The biggest beneficiary of internal political and institutional polarisation and confrontation leading to chaos over the last few years in Pakistan has been extremist militancy.
It is rather ironic that in a country where violent extremism is generally regarded a threat to the very existence of the state and society, it hasn’t been able to focus on this threat.
Actually, Pakistan doesn’t have time for it as the deep state’s drive for weakening the civilian set up and the struggle for survival by the later keeps both sides too busy to spare time for anything else.
Even the well known national consensus that emerged after the massacre of innocent children in Army Public School (APS) Peshawar in December 2014 evaporated into thin air due to severe rift between the civil and military factions of ruling elites.
This rift was reflected by the Imran Khan and Tahir-Ul-Qadri led sit-in, in the heart of Islamabad with the declared aim of overthrowing the government that ended after considerably weakening the government.
This loud and at times violent agitation was supposed to have been “scripted” by players who didn’t want the civilian government to arraign General (retd.
) Musharraf before a special tribunal for abrogating the Constitution.
After the leakage of the so called Panama Papers in 2016 all the other issues have been pushed to the back burner to make room for process of accountability that by repeating the past practice has started and ended at the Prime Minister.
Consequently the civilian government that was already out of the driving seat of governance is further marginalised with a mostly symbolic role.
War on terror is the most important casualty of the civil-military power struggle.
For all practical purposes dealing with the extremist militancy is now the sole domain of the military.
But there are three important problems in this situation.
First there is practicality no civilian oversight of the military’s campaign against violent extremism.
For example the much publicised and prolonged military operation Zarb-e-Azb was supposed to have totally cleared FATA from all kinds of terrorists.
But the recent developments in the area have indicated that FATA remains far from cleared and not all kinds of terrorists were targeted.
The same is true of the operation Rad-ul-Fassad.
Secondly, counter terrorism has basically to be dealt with by the civilian armed forces in general and the police in particular.
But the over militarisation of the anti-terror campaign has kept the focus away from police to build the required capacity and take over the fight.
Third, due to the lack of full-fledged involvement of civilian government there is lack of political and societal ownership for the anti-extremist and anti terror campaign.
It is not rocket science to understand that kinetic actions alone cannot win the war against extremism and terrorism.
Now we have a fairly good idea why the 20 points National Action Plan (NAP) for eliminating extremism and terrorism approved by an All Parties Conference in December 2014 could not be implemented.
It is history by now.
lt has left major goals, such as mainstreaming FATA, reforming religious seminaries, disallowing proscribed organisations (suspected terrorists) to operate under new names, dismantling armed private militias and operationalising counter terrorism body NACTA and reforming and strengthening judiciary to prosecute terrorists, not only unfulfilled but almost forgotten.
The scariest thing is that the NAP hasn’t been replaced by anything else, leaving a huge vacuum in the national strategy against violent extremism.
As we know the big military operations and the intelligence based targeted actions of the law enforcement agencies in aftermath of Peshawar terrorist massacre of 2014 have mostly targeted “bad Taliban” like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TPT).
For “good Taliban” like Afghan Taliban (including Quetta Shura and Haqqani Network), JuD, JeM and many others, it has been business as usual.
As if this wasn’t enough the Hafiz Saeed-led banned LeT that was working under the new name of JuD has very recently entered the political arena as a registered political party.
It has been rebranded once again and the new name is Milli (national) Muslim League.
So far there is no official policy statement available on this development, but if some retired generals frequently appearing on TV talk shows are to be believed, there was pressure on the government in February to prepare a plan for deradicalisation by bringing certain “former” militant outfits in Punjab to political mainstream.
In fact, by bringing its candidate against Kulsoom Nawaz in the forthcoming bye election in Lahore on the seat vacated by the disqualification of Nawaz Sharif, the new outfit has clearly indicated its political orientation.
Like all other pro-establishment political entities these days it is also attacking Nawaz Sharif.
An important leader of a proscribed organisation from Jhang (Punjab) has already been allowed to become member of Punjab Assembly by the Election Commission some time ago.
Now we have an entire proscribed outfit entering the arena.
Welcome to the era of mainstreaming of violent extremism into political and parliamentary life in Pakistan.
The gravity of situation on militant front becomes further clear if we also factor in the growing foot print of the so-called IS in Pakistan.
After living in denial for quite some time government of Pakistan has gradually accepted the fact of the presence of elements connected with IS in Pakistan.
IS has claimed responsibility for a number of terrorist attacks inside Pakistan.
The Pakistan Army has publicly stated that recent operations in Khyber Agency were aimed at denying a foothold to elements connected with the so-called IS.
We also know that many IS cadres in Afghanistan (some of them killed in drone strikes) originally belong to areas in Pakistan.
In view of the facts mentioned above one doesn’t need to be a prophet to predict the dangerous consequences, in the not so distant future, of the lack of political will and lack of a comprehensive strategy along with implementation for defeating violent extremism.
Writer: Afrasiab Khan Khattak