08172019Headline:

Extremism on left and right by Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi

In response to one of my writings a reader sent me a message that why everything is upside down in Pakistan. Traditionally liberal left is against war while right is pro war. In Pakistan it is the reverse liberal left is demanding military action while conservative right is seeking accommodation and dialogue. It is an interesting observation and requires some detailed deliberation. After 911 America decided to come back to the earlier abandoned land of Afghanistan and teach a lesson to Taliban regime there for harboring Al-Qaeda. America sought support from the purveyor of enlightened moderation General Pervez Musharraf and his brigade of liberals. They embraced American adventurism and assured them full cooperation without any pre-condition or in depth analysis of its repercussions. To reward this support America and its NATO allies not only provided coalition support fund as well as elevated Pakistan to a status of closest ally after NATO. At personal level General Musharraf was offered an opportunity to make millions from publishing a book and become darling of the speaking circuit charging a lucrative fee for each engagement. This produced a charade of false sense of economic progress and relative security. Western trained and enlightened individuals like Shaukat Aziz descended upon Pakistan to make it a model liberal country. General Musharraf established his leftist liberal credentials by adopting Kemalism as his ideology and even expressed desire to normalize ties with Israel.

At the start of latest Afghan war there was a coalition government (from 2003 to 2008) of right wing parties in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province that included Jamat-e-Islami, JUI-F and JUI-S among others. One would expect that these right wing parties will oppose General Musharraf in supporting a foreign invasion of a neighboring Muslim country. But these right wing parties had their own game plan. They eagerly welcomed and facilitated the lone superpower to enter the grave yard of civilizations. They felt it is much more convenient to play the struggle of civilizations in their own back yard rather than leave it to non-state actors in far off lands. These political parties had support in all segments of the society including security and bureaucratic establishment. In the end this war in Afghanistan cost American nation over 1.2 trillion dollars (direct cost $641.7 billion according to CSIS.org) in treasure producing a broken economy; a tarnished image around the world as an aggressive power; and thousands of wounds in terms of families of dead soldiers as well as disabled that are going to bleed for a long time.

In 2008, regime of General Musharraf was replaced by left wing parties in center (PPP) and KP province (ANP). These governments continued their support for war on terror and allowed increased American drone strikes that produced an environment suitable for expansion of extremism and demoralization of the whole nation. In 2013 general elections, militants decided to spare the right wing parties allowing them to engage in an elaborate election campaign producing governments in center and KP. This coincided with the departure of foreign forces from Afghanistan and set the stage for a final showdown between left and right.

The real casualty of these wrong policies of extreme left and right was the moderate majority of Pakistanis. This silent majority wants to lead normal lives focusing on small matters of family and friends. They have been pushed and pulled by people of these extreme right and left to choose a side rather than remain neutral. In the last 12 years of being a frontline state in war on terror, the people of Pakistan suffered deaths over 60,000 innocent lives; lost around 3500 soldiers and policemen; economic loss of over 100 billion dollars and severely broken social fabric. Despite these heavy loses extreme left and right now want to bring this war to Pakistan for a final battle. Once again they are ignoring the risks involved in this all out war and the ground realities.

The realty is that Pakistan has become a land of covert operations with agents of almost all countries operating for their own interests. It is now a public fact that CIA runs its largest operation in Pakistan spending over 59 billion dollars a year. This means they have an elaborate network of agents that are not just American citizens but also many Pakistanis as well. It will be foolish to assume that agents from other nations are not present like Russia, China, Germany, India, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and all those nations that feel their national security is threatened from militancy in Af-pak border. Once a military operation starts, these covert agents will play their own game to protect or secure their national interests. Are our counter-intelligence apparatus sufficiently resourced to tackle this situation? If we can’t answer this question then we should think twice before engaging in a military operation.

Militants are aware that the status quo can not prevail for long and there will be a final show down sooner or later. These militants are experts in shadow war and guerrilla operations rather than a conventional war. They have set-up sleeper cells across the country. These cells will activate when a military operation is launched at their stronghold. These acts of terror will be meant to win the psychological war and break the will of the nation to engage in a prolonged war of eradicating militancy. All those that are promoting engaging in war or dialogue without any red lines are supporting militants. We have to send a clear message that as a nation state everyone has to respect the constitution and no one can be allowed to challenge the writ of the state.

We must never forget that wars are not fought by soldiers but nations. This means that when politicians are divided then it produces a divided nation which is a sure recipe to lose. It is important to unite against extremism of all kinds only then any military operation will succeed. Military planners are aware of these risks and that their training is more suited for a conventional war rather than a guerrilla war spread across the country. Militants have shown time and again that instead of facing a military operation they prefer to disperse in the settled areas and then reconvene later at the time of their own choosing. To fight this war with extremism, we have to strengthen the law enforcement in cities; increase civilian intelligence capability; address social injustices and offer a political solution in the tribal areas.

There is high probability that military operation will produce a wave of terrorist attacks which will aggravate the already precarious economic situation producing poverty that could result in social unrest. We have to prepare a contingency plan to counter this backlash and maintain economic stability during military operations against militants.

What should be done in this situation? The best course to adopt in this scenario is to talk to those militant groups that are willing to give up their weapons and are willing to become part of the mainstream. In the meantime capabilities of civilian law enforcement and intelligence should be improved on an urgent basis. Counter-intelligence operation should be initiated to contain influence of foreign operatives coupled with a diplomatic effort to gain support from neighbors and allies. A consensus should be developed to face the consequences of a military operation and a political solution should be developed for immediate implementation once the area is cleared. Resources should be allocated to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of lives in tribal areas. We need an all-encompassing solution to this national crisis. Band aid will not work for a cancer that we have willingly adopted from a foreign patient.

Extremism of left and right is divisive. We have to find a common ground in the middle so that we can work together in building a stronger nation.

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