Beyond the use of power

By Sahibzada Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

(This article was published in Daily The Post on Sunday, August 9, 2009)

The fourth phase of return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) of Swat and Malakand division is successfully on its way towards completion. It should be a matter of immense satisfaction for both government and people alike that thousands of families, which got displaced from their homes following the initiation of military operation against terrorists, are finally able to travel back. The successful rehabilitation of IDPs and resumption of normal life in the affected areas would be instrumental in restoring the confidence of people in the government and state structures. While the immediate task of securing the areas and purging them of militants has been accomplished, it is time for policy makers to fathom the crux of problem and evolve a dynamic and comprehensive strategy to turn this tactical gain into strategic success. The following points are instructive in this regard:

For any long-term strategic policy to be successful and result-oriented, it is important to understand the ins and outs of the problem and identify the factors which gave birth to the phenomenon of terrorism and extremism in our own midst.

To begin with, the state’s sponsorship and patronage of particular religious school of thought during Afghan Jihad sowed the seeds of extremism in the country. The obsession of the Establishment with such notion as ‘strategic depth’ coupled with its propensity to use these forces for its narrow political agendas further complicated the problem in the decade of 1990s. There was little realization of the deadly damage this Frankenstein monster would cause in the event of turnaround in national policy following change in regional and international political scene. The lack of ‘exit strategy’ aimed at diluting the lethal effect of such extremist forces proved detrimental in the end.

The mushroom growth of religious seminaries, which was made possible due to unhindered and undocumented flow of foreign money, added to the severity of the problem. With foreign money came the sectarian influences, ideas and ideology. It caused the mass scale indoctrination of people. Such notions as accommodation, respect for dissent, tolerance and peaceful coexistence, which were the hallmark of the cosmopolitan Pakistani society, were the first casualty. The state chose to be indifferent to the ‘slow poisoning’ as some analysts have put it for it needed such elements for protection of its interests at home and abroad.

Other factors such as lack of good governance & education, expensive justice system, unemployment, and widening gaps between haves and have-nots provided breeding ground for recruitment of the disgruntled youth.

Thus the problem of homegrown extremism and terrorism turns out to be complex and multi-faceted, not merely an administrative issue involving the challenge to the writ of the state. It requires comprehensive and long-term policy framework worked out in consultation with all the stakeholders for complete elimination. While the military operation was the first and foremost part of the long drawn out battle, turning the military success into elimination of the factors which breed the scourge of terrorism and extremism remains the key challenge requiring dynamism, statesmanship, sustained engagement, emphasis on the use of soft power and to top it all ‘out of box’ thinking as major policy planks for success.

The government needs to go beyond the policy of three Ds (Dialogue, development and deterrence) to formulation of comprehensive reform package aimed at winning the battle for ‘hearts & minds’. The policy of three Ds is short-term in nature, which spells out the impression of having been worked out as a reaction. More proactive response that goes beyond the use of hard power is the need of the hour in an attempt to find lasting solution. Consider the following:

To begin with, successful rehabilitation of IDPs and development of infrastructure to their complete satisfaction is the first major and immediate task before the government. Instilling the feeling of security is of equal importance in regaining the confidence of people in the ability and willingness of the government to protect its citizens, which was battered by the emergence of the Taliban when there was virtually no writ of the state in the region. The presidential announcement of building up an army cantonment is a welcome step in this regard.

The state needs to invest in systems and structures aimed at correcting the religious approach of people. Mind you it is battle of ideas and people can only be won over if their mindsets are transformed. It is possible by allowing people access to diverse ideas, opinions and viewpoints and forgoing its previous practice of patronizing a particular school of thought for vested interests. Instead of taking sides, the state should stay neutral in religious affairs.

There is a need to register and document the religious seminaries. The reform of their syllabi and structure is very important as this would provide students an opportunity to look at other angles and develop respect for dissent.

The establishment of good governance is a key to achieving stability and securing the region against influences of terrorism and extremism. There is a need to make arrangements for cheap and accessible justice system, quality and job-oriented education, efficient & corruption-free administration, creation of and access to economic opportunities through job employment etc.

Federally Administered Tribal Areas needs to be integrated with mainstream Pakistan in a phased manner through political reforms because stability in FATA is closely linked with the stability of the settled areas of NWFP, thanks to geography and uniformity of culture, history, traditions, race and language etc.

To top it all, the state needs to regain the space it has gradually lost to non-state forces. It is possible if it is able to assure its citizens that it is there to take their care and mete out even-handed treatment. The state should play a motherly role through implementation of welfare-oriented policies. It calls for renewal of social contract between the state and its citizens and the onus lies on the state and its institutions to take the initiative this time round. This in return necessitates the continuation of democracy & representative rule which ends the alienation of people and includes them into the decision-making.

(The writer is a PhD candidate in Economics at an Australian University)