Poverty of Policy-Making on Terrorism

Pakistan’s role in the Washington-led ‘war on terrorism’ promises to remain a matter of great internal acrimony until we do not formulate a policy that conceptually, politically and operationally locates it within the context of our own national interest and in-keeping with our own Constitution and legal frameworks. So is there a national interests dimension to our participation? Yes there is. Pakistan does face an acute internal security crisis. This and this alone is the broad formulation of our national challenge. It is within this broad formulation that elements like suicide bombings, rising militancy, foreign militants, al-Qaeda presence, rising sectarian killings, receding write of the State, US pressures, Pakistan’s UN obligations, the external factor, Pakistan-Afghan border situation, must be placed and then comprehensively examined for policy options available to Pakistan.

Instead of such a formulation there are numerous examples that manifest at best confusion and at worst the continuing poverty of policy-making especially where tackling militancy and terrorism is concerned. Three recent examples are noteworthy. First official Pakistan’s response to the first ever US ground attack on Pakistani territory and Pakistani civilians was neither coherent nor sustained. Pakistani women and children killed in South Waziristan were killed late night by US soldiers who opened fire on sleeping men, women and children. Pakistan’s response to the attacks included the passage of a parliament resolution condemning the attack, the then presidential candidate Asif Zardari and the Foreign Secretary separately summoned and reprimanded the US Ambassador, the Chairman Joint Chief of Staff Committee announcing that another attack will force Pakistan to take action, , the army chief canceling a meeting with an Islamabad-based US Major General.

A less publicized letter was written to US government by the Pakistani national security advisor complaining to his counterpart that the ground attack was a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. An initial Pakistani reaction of using the leverage its enjoys over the NATO and US forces stopping supplies through Pakistan was hurriedly reversed and the Americans were informed the supply was stopped due to security reasons. All these noises notwithstanding US aerial missile attacks have increased killing hardly any al-Qaeda operatives but leaving civilians dead. Significantly the army chief General Parvez Kayani and the DGMO Lt General Pasha met with the US General Mullen, the CENTCOM chief and the US General based in Afghanistan on –”board US carrier Lincoln prior to the ground attack. The only information regarding this meeting was that the American praised Pakistani handling of "terrorist elements."

The second example of our policy confusion and perhaps lack of transparency are Washington’s statements about Pakistan’s cooperation convey complete satisfaction with the cooperation being extended by Pakistan. What is the basis of this satisfaction while the government of Pakistan is publicly angered by the ongoing US attacks? How does the new government explain this unless there are new unpublicized rules of engagement that have been agreed upon? Either way some explanation by the government is required.

The third and most recent example of a lack of policy coherence flows from the newly elected President’s statements made at his inaugural press conference held jointly with the Afghan President. President Asif Ali Zardari’s first articulation of the problems accrued to Pakistan from internal terrorism, from a destabilized Afghanistan and from Washington’s attacks on Pakistani territory raised several questions. For example when he was asked about the government’s to US’s continued attacks on Pakistan, instead of using the opportunity to emphasize commitment to Pakistan’s sovereignty and integrity, he merely stated that the government had registered its complaint. Karzai used stronger words to reprimand US for killing Afghan civilians. Admittedly words do not substitute action yet they reveal mindsets and understanding.

Somewhat perplexing was the President’s response to a rather naïve yet logical question that would he call the US government terrorists for the deliberate killing of women and children Pakistan. Zardari said that the Americans are there in Afghanistan under the UN sanction, if you want to call the UN a terrorist organization then you can do so." This rather incomprehensible statement is counterfactual too. The ISAF and not US forces are based in US ground attack as we have now been While under UNSC 1373 resolution all UN member states are obliged to cooperate in UN-sanctioned international efforts to curb terrorism, equally all nations under article 51 of the UN charter have the right to act in self-defense.

More importantly attacks on Pakistani territory and Pakistani civilians have been carried out by US drones and US forces and not by UN-sanctioned forces executing a UN mandate. In fact Washington has already informed the government that the September 4 ground assault was CIA-operation undertaken by a CIA contingent- a far cry from a UN-mandated operation. Only NATO led ISAF forces, in which only 14,000 US troops are inducted, are present under UN sanctions. By contrast the exclusively American military mission Enduring Freedom, which commands 19000 US troops, is not in Afghanistan under a US not UN mandate. Pakistan’s democratically elected president must be aware of these facts as he steps into global limelight via first press conference. More importantly despite his humble rhetoric that he will follow in China the brief that the Foreign office , the Prime Minister and the cabinet will give him, President Zardari’s direct engagement with various US interlocutors over the contours of Pakistan-US policy warrants sounder briefing of the President by relevant institutions.

Then there was also how the President of Pakistan did not frame the regional problem of terrorism and of militancy and how his guest the Afghan president did. It is good diplomacy to invite a neighboring President to attempt to amicably sort out problems of distrust. However it is a sign of debilitating diplomacy that while allowing space to the visiting President to candidly underscore problems that he believes lie in Pakistan, the host opts not to even allude gently and diplomatically to the globally acknowledged problems that exist within Afghanistan. President Zardari needed to say more than just that "we will together solve problems together."

It was striking that the Afghan president felt confident enough to stand by strong allegations made by him in the recent past against Pakistan’s institutions, yet Pakistan’s President underscored that a chunk of the problem also flowed from the political and security disarray that currently prevails within Afghanistan. Whatever the private conversation public diplomacy, conducted for example through the joint press conference, required the President, like his Afghan counterpart, to put across the Pakistan-Afghan problem in the broader context. Surely the new President does recognize that if on the one hand Pakistan has suffered from unconstitutional military ascendancy in policy making and internal institutional clashes, the problems within Afghanistan continue to contribute to our problems ranging from militancy to terrorism.

Pakistan’s new government must remain mindful of the fact that, while ignoring the political and security havoc created by US policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, no less in Palestine, Pakistan is being increasingly framed as the root cause of terrorism and militancy. While admittedly there are aspects of our acute internal security crisis that contribute to the worsening of the regional problem of terrorism and of militancy, the vice versa is also true. The foremost task at this stage is to formulate broad policy parameters for tackling Pakistan’s internal security crisis. Such policy parameters must include strengthening of law enforcement, outlining elements of counter-insurgency policy, tackling the external regional and international dimension through political dialogue, diplomacy and where necessary security cooperation formulating a tackling insurgency.

Ultimately, the entire policy must be framed within the context of Pakistan’s core interests and priorities; those that will best promote and protect the rights, security and prosperity of the people of Pakistan. Until policy parameters are not laid out within the national context, while factoring in external concerns and interests, Pakistan will continue on the path of reactive and destabilizing response to external pressures. If Pakistan continues to travel along such a path it risks turning into a Lebanon-like weak State, a fragmented polity and a strife-torn society. In the eighties got sucked into a US-supported regional mess losing the peace, progress and tranquility that it enjoyed in the pre-eighties era.

In this age of indispensable multilateralism, in trade, security and even politics, Pakistan must not be paralyzed by fear of economic meltdowns. Rhetoric aside interdependency means nations have a stake in each other survival and stability. Pakistan has multiple avenues of economic and security engagements. It must make take to policy-making with competence, confidence and rationality, remain realistically mindful of the linkages and leverages and strategic realities that are available to it, and abandon fear as a policy motive.