Imitaz Gul, executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies joined the South Asia Center for a discussion of counterterrorism operations in Pakistan.

Imtiaz Gul
Executive Director
Center for Research and Security Studies

Arif Ansar
Chief Analyst and CEO

  • Transcript by

Federal News Service
Washington, D.C.

IMTIAZ GUL:  Good afternoon.  Thank you, Shuja.  And colleagues at the Atlantic Council for giving me this opportunity.

When we started talking about this talk here, – (inaudible) by the time I gave the talk here I may be giving you the good news of a military operation having gone underway or maybe a peace deal. None of that has happened as of now. And it’s still mind-boggling as we – what we are witnessing today in Pakistan.  I had two meetings with a German special envoy and a U.S. special envoy a few days before coming here, and I heard more or less the same questions, and I can repeat them here. There is three issues. They wondered, both of the envoys, what’s going on in Pakistan?  The interior minister and several others went up in arms after the TTP leader Hakimullah Mehsud was killed in a drone strike on November the 1st last year.  The kind of noises that government and many of other people raised sounded like we had lost a hero.

Now, both envoys also wonder as to whether Munawar Hasan, chief of the Jameet e-Islami, he’s really a second figure to Osama bin Laden because he has been giving praise on him. He also declared Hakimullah Mehsud as a martyr.

Then the third issue they raised was the talks with the government. What we believe so far the government has mismanaged, and it was also perplexing to many outsiders as to whether it was any sincerity when the government nominated a four member committee.

Now, I told both these enjoys that, well, we are concerned too as much as you are in Germany or in Washington or elsewhere because of the right-wing nationalist drift that we saw in the last elections in June.  It seems to hold sway that most politicians now ducking under the pretext of expedience rather than taking issues head on.

Now, is it surprising?  I don’t think so because whatever we see in Pakistan today unfolding on the state front as well as the nonstate front is rooted in the – in the history with this India-centric Pakistan policy as well as the U.S. geopolitical interest in the region.  Then the U.S. was focused on the ex-Soviet Union, and now al-Qaida as well as the region, the broader region defined by the presence of two strong emerging economies, China and India.

Now, between 1979 and 2014, I will say history has moved full circle.  And this is the context that Pakistan establishment’s role in using religion for motivation, for political purposes, and secondly, that the ’79s Iranian revolution followed by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the same year in December.  The Pakistani militant outfits in Kashmir, Afghanistan, nexus of al-Qaida, this is all basically a direct consequence of our involvement or Pakistan’s involvement in Afghanistan and – as well as in India.

Now, if you look at it up, this picture, General Zia-ul-Haq and Ronald Reagan.  You know, the Soviet invasion brings them together, a pariah who was not being accepted as a coup-maker, all of a sudden turned into a great statesman who was out to help the United States in evicting the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan.

Then look at these pictures with Hekmatyar and Nabi Mohammadi and Pir Gilani, this is first Nawaz Sharif government.  Professor Rabbani.  This is Professor Sayyaf, the Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabians found a Wahhabi ally in Professor Sayyaf as a – one of the seven members of the mujahideen groups.

And that was a first generation of the jihadists, the mujahideen.  This is the second generation that was – that we got in Pakistan, Mullah Omar and Sufi Muhammad and – (inaudible).  but the other four figures, they are the second generation of jihadists.

Now, here, 9/11, again, another general ruling in Pakistan and with whom President Clinton didn’t want to be photographed shaking hands 2000 in March, but then all of a sudden the next U.S. president is shaking hands and is projecting it all over just because he has agreed to partner.

Now, emergence of TTP in December 2007, all these characters we have to deal with.  This is also Mullah Fazlullah, the current chief of the TTP, vowing jihad. And this is the committee that the TTP has formed.  We don’t have pictures for everybody. And this is a travesty of history, of this political revolution in Pakistan, that these three gentlemen – on the left is the guy who was a cleric from the Red Mosque in Islamabad. At the center is Samiul Haq, who is a – who heads a seminary and who has been churning out Taliban. On the right is the Jamaat-Islami, Professor Ibrahim.

They represent the TTP, a non-state actor, despite the fact that these three guys themselves have been part of the state structure somehow. The central guy has been a member of the senate, the third guy on the right is also a senator. And then this is the four official members of the committee talking to the Taliban, Ruslam Shah Mohmand and Rahimullah Yusfzai. Both these gentlemen have been very supportive of the dialogue with the TTP.

I remember from two of our meetings with General Kayani in 2009 where five persons, including myself, were on one hand saying no we must deal with them with this – an iron hand, and Yousef Zay (sp), whom I regard and who is a great journalist and – (inaudible – who is – now represents the Pakistan Tehreek i-insaf of Imran Khan.  These two said, no, no, they – the Taliban should be given a chance.  We should enter into some sort of compromise deal with them. 

