Lt. Gen. (retd) Tariq Khan
The government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem.
We are an accommodative nation abounding in conspiracy theories, rumours and labels. No one understands that we, as a nation and society, are held hostage to ignorance and stupidity.
Our economy is in shambles and a semiliterate accountant rolls his pearls of wisdom while the fan club sits in wonder trying to pick up nuggets of wisdom from the utter nonsense he rattles off.
No nation has suffered from a lack of intellectual capacity and functional collapse the way we have and, then, having destroyed the little that we ourselves built, such as our airlines and steel mills, we continue bravely on our journey to self-destruction. Rumours, romantic narratives and divine interventions are the stuff of our conversations – ‘economic hitman’, ‘hybrid warfare’, ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘the only Muslim nuclear State’ are the oft-repeated words and phrases we get to hear from pseudo-intellectuals. Every office at every level has some imbecile sitting in a chair of pomp and authority, oblivious to his own lack of qualification and competence.
Being who we are, we have forgotten how great names assisted in the making of this country. The Nawab of Bahawalpur budgeted the nation’s pay and allowances in the early days, we do not even know who organised and successfully steered the referendum for the NWFP to join Pakistan against a sitting Provincial Government of the Congress. Or then how the three lashkars of the Pushtuns won parts of Jammu and Kashmir and facilitated the army operations later. We do not recollect that entrepreneurs left home and hearth in India to set up enterprises in Pakistan giving it the little industry it has. How Dawood set up industries in the then East Pakistan and lost it in 1971. He then reestablished it in whatever remained of Pakistan only to lose it to Bhutto’s Nationalisation Programme. Determined and relentless, the family name resurfaced in the corporate world and lives on even today, contributing to the economy of Pakistan. Yet we curse the elite and mistake upstarts for feudal. Those who grabbed land and became lords are now guests of honour at our gatherings and parties. Zardari is a good example but he is neither feudal, nor can ever be one. The Nawab of Kalabagh was and many more such as him who contributed towards the development of Pakistan. Yet, people in their enthusiasm to find someone to fault and others to blame have made it fashionable to accuse the elite and the feudals – labels that they picked up while studying overseas. It sounds bold, so all-knowing, so with-the-times but nowhere near truth.
We are in the hands of incompetent leadership. The country today is somewhat like a plane in the flight with a monkey in the cockpit.
‘Default’ and ‘TTP’, the buzzwords these days, are the problems of our own making. I shall leave the default issue for another time – a product of greed, corruption and total lack of capacity – and instead focus on TTP, the pressing issue of the times we live in. There is a rumour that some sort of a policy was made under which it was decided to negotiate with these criminals. I suppose there is a point to all this madness. After all, if the Sharif brothers can be absolved of all the crimes they did, why not the TTP? Nevertheless, I for one am curious to meet or at the least see the gentlemen who advocated the soft approach and negotiations with the TTP. I would really like to see what makes such a person tick, how he lives and what are his values just for the benefit of my own education. I am certain that the people, whoever they are, do not belong to the KP areas, aren’t Pushtuns, haven’t been employed in any combat and have never served in the border regions but have somehow convinced the powers that be that, despite their total lack of experience or exposure in such matters, they are the only experts around.
They bask in glory for the two minutes of attention that illuminates them as they let fly their oratory, not bothered about the damage they are about to unleash.
This was done in the merger of Swat where the FCR was removed and our constitution forced upon them, which, when it failed, was once again replaced by the same FCR. The people questioned as to why the State insisted on applying a constitution that had failed everywhere else in the country but they were never given any explanation. So we had the dubious distinction of having a settled area administered by a PA and a tribal area governed by a DC. We merged Chitral with a different geography, language, ethnicity and language into the Malakand Division. Having made a mess of the whole matter, handed over the Division to Sufi Muhammed and allowed for a parallel constitution – nizam-e-adl – to be applied. All the while, the courts sat in silence and watched this aberration and travesty of administration and governance blatantly unfold before them. They watched in criminal silence when a girl was spreadeagled in public and whipped, when people were executed on the streets under a parallel justice system – all this while ‘giving peace a chance’.
We then fought to free the people that the State had abandoned, when the State was in search for a cheap acquittal and looked for an easy way out. We wrested freedom from militancy with great loss of life, treasure and sacrifices by many, bringing normalcy and peace to the region. This progressed from agency to agency as young men fought and were willing to lay down their lives to preserve this country and protect this nation. Having cleared 48000 sq kms of combat zone from local and foreign militants and after having expelled them to Nooristan and Kunar areas of Afghanistan, we suddenly find our supra-intellectual stalwarts crawling out of the woodwork, to proffer their unsolicited logic and reasoning – ‘give peace a chance’. They choose to forget how the Kohat Tunnel was closed and the Indus Highway blocked or how the international airport in Peshawar remained closed. They tend to forget there were bomb blasts every day and we lost 80,000 precious lives in this callous conflict that had no purpose and no strategy. Yet our leadership, instead of focusing on the problem, its causes and how to contain it, glorified shahadat and were readily available for photoshoots as they hugged and kissed the relatives of the shaheed with feigned sincerity and crocodile tears. Compensations were announced and a show of solidarity with the bereaved was always on full display. Hypocrisy at its best! No inquiry was ever held to determine as to where, why and how these causalities occurred. Was it a lapse, an accident, violation of procedure, bad planning or limited leadership? We may never know. The facts will remain hidden behind the subterfuge of cheap popularity drawing political mileage from every shahadat. In this blessed state, no one is ever held accountable.
