Tired and empty words


What can you say that hasn’t been said before? What wisdom can you spout, what startling insights reveal? Wars of any kind are tough business. If they are longish affairs, as the war in which we find ourselves is, they roll along and things happen and tragedies occur and people die. There are no instant solutions, no magic wand that you can wave and expect dramatic results to occur. In the real word it just doesn’t happen that way.

We are not part of the developed North. We are a third world country with our own geography, culture and history. As a society we have our strengths and weaknesses. We are great at charity, philanthropy and improvisation. We are less adept when it comes to organization and discipline. We can’t stand in a queue. When a road accident happens people gather and gawk and block the traffic. When a terrorist incident happens mayhem ensues, as we saw in Quetta…people rushing to the hospital and crowding the emergency ward.

It’s easy to say there should have been a security cordon around the hospital after the Balochistan Bar Association president, Bilal Anwar Kasi, was assassinated and his body was brought there. If the police had tried to stop lawyers from entering the hospital there would have been a riot. That’s how we are, how our society is. And the terrorists planned for just this eventuality, the suicide bomber setting off his deadly load in the hospital. This is not the first time such a thing has happened and we aren’t very good at learning our lessons. But hopefully after Quetta everyone will be more careful.

We should also learn to control and temper our words. When tragedy strikes mature and level-headed societies close ranks and present a united front. Even if there are security lapses, in the immediate aftermath of a tragic incident politicians and leaders don’t mount the housetops and lash out at the security forces, as we’ve seen some of them doing in the aftermath of Quetta. There is a time and occasion for everything. This was not the time for the kind of rant Mehmood Khan Achakzai went into about the intelligence agencies.

Achakzai is a showman who carries himself as if he is the sole champion of democracy and purveyor of the naked truth in this nation of 200 million people. Blunt and fearless Achakzai…he has made a career for himself out of this showmanship. Is he to be taken seriously? The likes of him and that pride of the faithful, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, are best ignored.

Pakistan faces an insurgency – an insurgency carried out by fighters who must be counted amongst the toughest in the world. The Americans are still in the midst of the longest war in their history and they have utterly failed to quell the insurgency in Afghanistan. We’ve been vastly more successful than the Americans in fighting our insurgency. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its many fellow-travellers – Chechens, Uzbeks, Arabs, the veritable jihadi rainbow across our skies – have been driven from their Waziristan hideouts and safe havens. This is no mean achievement. Peace or a semblance of it has been brought to Karachi. Terrorism is on the run.

But it hasn’t been defeated. The TTP and its various splinters and factions have gone over the border into adjoining provinces of Afghanistan, from where they continue to wage war against the Pakistani state. This is a guerrilla insurgency and guerrilla armies don’t advertise their presence by disclosing their locations on Facebook and Whatsapp. They operate from the shadows, in that twilight zone where appearance and reality mix and are not easily separated. It so easy for us armchair warriors to ask, why aren’t the terrorists caught? Why aren’t they crushed? If only words and stirring declarations could do the trick.

Afghanistan remains on the boil. The insurgents aren’t about to enter Kabul. But neither are the Afghan government and its American backers about to crush the insurgents. This is going to be a long drawn-out affair. An unsettled Afghanistan with safe havens for insurgents fighting the Pakistani state will remain a problem for Pakistan – just as safe havens on our side of the Durand Line for insurgents fighting the Kabul government means trouble for that government. The cross-border situation is to a large extent inter-locked.

Giving advice on Afghanistan is easy and no one is better at this than our American friends. What prevented them from applying the same nostrums themselves? The world’s most powerful military machine failing to bring peace to Afghanistan and influential Americans blaming Pakistan for that failure. In the Vietnam War the Americans said that North Vietnamese supply routes passing through Cambodia – the so-called Ho Chi Minh trail – were the problem, preventing victory in Vietnam. So they started bombing Cambodia and laid that country to waste.

Let’s not forget the basics: Afghanistan is a destroyed country and would collapse further but for American assistance. Iraq stands destroyed. Syria is in the throes of a deadly civil war. Libya is no longer a functioning country. The US and its blundering policies are responsible for much of this mayhem. Pakistan is keeping its head above this turmoil because of the resilience of its people and the strength of its armed forces. Let’s not lose sight of the larger picture.

Terrorism and insurgency are thus not going to disappear overnight. This is an ongoing struggle which will test the limits of our endurance and resolve. Incidents such as the Quetta bombing have happened before and will happen again. The terrorists have the advantage of surprise and choice of target. Any chink in our armour, any vulnerability or weakness, and they will exploit it.

So the nation has to be more prepared, more vigilant. There has to be better leadership and we have to curb the tendency to utter irresponsible words or come to judgement about RAW or the CPEC before the evidence is in. The confusing statements after the Quetta incident give a poor impression of us as a nation. Incidents like this will happen. Leaders will be safe behind their security cordons. They should have no fear about themselves. The poor and defenceless will die. Even so, let us cultivate the Stoic or Spartan virtues: brevity, reticence of manner, composure under pressure, steely resolve.

We shouldn’t’ just say that we are a nation at war. We should look like a nation in a state of war. For this certain requirements have to be met. The military must move away from its real-estate proclivities. Enough of defence housing authorities. It won’t be easy, and such changes don’t happen overnight, but senior ranks must try to revert to the old standards of austerity. Martyrdom and real-estate frenzy don’t mix well together.

And the political class, especially the ruling setup, if it is to have any relevance in this ongoing struggle it must draw a line between the business of government and its business interests. The ruling setup is into enough money…how much more does it want? Let it be clearly understood that commission mafias – and they are into everything, from power plants to other infra-structure projects – cannot lead a nation at war.

Let the nation be trained and educated. Let its priorities be right. Only inspired and clean leadership can achieve this goal.