Major Amir, is a notorious guy who had been orchestrating campaigns against political governments, the first Benazir Bhutto government, a former ISI operative and Irfan Siddiqui is a right-wing columnist for National Delhi.  Now he’s the – he’s heading the committee that the government has appointed for talks with the – with the TTP.  So I’ll leave them there and move on to 9/11 terrorist attacks, how it turned General Pervez Musharraf into a statesman. 

And I think we already discussed this, that the 9/11 and post-9/11 response gave Pakistan the third-generation of jihadists, Islamists, like Hakimullah Mehsud, Omar Khalid, some of the pictures you saw.  These are the new Godzillas, basically, that are gunning for opponents, spilling blood to instill fear and claiming territory to enforce their own way of life.  And they have plenty of apologists within the religio political landscape. 

Now, we owe these Godzillas both to Pakistan’s own India-centric policies, predicated on non-state actors as an instrument of foreign policy, as well as the geopolitical interests of the United States.  Now, an admission for that, the way the USA partnered with two generals on two different occasions I think was also manifested in then-foreign secretary Hillary Clinton’s apology that she gave before the Senate on the 24th of April, 2009, in which she said that we can point fingers at the Pakistanis but the problem we face now to some extent we have to take responsibility for having contributed to it.  We also have a history of kind of moving in and out of Pakistan.

Let’s remember here, the people we are fighting today, we funded them 20 years ago.  And we did it because we were locked in struggle with the Soviet Union.  Now, back to the talks, these talks must be seen, I think, in the social-political milieu that has evolved in the last three decades.  We have this Mullah Abdul Aziz, the Red Mosque cleric, who is a member of the Taliban committee.  He says:  Pakistan army is no match for the TTP’s fighting prowess, faith, and would be best advised not to confront it. 

Then he says, basically resonating the TTP command, scrap the constitution and replace it with Sharia.  He also recently questioned Islamic clauses of the constitution saying most of the legislators are unfamiliar with basic tenets of Sharia.  Why to accept them as a legitimate forum for legislating Islam or Sharia?  Now, both Aziz and Jamaat-Islami publicly say that Pakistani soldiers who were killed fighting the Taliban are not martyrs.  Aziz had also issued an edict against fighting the Taliban.

Now, empathy, sympathy for al-Qaida, the radical TPP and like-minded groups within government structures is a big daunting challenge that faces our society today.  Now, an interesting petition before the Lahore High Court on February 7th was also accepted for hearing. The chief justice himself did that three days ago.  It’s a petition seeking to direct the federal government to hold talks with the Taliban and allow them to open an office in the country, A proposal that came from Imran Khan, the Tehreek e-Insaf chairperson.  Now, Young Doctors Association in Pakistan, Tehreek e-Insaf leader, one of the leaders Yasmin Rashid had filed those petitions.

Now, what I’m trying to explain is that there is empathy, sympathy or direct or indirect support for these guys, who are not big in numbers, but they occupy important spaces within the governance structures as well as outside governance structures.  They’re the chief justice of the Lahore High Court, the high court of the most populous province, basically admits something like this.  For me, this is a scary thing.

Now, you also – I skipped a couple of things – what do the talks means basically under the federal constitution, what do they mean, and what can they entail instead of a direct crackdown on groups which are responsible for killing people, for spilling blood?

Now, Maulana Abdul Aziz, as I said, is a symbol of al-Qaida pan-Islamism and of social support for TTP’s deceptive bloody agenda.  He says, without the sharia, the Taliban won’t accept talks, even 1 percent.  And this precisely represents the nearly unbridgeable divide.  TTP insists on sharia, echoed by all these clerics.  The government, on the other hand, backed by most parties, interestingly, insists on talks within the constitutional framework, as it should.

Now, this gives – herein arise the question as to how far can the government go.  Really, can it go and concede something?  The – let’s see why political parties and intelligence here oppose talks with TTP on the TTP talks, because what is happening right now, the perception that has developed is as if the government moved out of a position weakness and bent to the demands of the TPP, who seem like empowered, who feel really elated that the government had been begging– begging them for talks.

Now, why can’t the government move forward, basically?  Firstly, Pakistan’s outlook – you know, it may be religious and nationalistic, but the majority doesn’t work for mullahs.  As such, Maulana Aziz or Faisal Rehman or Munawar Hasan, they don’t get votes, but their views do get resonated.  These days, 24/7 television has provided them a big platform for saying what the TTP had been saying for long, although through emails and through faxes.

