Footnotes from `war on terror`

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BY N A Z IS H B R O H I | 1/3/2015 12:00:00 AM

A NEW narrative is in the making, that the fight against terrorism has been compromised because of civilian failures. That it has been lost so far is seared into our consciousness with the blood of 140 children. It is said that massive trauma can lead to partial or full amnesia. The emerging narrative seems to be counting on that.

While the army support for the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s and the Kashmir mujahideen in the 1990s and their mutating into local Taliban is often lamented, the pallbearers of that era are now relevant only as prime-time TV fodder. What needs more scrutiny is what happened in the early years of this round, the initial days of the `war on terror` from 2002 to 2006. This was the time span when the problem of Taliban terrorism was nascent, manageable and not so widespread. Since then, it`s become terminal.

We are now told we need military courts because civilian courts have freed terrorists. The conviction rate of terrorism cases has been abysmally low and prosecution lax no arguing with that but the TTP top hierarchy has never been brought to court.

Nek Mohammad, Abdullah Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud, Maulana Sadiq Noor, Fagir Muhammad, Sirajuddin Haqqani, Asmatullah Muawiya, Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mangal Bagh could roam around because of formal and informal peace deals that offered them amnesty. The formal accords included features such as demolishing army checl< posts, freeing arrested militants, promising not to arrest them again and returning their weapons, in return for them withdrawing their support to `foreign militants` The government, we are told, led these negotiation efforts in Fata. But the `government` in these cases invariably was the political agent directly under the governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. And from Musharraf`s October 1999 coup till 2008, when the democratically elected government took back the reins, throughout the `war on terror` , the KP governors have been men from the armed forces directly appointed by and reporting to GenMusharraf: Lt-Gen Muhammad Shafiq, then Lt-Gen Iftikhar Shah, followed by Commander Khalilur Rehman and later Lt-Gen Ali Jan Aurakzai.

Just because the economic sorcerers of the Musharraf regime decided that the pension of retired army men should come from the civilian portion of the GDP doesn`t make them civilians.

The very notion of civilian control of and responsibility for Fata is incredible. While the powers of the political agent have been corroded over the years, locally elected parliamentarians from the areas still cannot legislate for their areas. The Political Parties Act did not extend to Fata till 2008; people didn`t even have the right ofvote till1997.

Analysts have been emphasising the need for structural reforms in Fata as a long-term solution.

The Peshawar High Court noted in May 2014 that the internment centres across Fata and KP where high-level Taliban operatives are kept were being run by the army and not by the provincial government, in contravention of the law.

We are also being told that the civilian political leadership decried terrorism as not being our war.

Whatever opposition the politicians had, it was the army that sent the receipts of expenses incurred in fighting the war on terrorism for reimbursement to the US government. That doesn`t indicate ownership. They also accepted head money for Al Qaeda fugitives caught on behalf of the US. We remember the fracas over the then Kerry Lugar Bill that directed aid to the civilian government.

Earlier the strategy was to separate foreigners (meaning Al Qaeda) from local militants who could be convinced to stay peaceful, obfuscating the fact that they worked in sync for the same ends. The army went after Al Qaeda and protected the Taliban.

When the focus shifted decisively to the Taliban because of their escalating atrocities, the line emerged between the `good` and `bad` Taliban.

To be fair, there was vocal political opposition to army operations, specifically via the MMA coalition government of KP. While Jamaat-i-Islami`s Qazi Hussain bargained with Musharraf on the Legal Framework Order, the JUI-F was involved in peacedeals with militants in Fata. But when the TTP extended its operations beyond Swat to Buner, they implored parliament to act because the Taliban were 100 kilometres outside Islamabad.

Other political representatives are equally tainted. The PML-N`s close links with and courting of what are now called the Punjabi Taliban is well known. PTI wanted to negotiate with the Taliban and open TTP offices. ANP tried negotiations with them, citing flawed reasons and Swat was charred as a result. But there are mechanisms for holding them to account.

How do we do so for the army? In 2011, the Actions (in Aid of Civil Power) Regulations 2011 were passed to give the army leeway to tackle terrorism. The ante was upped through the Pakistan Protection Act 2014 which gave them sweeping powers. Now that is not enough either and they want military courts.

However, there are clear signs that there is a change in the army`s thinking evident even before the unspeakably horrendous Peshawar school massacre. The old guard whose formative experiences and hence fixations were along the eastern border has gone.

The current leadership now has battlefront experience of the north-western border; it has buried fellow soldiers and made countless sacrifices. They now seem to have the resolve to see this through and this is what we needed. The country needs them to fight the Taliban and to exert the state`s monopoly of violence. This is their constitutional mandate and Pakistan needs to stand by them while they are on the battlefield. But their track record does not merit a carte blanche.

Politicians need to step up to reclaim control and reclaim the narrative. And realise that they are answerable in a way the armed forces are not. For military courts to be ushered in through the democratic process is a stain that political parties will not be able to wash away.• The writer is a researcher and consultant. @Nazish Brohi

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