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Capacity and Willingness of the State to control all the militant groups in Pakistan are two different issues. Can the State really put the genie back into the bottle? Is the genie willing to get back?

Conflict Reader # 12, 1 January 2017

Pakistan
State vs Militant Groups: What if the Genie has a mind of its own?

CR Analysis

D. Suba Chandran
Professor
International Strategic and Security Studies Programme (ISSSP)
National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore

There is a general perception within Pakistan, that today, the nation does not differentiate between the “good” and “bad” Taliban, leading to a new paradigm involving the State, Society and Militants.

What is this new paradigm? While many at the civil society level are keen to put the militant genie back into the bottle, do every one within the Establishment share the same enthusiasm? Is there a section within the political and military Establishments that sees militants in terms of good and bad?

Two more important questions on this issue relates to the capacity of the State to deal with the militants and the willingness of the jihadi groups to get rolled back. Can the State really put the genie back into the bottle? Is the genie willing to get back?

The new paradigm that the civil society is talking today in Pakistan relates to their own resolve to fight the militants, and that of the State to combat and neutralize them. Three issues are important while discussing this new paradigm in Pakistan. Is the Civil Society in Pakistan against the violence perpetrated by the militant groups, or against them and their ideology in principle? Is the State’s effort aimed at completely neutralizing the jihadi groups and their ideology, or only focussed on bringing them under their own control, as it existed pre-9/11? Finally, is the State capable of creating an environment – social and economic, that would be competitive and not provide any substantial space for the jihadi groups and their ideologies to influence the civil society?

Is the Civil Society only against violence, or against the jihadis and their ideologies?

This is an important question that will have a crucial impact on the future of not only Pakistan, but also the entire region. The pressure from the civil society has been one of the most crucial components in State’s proactive response against the militant groups. How far will the civil society go in pushing the case? Will it call for the complete annihilation of these groups, their infrastructure and their ideologies? Or, will it fall short?

Peshawar attack undoubtedly has been an important event. The society has been shaken and is angry. Rightly so. But will the same sense of anger prevail against all forms of violence perpetrated by a small fraction in the name of religion? What has been the response of the civil society relating to the assassination of Salman Taseer, attacks on Imambargas, Shias, Ahmediyas etc? Unfortunately, the same senses of anger or condemnations do not exist. Even if there is, it does not have the same intensity that has forced the government to take proactive measures after Peshawar attack.

In fact, the attack on school children in Peshawar in December 2014 would not have happened, if such a resolve existed during the last two decades, when the militant groups were on a rampage against the minority communities in Pakistan. Their ideology would not have found support, had the civil society rejected the case against Ahmediyas and the blasphemy legislations that became the tool in the hands of select few against the minority communities.

The civil society will find it difficult to succeed in Pakistan, if its fight is narrowly focussed. Those who are using suicide bombs against the Sufi shrines and school children did not start abruptly. They started decades ago, supported by a sectionwithin the civil society, social organisations, political groups and parties, and finally the intelligence and military. The media, even today, perhaps unintentionally (with a section perhaps otherwise) provide the much needed space for those who support and believe in radical ideologies.

The civil society will also not be able to succeed, if it is buoyed with so much of anti-West, anti-Indian and multiple other “anti” sentiments. The jihadi groups and their patrons abuse this inherent sentiment to suit their purpose. While some of these sentiments are fed by different groups within the State and vested interests to perpetuate their monopoly, rest of them have been blown out of proportion by regular ill informed debates at various levels. Not only in Pakistan, but in the entire South Asian region, there have been such ill informed debates, at times carefully planted and nurtured by a select few. This vitiates the entire atmosphere and provides the space for hate and anger.

The shift in paradigm will come only when the civil society distance itself from the militant groups and their ideologies. Simply condemning violence alone will not be sufficient. A crucial first step has been taken; now the civil society has to walk the talk in Pakistan.

Is the Establishment aim at neutralizing the jihadis and their ideology, or simply want to bring them under its control?

The State has certain crucial measures during the last two months in Pakistan. The most important being the creation of military courts to deal with terrorists, banning certain militant groups and freezing the accounts of some other.

While the State seems to be serious in neutralizing those who have been attacking it, one is not sure whether the intensity and response is the same when it comes to the Afghan Taliban, Huqqani Network and the Lashkar-e-Toiba. Though statements have been made that the distinction between good and bad Taliban now cease to exist, actions during the last two months have created more confusion than providing clarity.

The State looks serious in fighting the TTP. The renewed measure as a part of its military offensive in the tribal regions and the neutralization of scores of Taliban militants belonging to the TTP clearly indicates the above. 

But why is the State lukewarm in extending the same approach towards the Huqqani network and the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD)? While the TTP is being hounded in the FATA, the State has only frozen the JuD’s bank accounts; Hafiz Saeed is still being provided with State security. From analysts writing for media in Pakistan to its Supreme Court, many are confused about State’s approach towards the JuD and Huqqani network.

So, what is the new paradigm, as far as the State is concerned in fighting militancy? Is it only fighting those who have turned against and gone rogue?

Such an approach will backfire. The Establishment seems to be fighting only the symptoms of anti-State activities, and not the reasons that have provided the space for the jihadi groups to find root in Pakistan in the first place. The real problem in this context is the long term perception of India and Afghanistan by the Establishment and the use of proxies. Unless the Establishment changes this basic perception, the larger paradigm that provides a crucial space for jihadi groups is unlikely to change.

Besides the willingness, a larger question is related to the capacity of the State in Pakistan, if it decides to fight back. Unlike other States, for example Afghanistan, the capacity of the State in Pakistan has not been questioned. At least, until now. If it leaves the genie to expand further and gather a critical mass both inside and outside Pakistan, the question of capacity may also come into to the equation.

Militant Groups in Pakistan: Is the Genie willing to go back?

Perhaps, this is the most important question when people talk about a paradigm shift in Pakistan vis-a-vis the militant groups. True, there may have been external reasons for their emergence few decades ago. The State may have played a role in creating and nurturing them earlier, to be its proxies to fight the former’s battle both within and outside Pakistan. 

Now, there is a realization amongst a section that the above strategy has started backfiring, there is a roll back. Will the proxies will remain committed to their patrons in the changed atmosphere? Or during the process they have developed their own objectives and fighting their own battles? Certainly the Taliban has turned back and is not willing to go down. How about the JuD and Huqqani network?

The larger problem for Pakistan will not emanate from the Master’s changed heart to put the Genie back in bottle. Rather, it will come from whether the Genie wants to go back. The situation will become worse for rest of the region, if the Genie finds the bottle small, and wants a bigger space!

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