Secondly, the TTP doesn’t really represent a religiously indoctrinated scholarly group such as al-Jihad or Muslim Brotherhood, and thus can hardly be talked to on these issues.  Thirdly, the TTP represent a band of criminals and thugs, which I personally believe.  I’ve seen a lot of them in the Waziristan region when I was – I had been visiting them – the kind of background information that we’ve been gathering from the locals.  They’re simply small-time criminals who found an opportunity in allying themselves with al-Qaida and thought this had empowered them socially and politically.

So they are largely living off organized crime, serving as facilitators and shelterers for al-Qaida, which is mostly Arabs and Uzbeks still holding out in some of the pockets of North and South Waziristan.  Fourthly, even if the TTP was serious for Islamic Sharia in the northwestern territories, will the government – the parliament grant them their demand and thus risk more upheaval in other parts of the country with other groups making similar demands?  This will be a certain recipe for sociopolitical chaos.

Fifth, the TTP operates in a region that is strongly defined by tribal affiliations – divisions.  It’s not a monolithic entity; rather, a conglomerate of smaller groups representing different and at times warring tribes.  Now, we certainly can’t equate them with Palestinians, Afghans, Tamils or Moro Muslims of Mindanao in the Philippines.  They all represent or represented victims of the communities and espoused or espouse causes that the majority in their region considered legitimate.

Now, major challenge:  Can we achieve peace without compromising the fundamentals of Pakistan’s present democratic dispensation?  Most writers – intellectuals, including myself, are skeptical about the peace prospects for four reasons, and we also run a bit of risk by articulating these things on television or in our commentaries or seeing them in our articles.  If the TTP represents interests by proxy – that is, the agent of death and instability, then it will keep placing demands that are impossible for a democratically-run state to concede.

If the TTP really wants its version of Islamic Sharia, then it neither has the popular support for it, nor will the mainstream Pakistan parties be ready to give into the will of, primarily a band of thugs.  If a peace deal came through – predicated on the promise of Sharia, even in some northwestern regions, this would amount to a surrender by the state, and thus, creating space for similar uprising in other regions.  And this was one of our major contentions, also when the government went for a peace deal in Swat in 2009 – May.  We had all cautioned them that, look, this means basically a surrendering to these – to these thugs, and they realized, like, within two months that they really had surrendered to the criminals.

Now, critics likened these talks – whatever it is they pursue these days in Pakistan to the Irish Republican Army talking to Sinn Fein for a peace deal in Ireland or Palestinian al-Fatah talking to Hamas for a Palestinian state, disregarding the bigger – the bigger elephant in the room that is the mainstream Pakistan, basically.  This is a match among the Taliban and their supporters.

They believe – like, the critics – the intelligentsia – that none of the negotiators nominated either by the government or the Taliban can actually be taken to represent the victims of terrorism and religious extremism, and I personally agree to that.  So whatever the talks entail, wherever they lead, they are likely to deepen the sociopolitical divide that currently exists between forces that are sympathetic, empathetic or directly supportive to al-Qaida’s pan-Islamism, and those segments of the society who look at these religiopolitical groups as a creeping monster that is out to snap individual liberties and subject the entire society to the tyranny of their version of Islam.  It’s a test of the center-right government, too, as to what extent is it ready to go to buy peace, and at what medium-to-long-term cost for the entire society?  Thank you very much.

MR. NAWAZ:  Thank you very much, Imtiaz.  And I should have mentioned at the outset, but I didn’t – so let me say now that the Pakistan work of the – (inaudible) – center is supported in large part by a grant from the Carnegie Cooperation of New York.  So I should acknowledge them before I turn to Arif Ansar and ask him to comment on Imtiaz’s opening remarks.  Arif?

ARIF ANSAR:  Thank you, Shuja, and hello, everybody.  My comments will be slightly different, and it’s – in consideration of the geopolitical situation that exists in the region – and Imtiaz you started out very rightly, I think, that he stated that the French and, I think, the German envoy were trying to assess what the situation is, and I guess that’s a dilemma for everybody.  They are trying to assess where things are going, and also because of what comments are being made by different players are not really their intent, and the ground situation is showing something different.

For example, Karzai is saying that U.S. should support the reconciliation process, but then he himself short-circuited it when they were meeting in Doha; on the other side, Pakistan is saying that the talks in Afghanistan should be owned by Afghanistan and led by them, but then Pakistan is blamed for their strategic depth doctrine in the past.  So how do one assert, and where do these groups fall in this broader spectrum of what’s taking shape in the region?

