The curse of resilience


We have become a strange people. Over 60,000 civilians, who never signed up for any war, have had their lives claimed by terrorism while going about their daily business.

As families of casualties weep over their irreparable losses and the rest of the citizens live with the mortal threat of having lives sucked out of them any moment, the state continues to treat us all as collateral for its grand ‘strategic’ designs. And then it has the audacity to claim that we are a resilient nation. Why are we so resilient in face of slaughter?

Quetta lost an entire generation of lawyers and civil rights advocates last week. But it didn’t plan to sacrifice these educated and vocal sons of the soil. They were taken from it wrongfully. Balochistan, as well as families of victims, needed them to live. Baz Muhammad Kakar’s seven-year-old son will never really get to know his father other than through stories narrated by others of his speaking truth to power. Have we given this child any option but to be resilient?

It takes a distinct variety of Machiavellian craft to weave together a narrative of resilience to hide the incompetence and mediocrity of those who run our state. This Machiavellianism has some identifiable features. The first is presenting failure as success with such confidence that even the victims get confused for a while on whether they are missing the big picture.

In this regard our civil-military leaders were truly on the same page after Quetta. ISPR’s explanation for the carnage was that terrorists are shifting focus to Balochistan after being defeated in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The civilian side was even more inane and insinuated that terrorists choosing soft targets is proof that the war against them has succeeded. Are Balochistan and KP two ‘fronts’ in a traditional war? Aren’t soft targets a natural choice in the non-kinetic fourth generation war we are in? Is effective blowback in urban areas evidence of successful ops in KP?

Can we imagine another country where after 71 civilians lose their lives in a terror attack a grand message can be delivered by the civil-military leadership in unison that those asking whether the national security policy and strategy are good enough are in fact enemy agents? Can we imagine another place where within a week of victims of terror being buried there emerges talk of elevating the army chief to the post of field marshal for winning a war and obliterating terror from our beloved homeland?

The second feature of this Machiavellianism is separation of power from responsibility, the willing embrace of the former and abdication of the latter. This is where our civil-military imbalance and the gap between the theory and reality of power and responsibility as distributed between civil and military institutions are most handy for khakis and civvies alike.

Over the years the military has become our predominant internal security agency too. Balochistan has been under its control for as long as one can remember. So pronounced is this reality that the National Action Plan had to state that in the interest of political reconciliation the Balochistan government will be given complete authority by all stakeholders. The Rangers recently sought police powers across Sindh and permission to establish their own police stations. Those opposing these demands, even on the ground that this would further weaken an already dilapidated police, were chided for being fifth columnists.

Amongst the intelligence agencies, ISI and MI fall within the military’s domain, and they are the ones leading intelligence-based operations against terrorists. It was these agencies that coordinated the war effort when Pakistan participated in the ‘good’ Afghan Jihad in the 80s alongside the US. Has there been a point in our history when the control and ‘safekeeping’ of assets developed for the purpose (militias and seminaries producing them) was handed over to the civilians?

Now consider the following goals of NAP and which of them fall within actual control of civilian institutions: banning armed militias; banning ‘banned’ outfits; regularising and reforming madressahs; destroying the communication systems of terror organisations; giving no space to extremism in any part of Punjab; giving provincial intelligence agencies access to communication of terrorists, etc. Can local police shut down our LeTs and JeMs? Do civilian agencies control our policy toward the Afghan Taliban or their cousins in Pakistan?

In theory Shahbaz Sharif and IGP Punjab should be able to shut down Muridke or Masood Azhar’s outfit in Bahawalpur. What about the real world? In theory, the ISI reports to the prime minister. But during the 90s every time a prime minister took this theoretical reporting line seriously, he or she learnt a lesson the hard way. In theory, chief ministers head apex committees formed under NAP. In practice, the functioning of NAP in Sindh over the last year aptly projects the gap between theory and practice.

But this isn’t about absolving our good-for-nothing civilian leaders.

The 20-point NAP doesn’t include a word about reorganising the police or making it a functional internal security agency capable of any good. There is also no reason to believe that our civilian institutions/leaders wish to dismantle and eradicate the infrastructure of extremism (that produces raw material for terror and also functions as its sanctuary) presently alive and well in Pakistan. The consensus amongst civil-military leaders in favour of the ugly status quo when it comes to extremism is not coercive but conformist.

The larger point here is that our civil-military divide has become a responsibility absolver for both civilian and military leaders. When things go wrong the military points to civilian incompetence as well as overall civilian responsibility for running the state as inscribed in the law. And the civilians in turn shrug their shoulders, act all helpless and gesture meekly towards where ‘real power’ resides.

Another feature of our Machiavellianism is myopic priorities. The wretched of Pakistan continue to bear the brunt of our mighty state’s obsession with strategic depth. No one has bothered to calculate the cost this ill-conceived doctrine has inflicted on our poor country. After Quetta one fears that the CPEC might be emerging as the new strategic project meant to feed our state’s longing for greatness, and in whose name ‘sacrifices’ will continue to extracted from hapless citizens.

A sub-feature of myopic priorities is illogical reasoning. Up until APS, the war on terror, the evolution of TTP and their ilk was the West’s grand conspiracy against the Muslim world. After Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan was next in line we kept hearing. This was a land of milk and honey up until 9/11 we were told, and that in fighting our own people we were being trapped into a war that wasn’t our own. So every time terror struck, we were conditioned to abuse the West instead of asking what we needed to be done to make ourselves safe.

APS changed some of that. But Quetta seems to have taken us back in time. This time the bogeyman is India. The question isn’t whether India is our friend or foe, but why we have allowed conditions to evolve within our country where it is so easy for foes to conspire against us successfully. Let us assume that India will do everything in its power to hurt us. What do we need to do then to ensure that India or any other country is unable to use our citizens as weapons against us?

But the most problematic feature of our state narrative is to use sacrifices of soldiers as a shield to deflect criticism against failed policies. No one in their right mind would question the courage and gallantry of those giving their lives to protect fellow countrymen.

What is being questioned are the priorities and ability of those responsible for evolving policies to protect our country’s interests and the lives of its citizens (including those of soldiers). Hiding behind martyrs to shun accountability will not get us anywhere.