Dealing with the NSA problem | Fahd Husain

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Here’s a thought: how about we let India’s Modi-Media Alliance stew in its own toxic juice and turn to something a bit closer to home — like the NSAs.

National Security Advisers these certainly are not. Although there’s much to talk about the two NSAs — Nasir Janjua and Ajit Doval — there is much more to talk about the other NSAs who perhaps are more crucial to Pakistan-India relations than Janjua and Doval: the Non-State Actors.

JuD, JeM, LeT, NSAs — never have a potpourri of acronyms spelt so much inter-state turbulence once thrown together in an alphabet soup of geo-political one-upmanship. But are the contours of the debate around these NSAs now slowly morphing into the post-utility stage?

For years now we have locked ourselves into the ‘are-they-an-asset-or-liability’ discourse. Plenty of heavy arguments have been exchanged in support of both viewpoints ranging from naïve idealism to harsh and cynical realpolitik. From the NSAs genesis in the 1980s at the Afghan war theatre to their invigorated presence across larger swathes of territory in the 1990s to the post-9/11 realignment of forces and the turning tide against the use of proxies, the NSAs have been a major factor in sustaining, intensifying and escalating conflicts across many continents. At various times for various countries in various ways, these NSAs have served a useful purpose on the chessboard of inter-state pulls and pushes. Their overt and covert use as part of official and unofficial policies is now well documented in books, articles and autobiographical narratives of power players.

But at some point the NSAs stopped being kosher.

When this happened can be debated. Was it when the Americans stopped having any use for them? Or when the NSAs started biting the hand that used to feed them dollars? Or when they broke off their strings and charged ahead with their independent transnational agendas?

What matters more is that the use of NSAs as a covert and deniable extension of state policy is now almost completely bereft of international legitimacy. This does not mean NSAs will start disappearing into the sunset, but it does spell out in fairly clear terms that countries using NSAs will do so at a certain escalating cost. If these countries are willing to bear the brunt of these costs, so be it.

For us in Pakistan, this cost is measured in the fifty thousand people butchered at the hands of NSAs, many supported, financed and armed by Indian and Afghan intelligence agencies. For more than a decade we continued to absorb this cost in human lives because for many of the policymakers the cost was below the threshold of changing state policy. The massacre of our children in the Army Public School Peshawar finally pushed us over the threshold.

Or did it?

We had nurtured for ourselves a whole rainbow of NSAs. With time their level of acceptability began to fluctuate as their priorities collided with our policies and finally we waged war against those who had started waging war against us a long time ago. The delay is measured in blood years.

It is also now measured in the alphabets outlawed versus those who are not. So TTP, SSP, LeJ are out while JuD, JeM, LeT are not. And yet, the debate over their utility may also have changed since yesteryear.

Does the Establishment then really still root for the NSAs as an extension of state policy? Is the high command oblivious to the dictates of times and the evolution of global and regional priorities? Is it incapable of doing simple math and calculating the costs and benefits accrued with the continuing use of NSAs?

The answers perhaps are less black and white than some would prefer to believe. India can massacre twelve-year-old unarmed boys in Occupied Kashmir with pellet guns and there isn’t a murmur of condemnation from influential capitals but an attack on the Indian occupying forces in Uri raises a storm of protest across the world. Why? There could be many answers one of which is that state oppression is still considered less of a crime than violence through the use of NSAs.

So yes there will still be some who will argue that the benefit of using NSAs outweighs their cost, but these numbers will surely be dwindling. The bigger question is not whether they are useful, but what to do with them. And that’s where real work needs to happen both in Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

The solution lies in a joint Herculean civil-military effort to ‘decommission’ the NSAs so that, among other things, the state oppression in Indian Occupied Kashmir comes into greater global focus. This decommissioning project will need delicate handling that may include selective use of legitimate force as well as political incentives to bring the groups back into the social fold.

JuD for example has an impressive infrastructure and experience of humanitarian work. This opens up a world of possibilities for the State to re-orient the organisation and re-channel its ideological energies and expertise to social and charitable work. There’s even talk of encouraging them into the political process and helping them take part in elections. Does this sound too simplistic? Perhaps. But this is where State and governmental expertise, resources and clout come into play.

But some elements within the NSAs will not be amenable to a state-sponsored re-orientation effort. That’s where some ‘tough love’ will need to come into play to overcome such resistance.

The State will have to launch a massive exercise to undo the role that NSAs have played here. There are slim chances that our Kashmir policy will be adversely affected by this exercise. In fact, the legitimacy of our legal and moral position on Kashmir will stand in stark contrast to the Indian occupying force killing, maiming and blinding unarmed protestors in IOK. As the saying goes, never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake. India is committing a blunder in Occupied Kashmir and it makes no sense for us or the NSAs to interrupt it.

Let the Indians fall into the hole they are digging for themselves in Occupied Kashmir while we crawl out of the one we dug for ourselves here at home.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 9th, 2016.