And as the topic of the seminar is the – will a counterterrorism operation in Pakistan succeed under current conditions?  And the question is right that the military operations have been done in the past, as well as talks have been done in the past, and both seem to have produced mixed results, so whichever approach is taken now, why would it be different this time?  Although it does seem like – that Nawaz Sharif, when he came into power, he had the mandate to – from the public to proceed with the talks, to attend the political reconciliation or negotiation – whatever we call it.  He delayed it, and it led to some other eventualities – the death of Hakimullah Mehsud – and then he got blamed for whether he was talking as well or who he was talking with.  And there was no information about that, or people were saying that they didn’t know anything.

So it seems like – that that process has now led to the present circumstances that, while in the past, Pakistan, up to this point, seemingly doesn’t have a counterterrorism strategy – so there was a whole debate going about as soon as Nawaz Sharif came in that – he is formulating the national security policy and the counterterrorism strategy, and the deliberations continued and continued, and it was back and forth.  It didn’t reach a conclusive report format, but meanwhile, this episode of Hakimullah Mehsud happened, and now it seems like – that there may be a fresh attempt to deal with TTP in a very open format, sort of to buy the public narrative, it seems like, that, where are the challenges?

When we talk to the extremists – when we talk to the TTP, what is the common ground? There is no common ground, and to make those differences public, and probably – I mean, I am assuming this, obviously, that would lead to a public narrative of how difficult that process is – how to deal with extremists, and whichever approach is then to be taken, whether it’s the talks or the military operation, what that would entail.  But at the same time, there is obviously the timing.  Whichever approach is taken – the military or the political – there is a reconciliation process moving on in Afghanistan, and U.S. is slated to withdraw.  How does the operational talks pertain to that particular aspect?

TTP, in that context, seems to be the most out-of-place.  While Afghan Taliban have a reason – or they came to – you know, that they’re fighting against occupation – foreign occupation – there are other spectrum of extremist organizations in Pakistan that some are oriented towards India, some have sectarian colors, others are insurgencies.  But TTP seems to be the most out-of-place.  If Afghan Taliban reconcile, what happens to TTP?  So they are fighting – they know that the time is running out for them.  If the reconciliation process in Afghanistan doesn’t go – does go well – if it doesn’t go well, then, obviously, they’ll get a fresh life, or they’ll continue to evolve their strategies on how to move forward.

Then, coming back to the – so there is the question of the intent of Afghan Taliban and the TTP.  We all know that they talk to each other; they support each other – in what form and fashion is fuzzy – and then there are, of course, the intent of other players.  If they all seem to be timing their decisions on what is going to happen in Afghanistan.  And then there is the question of the national security strategy and policy of Pakistan.

Obviously, any strategy that has to be built has to be built on your threat perceptions, that – who do you consider and enemy and who do – you don’t?  And we had a big debate about that that led into the – is the threat internal or is the threat external?  And it is an ongoing process.  Recently, before leaving, General Kayani had mentioned had mentioned in a couple of his speeches that the threat is internal.

Now, then, if there is going to be a military operation, the question is that every time there was a military operation in the past, there was a strong reaction, and it seems to get worse every time.  The last time, it was at the bases in Karachi; they destroyed three P-3C Orion planes, and then, in Kamra, it was another civilian’s plane that was destroyed.  So the reaction gets amazingly more dangerous.  And what are the Pakistani capabilities if they are planning for military operations?  If there will be such a reaction, how will they counter that – publicly, at least, not known that – how their counterterrorism strategy would handle the reaction?  Because if they do go for it, there is – it’s expected that there will be a reaction.  The magnitude of it we can’t tell.

Now – so there is the aspect of the – dealing with the aftermath.  Then there is the element of the – dealing with the root causes of extremism.  That is a much more difficult – at  least in the public, the strategy – the – (inaudible) – strategy has also mentioned that it will dismantle, contain, prevent, educate and re-integrate.  All lofty goals, but it’s still in the process, and it has yet to be seen.

But, now the – another most complicated part of this is the other array of groups that are operating, which are Punjabi Taliban or whatever name we call them – sectarianly-oriented or targeted towards India, et cetera.  How do they fit in with this counterterrorism strategy or not?  That has yet to be seen.

