On Sept 22, the Afghan government signed a peace agreement with one of the country’s most notorious warlords, in a deal aimed at coaxing the Afghan Taliban and other militant groups to sign similar accords. Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, designated a global terrorist by the US, entered into this deal on behalf of Hezb-i-Islami, the militant group that he founded. Under the agreement, Hekmatyar is to be included in “all government decisions and actions” and members of his organisation “will also be integrated into the Afghan armed forces and government ministries”. Moreover, he will receive compensation for what the agreement describes as hitherto unfair exclusion from government.
President Ghani will now ask the United Nations to remove Hezb-i-Islami from its list of foreign terrorist organisations and lift sanctions against its members. In exchange, Hekmatyar agreed to a permanent ceasefire, to disband the organisation’s military structure and sever all other terrorist links. Simply put, the Afghan and the US authorities are hoping the accord will chip away at Taliban support by enticing disgruntled commanders to reach their own deals with the government.
Some security experts also feel that, provided Hekmatyar’s return to a role in the Afghan government succeeds in unifying the various political and militant factions of Hezb-i-Islami, it could emerge as one of the country’s most powerful political parties. Is this wishful thinking or, as often attempted in the past, political engineering?
It is only the state machinery that can disrupt the business of the militants, lest they end up unravelling the state itself.
I first encountered the power of militants and non-state actors when I was posted as SP in Quetta in 1981. After my experience in Punjab, this felt very new. I wanted to learn more about the city and the province’s police force. I spent practically every night patrolling the streets and localities, particularly areas where large communities of Afghan refugees had recently emerged.
One night, I came across a pick-up full of armed Pakhtuns. Kalashnikov culture was beginning to take root. As a police officer from Punjab, this was new to me and unacceptable. I called several police mobiles to intercept the vehicle. When we eventually found them, each of them had a Kalashnikov. When asked if they possessed arms licences, they stared back, surprised. I asked the sub-inspector with me to take them to the nearest police station. He tried to mumble something in my ear, but I brushed him aside.
As I reached the police station, the station clerk told me the IG wanted to talk to me. IG? Why, what happened? The phone rang again, IG house operator on the line: “Sir, IG Sahib for you.” It was past midnight. “Tariq, have you gone mad?” the polite and usually calm IG thundered. “What sir? No sir! What happened sir?” I barely managed to utter. He said, “Gen Zia was on line. You arrested Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Don’t you know who he is and what he means for the Afghan jihad?” I then realised what the sub-inspector had been trying to tell me. And I, a total stranger, had the cheek to bring the mujahideen commander and his companions to the police station. And for what, possession of unlicensed weapons? “Sorry sir. They will be released after due formalities.” “Fine, do what needs to be done.” The IG hung up after complementing me for being vigilant late at night in Quetta.
I informed the SSP and had the duty magistrate release the men on surety bonds. However, the unlicensed weapons were not handed over. Let them go through the legal or administrative formalities to retrieve them, I thought. As a state functionary, I had to make them realise they could not move about in police jurisdiction with impunity. The writ of the state was important to me.
No non-state actor can exist without support from visible or invisible state elements and certain external players
Following 1979, jihad became an instrument of state policy as non-state actors were inducted in one militant organisation after another. The first Pakistani group was formed in 1980 by students of the prominent Deobandi madressah, Jamia Uloom-ul-Islami, and named Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami. The architect of this policy was none other than the military head of the state. We, the functionaries of the state, were required to look the other way. The resulting erosion of the state’s authority led to the nation paying a heavy price in terms of gun running, drugs, targeted killings and organised crime, including violent extremism. People tend to blame the police for disorder and violence, without delving into the root causes of large-scale violence and militancy in society.
Based on my four decades of law-enforcement experience I can assert, without fear of contradiction, that no non-state actor can exist without support from visible or invisible state elements and certain external players. A vigilant state and society can certainly defeat their nefarious designs. The counterterrorism National Action Plan was, essentially, the manifestation of national resolve to not only do away with distinctions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban but to eventually undertake surgical strikes against widespread militancy from our polity.
For this to happen a comprehensive review of NAP is urgently needed, because even after two years of targeting the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and its affiliates, militancy still manages to operate with relative impunity. This cannot go on; erstwhile strategic assets are battle-hardened enough to take on elements of the state that create or sponsor them. Violence is their business. It is only the state machinery that can and should disrupt the business of the militants, lest they end up unravelling the state itself.
I propose the following four-point national agenda: One, adherence to the rule of law that guarantees individual rights and freedoms, equal opportunities to realise the national potential by creating an environment for social stability and economic development. Two, ensure social justice so that all citizens live with dignity and honour, irrespective of their caste or creed. Three, achieve the tolerance so critical to building harmony through unity in diversity. Four, institutions must take precedence over individuals, irrespective of rank and authority.
In short, the ascendancy of rule of law, culture of tolerance and justice is vital for national security. Failure is not an option in order to survive as a self-respecting nation. (Courtesy the Dawn)
By Tariq Khosa
The writer is a former police officer.
THE PASHTUN TIMES