Friday, February 28, 2014

Daily Times Editorial March 1, 2014

The shape of things to come Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali has embarked it seems on what is being touted as an effort to weave the provinces into the security structure proposed by the federal government in its long-gestated National Security Policy (NSP). Within the parameters of the NSP, it is being reported, there is an ‘internal security policy’, which presumably means everything except aspects that impinge on the foreign policy of the country. As a start to this weaving process, the interior minister visited and addressed a press conference in Peshawar on Thursday, accompanied by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Shaukatullah Khan and Chief Minister Pervez Khattak. Of course it is undeniable that without bringing the federal and provincial, civilian and military intelligence, law enforcement and security forces under one roof, the struggle against terrorism will always be like fighting with one hand tied behind your back. The task is formidable however, not the least because of the plethora of intelligence- and security-related agencies (Chaudhry Nisar quoted a figure of 26 agencies the other day, while some observers count 33) as well as the history of mutual suspicion between civilian and military outfits. At the centre of the new security architecture, the government wants to place the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), although massive scepticism lingers whether an organisation that has failed to take off since its setting up and which is without even the minimum number of top officers is in a position to play this pivotal role. Unless the government revamps and strengthens NACTA as its first priority, it is likely to come a cropper at the very first stage. Unfortunately Chaudhry Nisar’s remarks in the Peshawar press conference once again exposed the contradiction at the heart of the NSP, as well as the continuing fond hopes and illusions on which the government’s approach seems to be based. The contradiction is the repeated desire of the government that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) return to talks, even while Chaudhry Nisar denies that there is any military operation going on and the notion that the government has demanded a unilateral ceasefire by the TTP, while perambulating around the steps it says it will take to put the anti-terrorism strategy on a sound organisational and coordinational footing. If the government genuinely believes the TTP will eventually see the light and return to the negotiating table, as reflected in virtually every government statement, why bother to spend Rs 32 billion to beef up and streamline the anti-terrorist structure? And if the latter is pursued, what signal will it send to the TTP and what will be its response? This contradiction may only be resolved in practice, especially if the so far awaited response of the TTP to the aerial bombardments it is undergoing in FATA turns out to be ‘an eye for an eye’. Since both sides then would be in retaliatory mode, giving tit-for-tat, the situation could conceivably and quite easily spiral beyond ‘retaliation’ and ‘containment’ and into all-out war. Chaudhry Nisar’s brave words about ‘other options’ if the talks fail notwithstanding, his guarded reference to groups that have never attacked Pakistan and with which his government is in touch has once again turned the spotlight on a possible return to the ‘good’ Taliban, ‘bad’ Taliban binary, which experience has shown exists only in the minds of its peddlers. Meanwhile terrorism stalks the land in all its multifarious avatars, the sectarian flare-up (again) in Karachi in recent days pointing to just how difficult and complex a task awaits the authorities. Whatever the TTP’s reply, whether war or peace, the government would be advised to keep its powder dry, pursue its plans through efficient and quick implementation, and iron out the anomalies that confront the proposed security architecture under the NSP before, not after, the TTP awakes from its temporary pause.

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