. While the government was censured and threatened that aid will be blocked/cut, peace makers among the militant leadership were droned.
Militancy in FATA, some settled parts of KP, Balochistan and Karachi has made the country insecure, giving reason to the detractors to project it the most dangerous country of the world. Terrorism aided and abetted by foreign agencies has been manipulated to declare Pakistan a failing and ungovernable State and unable to protect its nuclear arsenal. All sorts of damaging accusations have been pinned on Pakistan and the burden of terrorism in the region placed at the doorsteps of Pakistan. Major bashers are USA, EU, India, Afghanistan and Israel. Segment of our media, pseudo intellectuals and liberals helped the external nefarious agenda because of their chronic aversion for the Islamists. The anti-Islamic lobby in Pakistan though in tiny minority is influential and powerful because it wields authority. This lobby is also anti-Army and misses no opportunity to tarnish its image. Media and floor of the parliament help them in venting their emotions and spitting poison.
Rather than taking steps to ward off foreign interference and to put own house in order by trying to put the misled on the right path and remedy the root causes of terrorism, our leaders have been playing into the hands of detractors of Pakistan. They have been dancing to their tunes foolishly thinking that by so doing the bashers would stop bashing Pakistan and load it with rewards. It never occurred to them that the so-called friends were playing a double game and that the real enemy was not the Islamic militants but the Indo-US-Afghan-Israel nexus hell-bent to destroy Pakistan so that its nukes could be captured.
The Army under Gen Kayani and ISI under Lt Gen Pasha were the first to fathom that Pakistan had been put on the destructive path. The duo took steps to salvage the situation but their efforts couldn’t pullout the country from the muddle it had got stuck because of the NRO cleansed political dispensation beholden to the US. The government relied upon single-track option of use of force as dictated by USA and didn’t make any worthwhile effort to befriend the estranged militants, or to keep the foreign influence at bay. But for foreign support, and failure of administrative and judicial prongs to keep in step with military prong, the TTP couldn’t have recouped and recommenced militancy after its defeat in 2009. The TTP under Fazlullah is still a dangerous entity capable of causing lot of harm and is still full of fight. Hawks within 54 militant groups are pressing the TTP Shura to continue fighting. The war has resulted in 40,000 human fatalities and economic loss of $80 billion, but the fascist liberals and hawkish elements within the government and opposition parties want the war to continue.
With such diversified perceptions and decade long bloodbath which has deepened antagonism, offer of peace talks intensified debate between pro and anti-peace talks in both the warring camps. Although the APC called on September 9, 2013 unanimously authorized the government to hold talks with TTP unconditionally to restore peace, but the spoilers on both sides backed by outsiders have been relentlessly trying to derail the peace process. It is satisfying to note that the government has not lost heart and its resolve to take the ongoing process to its logical end hasn’t diminished. Its steadfastness in spite of the impediments has opened a window of opportunity and light can now be seen at the end of the dark tunnel.
After preliminary meetings between the government and TTP nominated committee, a direct meeting between TTP committee and TTP Shura members took place under genial conditions which helped in dispersing some of the dark clouds of distrust and animosity. Release of some Taliban prisoners has generated goodwill and it is hoped that TTP would reciprocate before the next meeting. The government and the Army are on one page which is a positive sign. Venue for next meeting in safe zone is under consideration and probably it will be selected within settled areas of KP.
Killing of anti-peace TTP leader Kasheef Mehsud and his four aides on April 7 in SW is though a positive sign since it is for the first time that anti-peace talk persons have been killed, but the incident has tensed the situation. Internal developments together with events in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Egypt and some other African countries where Islamists have gained ground have aggravated the anxiety of the liberals and are suffering from depression. They are yearningly looking towards the Army to come to their rescue by axing the pro-Taliban government and to pick up cudgels against the Islamists.
During his visit to SSG HQ at Tarbela on April 7, a young officer asked Gen Raheel Sharif as to ‘why they (politicians) hate us despite all our hard work’. The General’s spontaneous reply was that ‘the Army upholds the sanctity of all institutions and will resolutely preserve its own dignity and institutional pride.’ He gave this loaded statement in response to unwarranted insolent invectives of Khawaja Asif and Saad Rafiq in the Parliament against Musharraf which were not well received in the Army. He gave a clear message that no institution had the right to undermine the prestige of any other institution and should refrain from crossing the Red Line.
Although his statement was aimed at bolstering the morale of the Army and not to protect Musharraf, it sent the liberals into ecstasy. They are vainly trying to create an impression that the Army is on the verge of losing patience over Musharraf’s trial and will no longer tolerate his humiliation and Army bashing. Earlier on, they tried to sell the idea that the Army is least interested in peace talks and is keen to start an operation in North Waziristan. It was also speculated that the Army was not in favor of release of militants. Yet another theme was that the Army had opposed government’s decision to send troops and arms to Syria in support of Syrian rebels in response to Saudi Arabia’s request. These onslaughts were aimed at creating misgivings and spoiling civil-military relations. The government has registered the message and the two forceful Khawajas have given out conciliatory statements which have eased tensions.
The writer is a retired Brig and a columnist. firstname.lastname@example.org