State failure or failed state?

By Abbas Nasir (Dawn) That Osama bin Laden lived in urban Pakistan undiscovered by the authorities or with their connivance was bad enough; that the US Special Forces were able to find and eliminate him deep inside our country was clearly an intelligence failure for which heads should have rolled. But, of course, since the blame for this failure could be laid squarely on the country’s so-called premier intelligence agency, as such matters are its responsibility alone, the then director-general made a perfunctory offer before parliament to resign. This particular officer’s claim to fame to this day is his disdain for civilian politicians and the elected set-up. So, our elected public representative saw an opportunity to keep him onside by pleasing him. They didn’t accept his offered resignation. In fact, he was lauded for the ‘unprecedented’ gesture. Perish the thought that anybody will ever be held responsible for the disaster that has made the country ungovernable. A judicial commission was indeed set up. The fate of its findings was no different than those of dozens of others that have looked into instances of catastrophic national shame. No targeted blame was assigned. Therefore, the possibility of accountability did not arise. Our country today is bedevilled with militancy of every conceivable denomination. Each strand can be traced to a state policy of waging jihad via proxies more commonly known as non-state actors to further Pakistan’s perceived foreign/security policy goals. Perish the thought that anybody has been, or will ever be, held responsible for this unmitigated disaster that has made the country virtually ungovernable and claimed tens of thousands of lives. The victims have either been innocent bystanders or those battling this existential threat as the monster turned on the creator. In a better-late-than-never move, the new army leadership has finally taken a decision to take on some elements of this threat. The army has patted itself on the back, with partial justification, for pre-empting a ‘blowback’ for its anti-TTP operations through intelligence-based operations in many urban areas including Karachi. However, as has been witnessed on many an occasion in the past, the militants are in the process of morphing and now joining avowedly sectarian outfits. This serves two purposes. First, the TTP type militant finds protection as many key decision-makers of the state apparently still believe that these sectarian outfits have utility in the event of external aggression and allow them to operate quite freely. Secondly, the sectarian TTP members, which used the anti-imperialist cloak so effectively that even popular national leaders fell for it, then carry on with their activities as before with impunity. What else would explain the spurt in sectarian murders all across the country and particularly in Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and in areas such as the Kurram Agency? The Taliban threat wasn’t dealt with firmly for years as many in the intelligence set-up had influenced opinion so favourably in the upper echelons of the military of these ‘God-fearing, patriotic fighters’ that no action was taken till they became an outright existential threat. A similar lethargy (or is it complicity?) is in evidence in taking head-on this sectarian monster. No matter how numerically limited believers of their ideology may be the sectarian takfiri groups have enormous firepower and clearly seem to operate with no fear of the law. Balochistan offers an interesting case. The military-led law and order apparatus, which includes the paramilitary Frontier Corps and Rangers as well as an undisclosed number of ISI officials and agents, has been in a lead role in the province for nearly 10 years. During this time, hundreds if not thousands of Baloch of all ages have disappeared only for their families to find their tortured, tormented bodies dumped later in public places. And these were the fortunate ones since, despite their agony, they were able to bury their loved ones and get closure. There are many others whose loved ones disappeared without a trace. They must exist in living hell, waiting for their loved ones even as they fear finding them. Many believe that the Baloch separatists have now started targeting even non-Baloch poor labourers and that this is a sign of their frustration because they are finding it hard to target their main foe, the security forces. The brutal anti-separatist operation where human rights have been openly violated, some argue, has been that effective. So, where the authorities want they can smother any threat. Frankly, Operation Zarb-i-Azb so far, since its launch in North Waziristan, leads one to the same conclusion. It is continuing apace with the military now controlling infinitely more space than it did before. In the process, many TTP bastions have been flattened as has happened with many IED-making factories which provided the militants with the bombs with which to wreak havoc, whether they were targeting military convoys or city centres. Shia Hazaras, particularly those in Quetta, will tell you that dismantling Lashkar-i-Jhangvi sanctuaries is as important as overrunning IED factories as they are equally lethal. They’ll argue that putting a lid on hate speech in their city should be a much greater priority than muzzling Baloch nationalist sentiment. Ask a Shia Hazara in Quetta today and don’t blame him/her for seeing Pakistan as a failed state. Imprisoned in their own homes with many unable to step out of their two ghettoes to educate themselves, earn a living or do as other Pakistanis do, this is their reality. The state has failed them miserably. If this dangerous drift continues the state will have failed itself too. So much so that it may forfeit the right to call itself a viable entity. Many patriots will take umbrage with this assessment but what else will Pakistan be when its key institutions fail to stand up for it? The writer is a former editor of Dawn.]]>

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