Consult with me on Maven
Consult with me on Maven

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Making a Counter Terrorism Policy for Pakistan: A Question of Democratic Decision Making


Making a Counter Terrorism Policy for Pakistan: A Question of
Democratic Decision Making

Prof. Ijaz Khan
Department of International Relations
University of Peshawar

The raging debate on a Counter Terrorism Policy in Pakistan seems to be heading towards a consensus, at least among the major parties (with slight variations despite stronger rhetoric); concerted action should follow after negotiation are given a chance. 
It must also be acknowledged there exists two broad views with minor variations within them; those who consider the terrorism as an existential challenge and argue for a very strong action against them and the other side argues for negotiations and standing internationally with the terrorists against USA/West and the region. Let me repeat variations and levels of intensity do exist within these two broad strands of opinion.
Taking cognizance of the gravity of the challenge, the current government considered devising of a Counter Terrorism Policy as one of its top priorities. Taking it as a national issue, the government considered the policy should reflect a national consensus. With that in mind, an All Parties Conference was called. The Conference got delayed when Imran Khan, leader of the third largest party in the National Assembly which also heads the coalition government of Khyber Pakhtukhwa province, showed reservations about the utility of the APC and demanded instead an exclusive meeting with the Prime Minister and the Chief of Army Staff. The APC got delayed, if not scrapped altogether. Finally it will be be held on 9 September.
When the APC got delayed, Government started a gradual move on a Counter Terrorism Policy. Chaudhry Nisar Ahmad in a press conference on 13 Aug gave some ideas about the thinking of the government on how to meet the challenge, followed by a meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet and re christening as National Security Council. The interior minister in his press conference said among many other things, ‘though the War against Terrorism’ was not Pakistan’s war initially; Pakistan has nothing to do with foreign troops in Afghanistan; however, the increasing terrorism within Pakistan is Pakistan’s War’ and concern. To deal with it, Pakistan has two policy choices; either negotiate or take a strong comprehensive Military action. To choose one option, he reiterated government’s plan to organize the APC in August. He further said whatever, the APC decides will be implemented by the Government and that there must be a consensus for whatever policy is decided upon. He asserted that Military needs consensus support of the whole nation before it takes any action. He concluded with the announcement that Pakistan’s Security Policy/ Counter Terrorism Policy will be announced within two weeks. It appears from his talk that the government intends to go for comprehensive military action. However, if APC insists on negotiations, then a time frame for that will have to be decided and military action may be taken in case negotiations does not work. Though, it can be deduced from his tone, body language and choice of words that the government does not really believe talks will yield any results.
The reality of human political life is however, not so ideal. Democracy is based on acceptance of nature of Human Society to be plural, made up of individuals and groups of individuals, who rarely agree. Democracy with all its flaws and weaknesses has been hailed as the system of decision making that accommodates maximum division of opinion. It is alternate to the earlier forms of monarchy or its current variations of various types of individual dictatorships, whether authoritarian or totalitarian. It’s a continuous process of disagreement, debate, and compromise. An opinion gets power from the inherent strength of the argument and popular support. The final decision is always an outcome of various inputs from different sources, reflecting the relative popular strength of an argument. Consensus is not necessarily an agreement of all on all points, but is a compromise, a result of give and take. A democratic system of governance takes into account all shades of opinion and while striving for consensus, gives majority the Right, Authority and Responsibility to take the final decision.  The minority, whose view is either totally absent or are partly reflected in the final decision has the Right to disagree publicly and present its alternate point of view on the issue at hand. While the majority must respect this Right of dissent, the minority must accept and respect the Authority and Right of the Majority to decide. When a sizeable minority, more than just a periphery viewpoint, sees its views totally absent from a given decision, the society is said to be polarized and if this polarization is on very fundamental issues then it means serious crisis. The function of democratic decision making is to reduce and eliminate polarization to the extent of a total disconnect resulting in either/ or situation. So, a national consensus actually means a decision in which most can see reflection of their opinion, it is not a full agreement of all on every point. The majority must take a decision after a reasonable open debate and consultation. If the majority translates consensus as complete agreement and avoids to take decision in its absence then it is either intentionally not taking a decision, is not capable of taking a decision and thus failing to fulfill its responsibility.
The government’s decision to convene a APC on the issue of Counter Terrorism policy is a positive and democratic process. However, it should be treated as a consultative process rather than a decision making body. The government must share the facts with the participants with the assistance of relevant ministries and their subordinate agencies, departments etc. They include ministries of Interior, Foreign Affairs, Defense and also economic affairs. Armed forces are a subordinate institution of the Ministry of Defense. They may be given a little extra time as the issue is of security and so they are expected to professionally know more about it. The Government should then invite all participants to give their opinion on a policy response and suggest means to implement that policy, followed by a debate. The APC should stop there. The government should have already been taking views of experts outside the formal state structure, from independent as well experts affiliated with its party.
The government thus would have a rich material and opinion to sift through and take a policy decision. It must seriously consider the various options that may emerge from the APC and decide in accordance with its own political vision with the help of experts both state and non state. As whatever decision it takes can only partially reflect the views, opinions it has thus gathered, there would be many who would continue to disagree and criticize. As Pakistan is deeply polarized society, the criticism would be quite strong from some quarters. However, it is the job of the elected government to take a decision and also respond continuously to the criticism that will be there. This criticism should be treated as ongoing live debate, a democratic norm.
There appears to be a gradual emergence of a consensus with some exceptions on both left and right. The broader consensus of which PMLN, PPP, PTI seems to be a part. ANP and PMAP probably will go along with some reservations is; Negotiate but if they fail (with understanding they cannot succeed completely) then take serious action. However, elements withing State Establishment still believe in retaining elements of the existing Afghan Policy which finds all or most Afghan Taliban to be the bet for Pakistan. This reluctance to give up on the Afghan part of the policy, will result in confusion of policy and action, detrimental to the aim of having a peaceful and prosperous Pakistan. Probably ANP and PMAP will not go along with this part of the consensus. JI, JUI and more vocally the various extremist groups of Pakistan Defence Council (which expressed their resolve to resist any deviation that will result in any serious action against terrorists in a public demonstration in Islamabad on 6 September) are opposed to any action. While some in the left along with the extreme Right, many consider, negotiated settlement is not possible and an all out action in cooperation with International Community is required.
One must acknowledge the challenge for the current or for that matter anyone in their position is not easy. The elected government has to have the political will and courage to face a serious internal back lash, whatever it decides. If it does not decide clearly and acts accordingly, it will be failing to carry out its responsibility. This failure will lead to further chaos and confusion and may mean an extremely dangerous future for this State and Society. Pakistan does not have the luxury of delaying a clear decision and action. A clear Policy decision followed by action is required urgently to make an attempt for arresting and reversing the continuous downward slide.
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