Absence of Political Will

nawaz sharif meetingThe first meeting of the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS), the more powerful forum that has supplanted the erstwhile advisory body, the Cabinet Committee on Defence, turned out to be somewhat of a damp squib.

So many months of government talk about a new national security policy (which has still to see the light of day) and when the CCNS finally meets, what emerges is an exercise in illusion, if not delusion. The official statement issued after the meeting ruled out military action against the Taliban and promised to pursue peace only through talks.

Use of ‘other options’, it was stated, would only be the ‘last resort’. Chaired by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and comprising the top civilian and military leadership of the country, the CCNS focused on three issues: formulation of a national security strategy, internal security strategy, and relations with Afghanistan. The CCNS deliberated upon the government’s strategy to engage various groups of the Taliban. It is being claimed in media reports that contrary to the widespread public perception that there are no talks afoot with any Taliban group, the government is playing its cards close to the chest and has opened channels for dialogue with discrete groups of militants.

In this context, although the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has immediately rejected any efforts by the government to hold talks since it says this too is a dollar-hungry client government of the US and is preparing to attack the TTP, media reports speak of a sense of disillusionment on the part of the newly anointed leader of the TTP, Mullah Fazlullah, at some of his colleagues being prepared for or even actually engaging in talks with the authorities. He has as a result reportedly cut short his stay in North Waziristan and returned across the border to his safe haven in Kunar province. Now that the CCNS is also seized of the issue of security on the western border, an eye should be kept on the threat from cross-border forays (as in the past) by Mullah Fazlullah’s forces. The CCNS envisages development is critical for the fight against terrorism, especially for FATA.

It is a sad comment on the state of our polity that we are unable to see the wood for the trees as far as the struggle against terrorism is concerned. Even if it is conceded that the government’s position on dialogue with the Taliban may be a purely tactical one, accompanied by the belief that the TTP will not negotiate and the path will thereby be cleared for a military operation, it is the unrelenting emphasis in every statement by the government on peace through dialogue that may have the unintended effect of sapping whatever morale and will is still left for the fight.

The suspicion cannot be lightly dismissed therefore that the political leadership does not appear to have the stomach for what will inevitably be a protracted struggle against terrorism. The military on the other hand appears to be shielding behind the contention that without political ownership of the struggle, the army cannot conduct meaningful operations on the scale required against the terrorists. Some critics alarmingly argue that the Taliban infection has travelled to within the ranks of the security services, which makes any struggle against them risky in terms of internal cohesion. Even if this is dismissed as too alarmist a prognosis, the ease with which some prisons were broken in the recent past and terrorist prisoners in the hundreds released without a shot being fired is a worrying symptom of all not being well inside the security corridors of the state.

If the politicians are unwilling, the military reluctant for reasons of political ownership and internal issues, no military operation is likely to take place, much less succeed. Even if the TTP refuses to come to the table, and some factions do talk to the government, in the absence of a concerted military strategy against the terrorists, the most likely scenario is that things will remain pretty much the same: muddling through, hoping against hope, and getting bogged down in wishful thinking. Not exactly a recipe for a successful finish to what has by now been clearly defined as an existential internal threat. Despite all this, the ‘last resort’ may still assert itself despite all this lack of necessary political will. – Dailytimes