Instead of learning lessons from the past and reconciling with our own lack of capacity to undertake such matters, we pressed on. Our champions of freedom and democracy proceeded to merge FATA just as they had done with Swat. The FCR is an abominable law, they screamed at the public, as if the conflict in FATA was only over the FCR.
Some of us appeared at seminars, talk shows and wrote studies that they were going about it the wrong way and that there were better ways to do this and it needed time. Every argument was brushed aside by the little people in big offices, who were in a hurry and had other agendas as they went ahead anyway. The mushers (tribal leaders) looked on in amazement as to how matters such as that of the qaumi zameen (land revenue) and niqat (proportional compensation) would be resolved amongst many other tribal matters usually dealt with by the jirga law. Now we have landed ourselves in double jeopardy: the PTM and the TTP, both up against the State for wrong reasons but reasons provided by our own stupidity. Where are our sleuths, political geniuses and the champions of freedom and democracy now? Their names should be listed and they should all be bundled off to the tribal areas to resolve the mess that they are responsible for. They keep doing it again and again; it’s time for some accountability, some white paper to be initiated for posterity, some investigation at least.
This was a pointless exercise, going down the dubious road to nowhere, negotiating with the Taliban and subordinating the State of Pakistan to the Afghan Government who have been elevated to the ranks of interlocutors. Now having discovered the pitfalls of such a foolish plan resulting in failure, corrective measures need to be put into place immediately. In my own limited wisdom, I tried on numerous occasions to contribute towards establishing a way-forward policy. I always felt till now that I was giving my opinion based on limited access to information and intelligence and that those who were handling the matter had a better understanding than I did. I was wrong; we were always in the hands of clueless, incompetent, ignorant people whose sole method to madness was giving power-point presentations that made them look knowledgeable.
The immediate need is to put together a planning cell that should be dealing with the matter. Its head should be independent and function under the minister of interior. He should be allowed to construct a functional team comprising civilian and military officials of his own choosing. He should report to the parliament and update them about what’s happening and get approvals for the plans he may have, the budget he demands and the way forward. He should have access to all intelligence agencies, police and law enforcement. His plans must include military application paving the way for a political solution and political initiatives sustaining military successes. The plan should be sustainable, permanent and realistic. It must include a pro-active intelligence entity, border management, dealing with Afghan agencies across the border, Afghan refugee control and integrate the local leadership into all developments related to the region.
To our armchair experts, let me inform you that we, as a country, are not suffering from elite capture, feudal mindset, economic hitman or hybrid war or any other such fancy label. We, as a nation, are hostage to unscrupulous gangsters, land-grabbers and blackmailers. They live amongst us as we fawn and scrape before them begging for a little attention and for the little scraps thrown our way. They have invaded our drawing rooms, our parlours, our homes. You will find these grinning despots amongst friends, relatives and benefactors – they are neither elite nor feudal, just small people in high office, opportunists who wield disproportionate influence in managing our affairs. We are suffering the consequences of a total lack of merit, limited awareness, poor education system, semi-literacy, poor upbringing, nepotism and parochialism. These traits are wantonly paraded by every individual and institution time and time again, whenever given half a chance, and are further aggravated by mega-corruption, extremism and no rule of law.
I do not agree that Pakistan is primarily suffering from terrorism; it simply doesn’t have the government that has the capacity to implement normal routine law and order or apply the justice system in letter and spirit. Whether it is the Chotu Gang in the Rojan Forests, or violence on the streets of Karachi, land-mafia, separatist pretensions in Baluchistan or the TTP’s hypocritical demand for Sharia, our government lacks the political will and the justice system has no wherewithal to implement the law. As we slink around blaming the feudal mindset and elite capture, we are living the moment where government is firmly in the hands of foolish, stupid and ignorant people.
So if it is survival that we are in search of, then let it be understood that the government, the political system, police or the justice system will not and cannot deliver in the shape that they are in now. It lies in a technocratic government of wise people. Matters have gone beyond normal political dispensation. There is no political solution to Pakistan’s problems and a carefully crafted technical plan (apolitical) needs to be structured to deal with the economic misery we are about to spin into and to restructure our routine administration towards functionality. Development and opportunity structuring needs to be undertaken on an emergency footing. The education system must be reviewed in its entirety to improve the teaching staff, facilities, syllabus and learning outcomes. The justice system must become a justice-giving system and not just another necessary process to validate crime. The police must be depoliticised and made independent and self-governing. Merit has to come to the forefront; our practice to subsidise mediocrity must stop. I know, most would ask how we can get such a government and, for that, there are answers but first we must be all reconciled that this sham of a democracy, the political structure, the justice system, the policing have all failed and can no longer deliver. I also know that a lot of people would question my resolve and feel that I have failed to mention the role of the Army in contributing towards this state of poor governance. The Army is not relevant to these reforms and if any reforms are undertaken for/by the Army, they would be done so as to improve their own efficiency, conduct, functionality and application, but that has nothing to do with the state governance.
Lt. Gen. Tariq Khan retired as head of Pakistan’s Central Command and has led the Frontier Corps to victory against TTP.