The cacophony of Pakistani religious radicalism seems to be heading for a crescendo. The country is being torn apart between the contending power centres of Radical Islamists (RIs) and the Army, with neither of them showing any intention of climbing down. As far as the country’s much hyped civilian governments of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, or that of the cosmopolitan Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf in Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa, are concerned they have been reduced to pleading with folded hands before the leadership of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and the army to let peace talks get underway, but without any success. They can’t go against the wishes of the army which wants the TTP to lay-down arms, give up its jihad against it and once again become a pliant tool which can be exploited by the GHQ to pursue its ‘strategic’ agenda in Afghanistan and Kashmir in India.
" The Pakistan army is caught in a cleft stick on the issue of dealing with the RIs. A significant section of the Pakistani military establishment sympathises and empathises with the sectarian agenda of the RIs due to its own religious predilections. "
The TTP and its radical Islamist allies, on their part, want to neither give up their arms, nor tone down their sectarian/ideological agenda of shariatizing Pakistan so as to eventually convert it into the Islamic Emirate of Pakistan. Moreover, the TTP and its allies have smelt blood. They realise that they have weakened the resolve of the Pakistan army to militarily deal with them by tying down a substantial chunk of its strength in FATA, KPk, Karachi and elsewhere, inflicting significant casualties on it, undermining the morale by targeting senior generals (the latest being Major General Sanaullah) and leaving it with little additional troops that could be mobilised for any meaningful operation against them. They also realise that the governments in Islamabad, Lahore and Peshawar are more than willing to dance to their tunes and constantly look over their shoulders to see if the RIs are nodding their approval for their actions.
The Pakistan army is caught in a cleft stick on the issue of dealing with the RIs. A significant section of the Pakistani military establishment sympathises and empathises with the sectarian agenda of the RIs due to its own religious predilections. At the same time the army as a whole is reluctant to expand the conflict with the RIs by expanding the area of its anti-insurgency operations. It is mortally afraid of the terrorist blow-back in various parts of the country as a result of launching any substantial operation against them in their strongholds, which have for all practical purposes become the ‘liberated’ (or shariatised) zones. Yet the RIs can not be allowed by the army to gain total hold over the governments to usher in their Islamic agenda, as it would destroy their own power and privileges.
The Pakistan army’s top-brass realizes, irrespective of its sectarian identification that in a shariatised Pakistan its army would be reduced to the same level of importance, or insignificance, as the Iranian Army vis-à-vis the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. In a shariatised Pakistan the TTP and its radical allies are unlikely to disband themselves, or give up their arms. They would become the real power behind the country’s governing structures and would call the shots. This would ring the demise of various Fauji Foundations and other military enterprises in Pakistan that allow senior military commanders to live a life of opulence and manipulate the politics of the country from behind the scene. At present the Pakistan army Chief is a major, and at times the overriding, centre of power. His transformation into just a cog in the state machinery cannot be countenanced by a majority of Pakistan army top-brass and the rank and file. Besides, it is again the sectarian issue. Pakistan army’s soldiery is still largely Barelvi in its religious orientation. The officer corps has a large number of Deobandis, but they do not subscribe to Wahabi/Salafi radicalism for various reasons. They are unlikely to meekly surrender to the RIs onslaught.
" Thus it is an interlocking situation for the Army and the civilian government of Pakistan. And they do not seem to have either any more cards left to play, or initiatives to be explored "
The army has been hoping so far that a pliant Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan governments that had close affinities with the RIs would be able to persuade them to come to negotiating table on its terms. They tried to achieve this through the recent All Parties Conference (APC) initiative for peace talks with RIs, when senior army brass not only attended its deliberations, but also briefed all the participants on the security situation in the country. The TTP responded by ambushing and blowing up senior army officers. Thus it is an interlocking situation for the Army and the civilian government of Pakistan. And they do not seem to have either any more cards left to play, or initiatives to be explored. Yet the instinct for survival remains strong in all of them. It is this instinct which has made them throw food to the marauding hyenas so far with the hope that it would keep them at bay. But, the hyenas are getting closer.
So what could they do now? Do something that distracts the hyenas and send them somewhere else. This is just not a rhetorical thought any more. The RIs have mentioned India in hostile terms and want to deal with it, particularly over Kashmir. Would the GHQ play the India card now by exacerbating tension in J&K to the extant that it allows them to generate war hysteria in Pakistan, which forces TTP and its radical allies to tone down their march to Islamabad and rather join the jihad for defending Pakistan and Kashmir? They wish to gain some respite through such a strategy and hope that other avenues would open up to them in the meanwhile to deal with the country’s sectarian crisis on a better keel. The chain of events unfolding on the LoC in recent weeks seems to have a method behind the seeming madness.