Then, most importantly, there is an example of what’s happening or evolving in the Middle East.  And how can we learn from what is taking place over there and try to understand what’s taking shape in this part of the region?  (Inaudible) – listening in the media that what happened to Iraq after U.S withdrawal, and what does this mean for American withdrawal from Afghanistan?  Does it have a similar parallel?  Some people have drawn a comparison to history that when the British left at the turn of the century, or after that, that it sort of – the movement that – (audio interference) – but the – at the same time, the challenge was that the state also lost interest in –


MR. NAWAZ:  So it is simply the old playbook, which was used in Swat, where you begin the talks – you make an attempt to make peace, and when that fails, you bring down the hammer and launch a military operation.  But the question then is, what after that?  Is – and this is very – gets to the heart – (audio interference) – is there enough evidence that – (audio interference) – we are on the same page – (inaudible)

MR: GUL: In the first place I believe that, regardless of what happens in Afghanistan in the coming months and the coming years, Pakistan needs a counterterror strategy.  You may call it a counterextremism strategy or a counterterrorism strategy, but we must have one.  And that has to be a very comprehensive approach in dealing with the multiple nonstate actors that have emerged in the last 20, 30 years, and who are impacting the – directly impacting the society intellectually, ideologically, and somehow, Pakistan needs to have some regulations, particularly for the mosques – for the seminaries, because they are the sources of religious – they are disseminating the religious radical ideology.

Now, the – your question – the military operation – everybody had expected that a military operation would take place – would start very soon, because even the majority within the ruling Pakistan Muslim league – committee – more than 80 percent of the members supported a military operation in North Waziristan.  We still don’t know what happened at the last moment that prompted Nawaz Sharif, the prime minister, to announce a four-member committee to give the so-called peace a chance.

The – we don’t expect much from this talk.  Now, having said that, whether there will be  a military operation and whether the government and the military are on the same page, I would say, having interacted with a number of senior generals in the last three years.  The military and the government are not on the same page as far as a direct, head-on confrontation with the TTP is concerned.  North Waziristan, a direct operation out of question.

We also have to look at the topography of that region.  This is – we have – North Waziristan overlooks a greater Paktia region in Afghanistan.  Now, we may have about 100 security posts on our side, and maybe 15,000-30,000 troops on the Pakistani border.  We don’t have a corresponding strength on the other side.  So whatever – even with Pakistan launching an operation against the TTP or al-Qaida, the people will simply move away.  So it defeats the purpose unless there is a corresponding response from the other side that – the Afghan and the coalition forces.

We had launched an operation in August of 2008 in Baujar.  Again, this – it borders Eastern Afghanistan, and it was called the lion’s heart by the ISAF troops, and we called it Sherdil, and it succeeded to a good degree, just because the Americans and the Afghans on the other side were ready to take on the people who were moving from this side.  In this particular case, North Waziristan – it doesn’t look likely.  So you will simply be hunting – running after the people who will find refuge on the other side of the border.

And yes, the military, as far as I’m concerned, and my information goes, they had been ready to carry out a targeted, intelligence-based operation as well as surgical strikes, particularly on the TTP.  And the Army, so far, General Raheel Sharif, the new Army chief, hasn’t spoken about it, but his predecessor had been very vocal about TTP.  He said the TTP remains our enemy.  There is no question of talks with them, because how can I justify talks with them, who are the people who have been slitting the throats of my soldiers?  So he said it would act as a very demoralizing factor within the military itself.

So he tried his best, I understand, to deny talks, just based on this reason – very reason, which I personally empathize with.  Probably, the GHQ is still reluctant, but now, since we have the government – political government and the Army wants the government to take the ownership of any step, there are watching (inaudible).  So probably that –

SHUJA NAWAZ:  Let me pick up on that, because you also mentioned that General Kayani had been talking about the threat shifting from external to internal.  There was some talk about that around the time when the new Army doctrine came out, but it didn’t actually come out.  What was promised as a public document and then not released.

Looking from the outside, is there something wrong with this picture?  Because normally, you have a doctrine emerging from the services once the civilian leadership provides a war directive to the three services.  That doesn’t seem to have happened.  Do you think that there is, now, an attempt at trying to define the threat by the government that will then get the three services to come back with their individual doctrine on how they’re going to meet that war directive and that threat?

MR. GUL:  I think this is one of the problems that is obstructing the national counterterrorism strategy.  There’s a lot of fine-tuning and a lot of give-and-take as far as the services and the civilian intelligence is concerned.  So I think the government has proposed a new counterterrorism division.  To what extent does it draw and get support from the Army – from the general headquarter, we don’t know, but what we may (be in ?) for hopefully both agree that there will be a coordinated counterterrorism effort.

Now, that is the administrative side.  The ideological side, I don’t know whether this strategy caters for that.  The point that I made earlier, it’s very much linked to the internal dynamics of the country and its – also relate to the way nonstate institutions and nonstate actors function, to the absence of certainty of punishment for anybody who violates the law.  I’ve been talking to the interior minister and asking him as to whether they would factor all these things in.

I’m not sure.  We haven’t seen any plans so far whether they are linking the phenomena of terrorism and extremism to the supply side.  You know, we have to look at the supply side, and that is mosque and madrassa.  So have I answered that?

