A second agreement with the militants in Lahore followed quickly on the heels of the ominous capitulation in Islamabad. The plot thickens, and so does blood.
The level of regression that has set in is amply demonstrated by the decision that the fate of the resignations of the ruling party’s legislators, and that of the provincial home minister, will be decided by a Sargodha-based religious cleric. The crisis was averted on the intervention of the provincial chief minister who promised that he would personally call on the cleric to have the matter settled.
Simultaneously, the drum-beats of assault on the institutions of the state are gradually rising to a deafening crescendo. The veiled innuendos are disappearing as the judiciary and the military come under scathing frontal attack.
The whimpering of hollow conspiracies is also rampant across the country consuming a lot of space and time. One such concoction alleges that there are efforts afoot to postpone elections and induct a government of technocrats to undertake accountability. Yet, the Senate and other seats of power remain hostage, failing to move forward in approving the bill for delimitations to set the ball rolling for holding the next elections. Meanwhile, those — some of whom have manoeuvred to have their entire families inducted into senior positions within the government — are rising vociferously in support of the now disqualified prime minister, vowing to vote him in, yet again.
As internal strife deepens and the tentacles of militancy spread within the country, the external pressure on Pakistan mounts to bring about radical changes in its policies, particularly the one dealing with terror outfits.
One may say that there is nothing new in this as this has been orchestrated since long and this, too, will pass. But, the question that rattles many minds is: will this actually pass like the rest? If yes, and with home-grown terror outfits gaining more power and relevance, at what cost to the state and the people?
Even if one were to accept the hypothesis that one should not cede to external pressure, how should one handle the growing conviction that doing this is in Pakistan’s interest also?
The two most recent interactions with these new-born bands of militants have ended with the state ceding immeasurable more ground to them. Its immediate shocks have been felt in the shape of intense criticism emanating from multidimensional stakeholders, but its medium- and long-term impact could be harrowing. All pundits converge on the immense negativity that it has already generated worldwide. Simultaneously, it has obliterated even the last remnants of writ the state was left with.
Notwithstanding the speeches and proclamations including the one from the founding father which he made on the floor of the first constituent assembly of the country and which is now debated more in the context of its technicalities rather than its content and spirit, Pakistan could never become a country void of exercising venomous discrimination among its own people. Unfortunately, the measuring spectrum of things good and bad has been painfully myopic, bending to breaking point to accommodate the viewpoint of the regressive and the degenerate. With the passage of time, this influence has assumed the shape of a rampaging philosophy where those who disagree, this scribe being one of the poor lot, are condemned to live in perpetual fear.
It appears that the state, and those who commandeer its fate, have resigned to the marauding hydra of militancy and have come to the conclusion that fighting the scourge may not be the best of options, more so because the country to the West of our border lacks the capacity, capability and the will to stop the onslaught from spreading. They may, therefore, have opted for a rationale of coexistence and the two most recent settlements with militant brands may spell the contours of a grand compromise on the anvil.
Add to that the spectre of mainstreaming some of these terrorist groups and giving them a political role. Two such terror groups turned political outfits have already taken part in bye-elections with not very unimpressive showings. The recently-freed Hafiz Saeed has also announced his intention to participate in the next elections. There will be many more of such-like militants doing so in the coming days.
In the last few years, the world has transited from fighting terror to ‘talking’ to it. The narrative now gaining ground is that there is no harm in taking the less brutal of them (read Taliban) on board to fight the more brutal of them (read ISIS). In a few words, this is abominably crass and short-sighted. What is the guarantee that these militant bands that one makes peace with, and whom one takes up as partners in fighting conceivably more deadly bands of militants, will decide to de-radicalise out of goodwill and become the guys dedicated to the cause of democracy, enlightenment and egalitarianism? What if they don’t? Who will fight them then when they have gained more power, even a level of legitimacy?
Or, do we look forward to having these militants as permanent partners thereafter on a bit-of-them and a bit-of-us basis? In that event, who will stop them from acting like the proverbial camel and taking over the whole tent by driving others out in the cold?
There is growing consensus within the rest of the world that it is time for Pakistan to shed its past role and change course. With countries of the world not having succeeded in controlling the hydra of terror — due to a combination of errors including ones of their own making — the focus is back on Pakistan. This time around, there is a heightened level of urgency associated with the undertaking.
I see very difficult times for Pakistan ahead. It must change — not as much for the world as for itself. There is no prospect of peaceful long-term cohabitation with terror, its handlers, perpetrators and sponsors. They belong to a world apart. Thinking of living with any form, hew or shade of terror is an erroneous mechanism. It should not be even a distant prospect unless we give up Pakistan as a regressive theocratic state, hand over its charge to these bands of militants and slide back into antiquity.
Fighting them is the only option. And time, apparently, is not on our side.