Lawlessness, Terror and a Common Insecurity
By Shireen M Mazari

The Jamia Hafsa saga of terrorization of civil society and of a continuing violation of the law of the land has the nation mesmerized in a state of disbelief and horror. Disbelief at the inability/reluctance of the state to exercise its writ; and horror at the prospect of civil society at large becoming hostage to the tyranny of the minority of extremists in our midst. After all, we are already seeing tyrannical decrees being issued by extremists in various parts of the Frontier province while the sectarian violence continues in Parachinar area quite oblivious to any effective state intervention.
The ineffectual writ of the state was also written large at the Sunni Tehreek (ST) rally in Karachi a year after the terrorist bombing in Nishtar Park. Last week's rally had the ST leader brandishing a sword and declaring his organization's intent to take the law into their own hands -- as he put it, "There will be arrests, bullets will fly, bodies will fall to the ground". And these are just a few of the more visible reflections of the violence and anarchy being threatened from within the country by a violent minority who are becoming increasingly emboldened into defying the law and the writ of the state. Is it any wonder that the rest of civil society is reflecting its options: either to succumb to the pressure of these obscurantists or to stay confined within the home and hearth -- with a few having the privilege of weighing a third option: that of seeking an exodus to safer and more positive climes.
To a large extent the malaise afflicting us presently is a result of our own internal dynamics -- especially where the state is seen to also be paying scant regard to the law. Be it the cops manhandling the non-functional chief justice or beating up unarmed protestors or attacking the offices of a television channel; or state institutions disregarding environmental and other laws; or local elected nazims misusing funds or harassing political rivals; or municipal organizations violating articles of the Constitution in a most brazen fashion -- the message being conveyed to the public at large is that the law can be violated if there is force to back up this violation.
Nor do we have to look far for such instances. Right in our capital we are now beset with the threat of vigilante action and the destruction of the city itself by the CDA. While we are focused on the former, the CDA boss continues to violate the Constitution with impunity, especially Article 26 of the Constitution which ensures non-discrimination in respect of access to public places. As part of his ongoing violations of this Article, he has now approved a membership-only golf course in the F-9 public park despite the fact that golf is an expensive and elitist sport. The argument that money needs to be raised to maintain the park is absurd since we pay property and other taxes to the CDA to maintain the city, including its public parks. But who is noticing these challenges to an already battered Constitution?
Adding to our domestic challenges is the mutating war on terror (WOT) under the US leadership, post-9/11. With a military-centric approach, the WOT has mutated into a war for pushing forward a dangerous global agenda of the US and its coalition of the willing and we are seeing Muslim states and civil societies becoming almost sole targets of the WOT -- given that state terrorism has been totally ignored in this "war".
From the invasion of Iraq, to the extra-legal advent of NATO into Afghanistan, the WOT, with a reckless approach to collateral damage, has created increasing space for terrorists. Additionally, the abuse of Muslim prisoners, at the illegal facility of Guantanamo Bay and at Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons manned by the occupying forces, has provided space for extremists to gain access into the hearts and minds of Muslim populations.
Fighting against terrorists meant fighting an asymmetric war which required unconventional strategies, since the goal was politico-military in terms of winning over the hearts and minds of targeted populations and thereby denying space to terrorists and extremists who could become future terrorists. Yet the strategy of using conventional military power never reflected this end goal. Conventional land, sea or air forces cannot successfully be pitted against the unconventional enemy -- especially where human intelligence networks have not been spread out effectively. Instead, local populations have arisen against the external powers and extremism and terrorism have gained space as they have become enmeshed with nationalism.
As for the US-NATO plug for the notion of "common security", there can be no such concept unless there is respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states within a particular neighborhood -- in our case the Gulf and South Asian neighborhoods. Yet we have a scenario in these regions -- both interlinked -- where there is an amassing of extra-regional military forces both in the Gulf and Indian Ocean region and in Central Asia and Afghanistan, alongside an ongoing effort by the US to destabilize and bring about regime change in one of the major regional states -- Iran. Then there is the destablization of the bilateral Pakistan-India nuclear deterrence as a result of the Indo-US nuclear agreement and military deal. Add to this the constant violations of Pakistan's sovereignty by US-NATO forces along the Pakistan-Afghanistan international border, accompanied by the cacophony of unfounded accusations against Pakistan from Karzai and NATO as the situation under their control worsens, and for countries like Pakistan these become threats that aggravate its long term security.
So there can be no common security notion as long as the intent is to target one state deliberately and destabilize or undermine another's security. Certainly part of the rise of extremism in Pakistan is a result of the external environment and the sense of Muslims being targeted or even victimized by the US and Europe. As it is, the domestic sectarian issue has become intertwined with transnational terrorism. Add to this news about the US actually using terrorist groups like Jundullah to conduct acts of terror against the Iranian state, and the security issue for Pakistan becomes even more intractable since the US media has been asserting that Pakistan's Balochistan territory is being used for these attacks. That no government of Pakistan would ever allow such criminal activity is a given since it would be undermining our own stability and security; but if the perception of the writ of the state being weak becomes widespread then external actors could become reckless enough to use our territory. And the US track record in terms of its relationship with Pakistan is not particularly comforting -- remember the U-2 incident?
It is ironic that the US is now supporting a terrorist outfit in the bizarrely mutating WOT. If the US can use one such outfit for its own ends, who is to say whether they may not be supporting other extremist outfits in Pakistan also, perhaps in our capital itself? It is no wonder, then, that the WOT has left the mainstream of the moderate Muslim Ummah under siege with a common sense of insecurity and terrorization from within and from outside.
(The writer is director general of the Institute of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The News)


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