MR. NAWAZ:  So there isn’t a war directive.  Isn’t that the answer?  (Laughter.)  (Inaudible.)

MR. GUL:  Yeah, sort of.  Maybe I can take off on that.

MR. NAWAZ:  We shouldn’t hold our breath for that. OK.  Let me open it up to all of you.  I know Harlan has a question.  And when I recognize you, please state your name and then your question, please.  I’ll try to get all the names down.  So, Harlan. 

Q:  I’m Harlan Ullman, and I’m a recovering friend of Pakistan.  I have a very blunt question, and I’ll expand on that.  The question – and Shuja, you can answer this – when do you think the coup takes place?  (Laughter.)  And I say that with full insurgencies are getting worse; Pakistan is down to a 30-day supply of water.  There is a shortage of propane.  You have 60 or 70 million people under the age of 20 or 25, nowhere to go.  The government is absolutely incompetent.  And it seems to me, if not tomorrow, you’re going to have to a repeat circumstances where there’s going to be no alternative.

So tell me how you see those politics playing out and what you think the implications would be?  Because even to make the matters worse, I am enormously pessimistic about what’s going to happen in Afghanistan. I think there’s going to be an implosion, and I don’t think that’s going to make life much better – and I hope I’m wrong – in Pakistan.  So if there is to be a coup, do you think – when do you think that would take place, and tell me what you think the consequences would be?

MR. GUL:  Well, thank you for this objective assessment.  (Laughter.)

Q:  I’m afraid it may be objective, not –

MR.GUL:  Because this is, I think, a disconnect to the way Pakistan is evolving.  I think Pakistan has moved beyond a coup here.  It never happened when the army chief was being grilled  publicly in the previous government.  And he told us afterwards that that was the worst moment, when all the corps commanders came to me and said, sir, this is going too far, when this memogate was happening involving this document and the Afghan ambassador here.

That was the best time for the army to strike than ever.  Probably they didn’t think, neither would they have been able to get it sanctioned by the Supreme Court.  I think it’s a different Pakistan, where you have this 24/7 monster that is called the television.

Then you have the Supreme Court.  However faulty it may be, you may fault the judges on many counts, but Pakistan has redefined itself since March 2007.  I don’t think any coup maker  will get any sanctions on this court, because in the past they’ve been getting approvals.  So – and also there is a grand political consensus against military intervention. 

So we have – these three big factors basically have pushed the military to the wall.  While they may be very well entrenched because of their over 60 years of predominance in political economy, they are very much constrained by these three big factors. 

I’ll be very disappointed if there were ever any coup in that country.  It’s not Egypt; it’s not Tunisia, you know?  We have been moving incrementally on the democratic front, however faulty, however dysfunctional, partially dysfunctional this country may be, but it’s a different country.

Yes, the demographics which Shuja was talking about is a worry for us and its very scary as well – that in June 2013 elections, we saw a drift, a nationalistic, conservative drift.  Eleven million votes went to the Nawaz Leauge which is a centrist party.  Almost 8 million votes went to Tehreek i-Insaf which is Imran Khan, and about a couple of million to religio-political parties, who lost badly.  So if you look at the cumulative vote, I think 70 percent of the vote of the people sort of voted for the right wing nationalistic conservative.

That is the scary part.  As to whether Pakistan can recover from that is whether these politicians who are in the lead, they can stand up to the challenge that is facing us right now.  And for that, we need courage, we need integrity from the politicians, we need them – to exercise their authority vis-a-via the military and also come up with a legislative framework that ensures punishment to anybody who violates the law and the constitution.

So, precisely, no coup.

Q:  I think your last point made my point.  What you’ve just asked for in terms of integrity and confidence are not going to arise in – (inaudible).  And therein lies –

MR. GUL:  Well, I think things are getting – moving very slowly.  I wouldn’t say – I wouldn’t deny what you are saying, but I wouldn’t be that pessimistic.

MR. NAWAZ:  Arif, Do you think there will be – we were talking about, in the case of Egypt, creating  Pakistan on the Nile.  Do you think that this will be something similar to what eventually happened in Egypt?

MR. ANSAR:  Yeah, we were discussing before coming here just that aspect.  And, you know, conservatism and nationalism is increasing. And then, of course, the extremists are the further offshoot of that.  We saw in Egypt dynamics playing out that the moderates – if you call the Muslim Brotherhood the moderates—they came into power, whatever the slight majorities they had, but nonetheless there’s something happening in the society at large.  They came in, whatever the numbers were, they got thrown out, and not only thrown out, they have been put in jail and the movement taken care of, and now there is a reaction to that. 

