A Pakistani policeman stands guard at a

Image Courtesy: AFP/Arif Ali

 

It is by-election time, and not much has changed, on the ground at least, since the 11th of May. Choruses of rigged elections and political corruption still exist, and Pakistan’s volatile security hasn’t had much in the way of stability – 90 days and then some. But politics isn’t about what can be built in a day, or a month, or a year, and that is something that everyone seems to be learning ever so slowly.

Over the past few weeks, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) has finally developed a draft National Security Policy (NSP), which was sent over to the Prime Minister early this month. It seems comprehensive and serious enough – arguing for the need to recalibrate state machinery towards fighting terrorism by building police and judicial capacity, all the while signifying the importance of de-radicalizing Pakistani (or Pashtun) society. Perhaps though, the biggest problem with the draft NSP is its reliance on NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan as a substantive precursor for the impetus of de-radicalization. Much like the PTI’s misguided assertion that terrorism in Pakistan is acutely linked to the War on Terror, the NSP completely ignores both the historical significance of groups like the SSP or JeM and the radicalized hot-bed of Southern Punjab.

Pakistan’s biggest threat is not violence linked to Afghanistan, but the very real radicalism penetrating every pore of Pakistani society

Linking the Pakistani Taliban or extremism in the country to the US War on Terror doesn’t acknowledge the existence and preponderance of these groups beyond FATA. Neither does it appropriately deal with the intelligence agencies in Pakistan and their reliance, if not enablement, of the likes of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Focusing solely on the War on Terror and hoping that these militant groups would lay down their weapons as a result ignores the swathes of sectarian violence that Pakistan is firmly in the throes of.

Pakistan’s biggest threat is not violence linked to Afghanistan, but the very real radicalism penetrating every pore of Pakistani society. The middle and upper classes are being constantly targeted for financial support, while the lower classes are mined for jihadis and clergy that will only further disseminate sectarianism. Even more alarmingly is the institutionalization of these groups via various political parties (the JUI-F, for example, who are now disturbingly in an alliance with the ANP for NA-1, even if it’s a short-term electioneering tactic) and security agencies, which provide continuous and contingent cover to them.

During much of the election campaign, terrorism was reduced to a bite sized message, lost in the din of corruption, change, service delivery and other assorted paeans to democracy. Even then, much was made of the War on Terror and much was made of American imperialism, all the while ignoring Pakistan’s own imperialist tendencies vis-à-vis these extremist groups. The by-elections, so far, have followed the same pattern of ignoring terrorism or framing it within contextually disingenuous parameters.

Pakistan’s problems are myriad and complex, and terrorism in itself is a bastardization of society’s increasing radicalism and various extremist groups that pepper the country’s landscape. Even though the ANP and PTI were the two parties with consistent and coherent messages on terrorism, PTI’s message has found itself so diluted (and convoluted) that there’s not a single party in Pakistan that has a viable plan for countering terrorism beyond short-term or myopic fixes.

Though the draft NSP has much to be happy about, and if put in place and implemented with minimal obfuscation by Pakistan’s intelligence services, it might lead to progress in FATA and help alleviate Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s decimating fortune. With an All Parties Conference to follow before the finalized NSP is submitted to the Prime Minister, it would augur well on political parties to get a message together that deals with the varying strains of extremism in Pakistan, whether it’s sectarianism or radicalism.

Voters too still have a say, as these by-elections still have the potential to shift some power (or at the very least maintain the current balance) and therefore move politicians to a more open, transparent and expansive debate on terrorism and all its ills.