Breakdown or crackdown

The deadly attack on the Police Training College, Quetta again calls for national introspection and revision of flaws in our security paradigms and systems as an angry (‘wutburger’ or enraged citizen in German) Imran Khan persists on his threat to lockdown the capital. Breakdown or crackdown is the question being asked in the capital amid national mourning over five dozen of our young police cadets.

More than the capital is at stake as the power struggle gets complicated, with the delay in either extending the tenure of the incumbent COAS or nominating the next army chief. By now the necessary consultations regarding the next army chief must have been completed and the prime minister must not delay the decision anymore to plug the main source of uncertainty and rumour-mongering. At the same time, he must reach some agreement with the opposition in parliament on the terms of reference for the accountability of all who are named in the Panama leaks.

Even though the Supreme Court has come forward as a legitimate arbitrator in the cases filed against the prime minister and some others named in the Panama leaks, Imran Khan is not inclined to take a legal course.          In his illusion, or at someone’s behest, he is bent upon creating a constitutional breakdown and pushing the situation to a point where the army is forced to intervene, as used to happen in the 1990s.        If that happens, even after the 18thAmendment, that will not only be a terrible reversal of the democratic process, but also place an isolated Pakistan in much more adverse perspectives in the world.

What Imran Khan will gain out of it is quite mindboggling. He is neither offering a viable revolutionary alternative, nor can he force all the governments to resign and force the dissolution of all assemblies, including his own government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to pave the way for general elections that he cannot possibly win at this point. By creating mayhem he can, at best, get the opposition’s ToRs accepted or, at worse, become an instrument in the hands of extremist forces or some kind of an adventurer the nation can least afford.

He is building anger among the diverse angry sections of our society without any positive direction. Breaking ranks with the mainstream parliamentary parties, Khan is building a very dangerous coalition with the extremist forces who want to retrieve the space they have lost and/or derail the system they hate. This is dangerous brinkmanship that can jeopardise the whole system and benefit the undemocratic forces, outlawed groups and terrorist outfits.

Already, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar has reversed some of the restrictions imposed on certain extremist elements and banned outfits, after the Difa-e-Pakistan Council showed its inclination to join forces with Imran Khan. Yet the banned terrorist outfits are weighing their options on how best to use the PTI’s offensive against the civilian government to attain their own objectives.

There is some kind of concurrence of positions across diverse and even conflicting elements. Behind a noble and moralist cause of accountability of the corrupt, the religious right would be able to pursue its agenda while benefiting from the ambiguous right-wing inclinations of the PTI. This will also further push the PML-N towards capitulation to ultra-right-wing forces.

Given the conflicting tendencies among the various elements of the establishment to both appease and fight violent extremists, a precarious balance of forces can tilt towards the extremist. Imran Khan, in his frenzy and impetuosity, perhaps doesn’t understand that the kind of forces he is unleashing would consummate his populism.

As opposed to this domestic scenario, Pakistan is increasingly coming under pressure from the international community, including our friends and sceptical partners, to abandon what it perceives to be a dualist stratagem of both keeping and fighting non-state actors. Despite the resoluteness of Operation Zarb-Azb, certain proxies continue to exploit the inconsistencies across the borders and bring Pakistan in conflict with its neighbours.

The war on terror in Pakistan has entered a stage where any negligence or concession to any extremist element will not help our national cause to free our land from the menace of terrorism. The terrorists are using inter-state conflicts to their advantage across tense borders.

There is a great urgency to change our erstwhile policies towards the jihadis. Either we force the Afghan Taliban to accept the ceasefire and enter into negotiations with the Afghan government or they are evicted from wherever they are in our territory. And, in return, the Afghan government and its allied forces must ensure that anti-Pakistan elements do not find any refuge or support from any element in Afghanistan, including RAW.

Similarly, we must revisit our Kashmir policy and not let militant groups defame the democratic indigenous struggle of the Kashmiris and fuel the Indo-Pak conflict that diverts Pakistan’s focus from its principal threat from terrorism.        Terrorism cannot come to an end unless Afghanistan, Pakistan and India stop their proxy wars and cooperate against terrorism. And this is what the world is also demanding.

Anything can happen when a moderately right-wing government, also under pressure from the conservative establishment, comes under attack from ultra-right and populist authoritarian forces. Is the capital up for grabs? There is no choice left – it’s either a breakdown or a crackdown.