Coming back to Pakistan, obviously a different context than  culture etc. but nonetheless, there is a similar phenomenon conservatism is increasing.  The liberal space is decreasing.  Nationalism is resurging. And that was reflected. At the same time, maybe these talks are to avert that, to include these elements of the society, engage them and bring them in however – form and fashion that is possible. 

Probably to avert that kind of – (inaudible) – you know, obviously military is a reflection of the society as well.  So whatever the causes of those are, but at least for the time being it seems like Pakistan may be rewarding them by including those moderates – not the extremists but through the moderates going to the extremist.  But if they lose, like they did in Egypt, then that’s different perspective.

MR. NAWAZ:  Imtiaz was shaking his head on that so I’m going to ask him to rebut that.

MR. GUL:  No, I’d say – maybe – you know, one possibility would be a smokescreen before a targeted, focused military operation in North Waziristan.  That’s why the prime minister went for a non-elected – talks on negotiating body, because that basically can absolve them of any responsibility in the coming weeks and months.

Q:  Well, they tried.  The government tried and it didn’t work out.  So here, I mean, we’ll go after them. 

MR. GUL:  So I would have said that the people like TTP are being mainstreamed or being co-opted into talks.  There is no space for darkness and ignorance, actually.  They represent the forces of ignorance and darkness.  They are really criminals.  Organized crime is prospering because of them right now.  So I don’t think any sensible politician would ever dare to – getting them into the government. 

Neither should we confuse them with the Afghan Taliban.  Even Afghan Taliban don’t stand a chance to return to power.  I’m very clear, having seen Afghanistan – (inaudible) – for more than 20 years.  It will be very, very disappointing for me, and for a lot of people who would like to see Afghan progress, if geopolitics enabled the Taliban to return to power, just because the context in which they emerged is not there anymore.  The international community stays – stands committed to Afghanistan, at least until 2024. 

There is a central army.  There is a central police force.  There’s huge private business interests.  We call it the stakeholders who have emerged.  They will, I think, keep Afghanistan together, yes.  (Inaudible) – can continue.  They will keep delivering threats to the government, whoever controls it, but controlling the government, no, I don’t – that would be impossible. 

Q:  You said sensible politicians?

MR. GUL:  Yeah, but not everybody’s insensible.  Come on.  I mean, don’t take Afghanistan or Pakistan, you know, as a backyard of all the – (inaudible).

Q:  I’m actually referring to the government.  (Laughter.) 

MR. NAWAZ:  Let’s move on.  I think – I have a number of other questions.  I’m going to put them in order and then we’ll take them.  So I have a question here, then one there, then here, then there, and then the gentleman here before I come back.

(Cross talk.) 

MR. NAWAZ:  Please introduce yourself, and make it a short question.

Q:  My name is Khalid Qureshi.  I’m a Pakistani citizen residing here right now.  I have a simple question.

What is the government – military’s current counterinsurgency strategy with regard to TTP?  Let me – let me expand on that.  I’m not talking about – (inaudible).  I’m not talking about – (inaudible) – being run by the military.  And I’m not talking about the outsourced drone strikes to the U.S. 

I’m asking, if the military is capable of having a targeted security operation in Baluchistan against antinationalist insurgents there, what is stopping the army from moving forward, and now the current chief of army staff from a targeted intelligence-based operation to root out, pick out the key TTP elements that are causing all this mayhem in Pakistan?  It does not need political cover for that.  The Army does that when it wants to all over Pakistan.  So I’d like to hear from you your understanding of what are the current elements of that strategy to your understanding of how effective it is.

MR. GUL:  There is no coherent strategy. 

Q:  What are the pieces – are?  What do they do?

MR. GUL:  I wish there were some pieces, between you and me.  (Laughter.)  But all I can say is, based on my direction with the interior minister as well as with the – (inaudible) – army chief, you know – (inaudible) – the army considers the TTP as the enemy.  That’s number one.  Number two, whether they have the capability, capacity to root them out, I think you cannot root out a movable target.  It’s a human phenomenon.  You pressurize them here they will emerge there, just because you have these ungoverned spaces.

Q:  I’m simply saying, again, the Baluchistan nationalists, there is some level of effort to get the effectiveness, and one hears about it.  One hears about civilian disappearances.  One hears about targeted – we have all kinds of things.  One has not heard anything like that about TTP targets.  So my question is –

MR. GUL:  Yeah, because nobody – nobody lobbies for TTP within the society, whereas there are a lot of – tens of thousands of lobbyists, activists for the Baloch nationalist parties.  They’re visible, but the TTP people are not visible, so there’s a big difference between the two.

And the nationalists in Baluchistan, for instance, who were in the past fighting the government, they are not part of the government.  They’re transitioned from an insurgency to government.  They have – from insurgents they have become now counterinsurgents.  But here the TTP, it’s no party.  It’s not a political party, whereas the Baloch nationalists have formed parties, those who have been fighting in the past.  Even our chief minister, he was part of an insurgent group.  But they have been mainstreamed.  TTP is a band of thugs, criminals.  It’s not a party.  It should not be and must not be considered as a legitimate stakeholder for anything –

Q:  So you’re not – so you’re not aware of any such operation – any targeted operations to root out TTP?

MR. GUL:  As I said, I think – maybe I couldn’t explain, articulate it clearly.  The army probably would want to go after them in a very targeted way, but because of the circumstances, the factors that I mentioned, I think the army is finding it difficult now to act and respond.  They would ask – expect the civilian government to tell them:  Now you can go. 

MR. NAWAZ:  My knowledge is that there was a plan made six years ago, which has been updated regularly but it’s never going to be put into effect.  And I think that’s what they’re waiting for.

Do you have a question there?  And then I’ll head back to this side.

Q:  (Inaudible.)  I want to ask you, perhaps – (inaudible) – on the same page about these talks – (inaudible).  Inevitably – (inaudible) – not inevitable but, you know – (inaudible) – specific focus then to – (inaudible) – a military operation seems to be what – why you had the MLM (ph) – (inaudible) – approve an operation, then followed up by Prime Minister – (inaudible). 

What would such a military operation, in effect, look like, because it seems like what you’re saying differs to the impression that – (inaudible) – we have here that – (inaudible) – South Waziristan.  So what, in effect, would a – (inaudible) – military operation look like?  What is the military’s – (inaudible)?  Are they waiting for government to give approval?  Are they chomping at the bit or are they – (inaudible)?

MR. GUL:  As I said, the – any operation ever to – (inaudible) – in North Waziristan, it will not be the replica of what happened in South Waziristan. South Waziristan was very easy to handle in the sense that the hideouts that were the target, they were nestled between the areas bordering Afghanistan and the settled – so-called settled area.  So the army could move from three directions and neutralize them. 

In this case – in this case of North Waziristan, they’re all scattered.  There are mountains as high as 10,000 feet.  So it will not be easy to launch an all-out operation and, like, move from three different directions.  I don’t think it will ever work there.  However, the army probably is still waiting for the government to tell them to go ahead.  As I said, it will – it has to be and will be, most probably, a targeted operation; that wherever you get the militants, you just go against them.  Whether they do it on their own or whether they do it together with the CIA, I don’t know.  Maybe you’d get better cooperation when the Pakistanis (tip off/kick off ?) and the CIA takes out the targets the way they did in the past.  Well, let’s see.

MR. NAWAZ:  We have a question here.

Q:  My name is Tolub (sp).  I’m with the Foreign Policy Today.  I had a question about the – two questions, one about the military.  You say that the military sees TTP as an enemy.  Let’s say that there is peace talks between Nawaz Sharif and TTP as well.  What will happen then?  What – (audio break).

MR. NAWAZ (?):  (Audio break) – (hence ?) the current conditions, and you know the government has been planning to announce its counterterrorism strategy for some time now, and we’re still waiting for all the details to emerge.  And indeed the first move has been reopening of talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban and Pakistan.  And that is now, according to the government, confined largely to two territories of South and North Waziristan, but nothing at all on FATA.  So a lot still has to emerge (to draw the people of ?) Pakistan into this dialogue, and that’s an issue that I hope to – (inaudible) – what is the broad national debate – (inaudible) – (or there’s been no debate to involve ?) the people of Pakistan on what can and can’t be done. in this regard.

The other thing of course is, how is the demographic shift in Pakistan affecting this (whole ?) process?  Is the urbanization an issue?  Is the voting pattern that has emerged from the last election something that you should look at?  (And the others ?) will probably be shedding some light on that.

One shouldn’t assume that simply because the religious parties, you know, get a large share of the vote that they don’t have a voice.  There are a lot of these methods – (inaudible) – particularly in this town, where (every time ?) – (inaudible) – the danger – (two parts are that ?) – (inaudible) – and religious forces – (inaudible).

(Inaudible) – question – (inaudible) – will speak first and (Ahmed ?) will comment on his talk and then I will moderate the discussion that will ensue. 

Our apologies for not having had the lunch ready to go you when came in.  (Inaudible) – (to call on you well in advance ?) and not (serve you something ?).  (Laughter.)  (But he’s ?) there with us – (you’ve met ?) your intellectual need first and then (on the way out ?), I hope that the lunch will be there – (inaudible) – for you, if you hurry back.

So thank you all again for coming, and thank you – (inaudible).  We look forward to – (inaudible).


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