The Taliban strike in Police Lines in Peshawar created a usual trajectory of reaction from the key figures of the state as well as institutions, replete with familiar statements and visits to the wounded. However, there were no answers to the queries as to after so many costly offensives and operations; the situation on the ground has not changed. Similarly, there was no query why such games with the militants, signaling negotiations or resettlements, were being played or are being played with impunity by powers who control the state.
A deeper analysis of the developing scenario clearly suggests that Pakistan is in for another bout with the ‘creeping national security state’ syndrome, if not a renewed wave of terrorism. The reaction as well as likely action plan; which emphasis adherence to the post-APS National Action Plan (NAP), it is going to another long period of Pakistanis making amends with the abovementioned state in their daily lives. With unlimited powers to the LEA, which is the hallmark of a national security state, while the terrorism might not subside as predictably, Pakistan will soon be an oppressive ‘police state’ at war with an unknown enemy, but known populace.
To make the argument more convincing; Pakistan has come a long way to transition into a democracy. The 1870 general elections, which brought ZAB to power, were the first show of civilian power in the political arena. The 1977 coup undid all that and Pakistan returned to the police state days in full force. Many would argue that the PPP under ZAB was too a one-party dictatorship; however at that point the institutions were independent enough to register a FIR against the sitting PM; a privilege not available during the period between 1977-1988.
In the ‘democratic interlude’ from 1988 to 1999, though fraught with unstable governments had the characteristics of development of a democratic culture in one way or another, Pakistan was a democratic state where no political opponent was a traitor and the police role was restricted to that of law enforcement and not enforcement of undocumented dictates of the deep state. Courts martial in the 1992 Sindh operation as well as a court martial related to a failed coup characterized that period in 1996.
In the backdrop of that developing culture, it took another military dictator, Musharraf, to mellow his takeover with first reluctance to suspend the Constitution; secondly, it was not a ruthless takeover, where the first week is usually characterized by a clampdown on the press. The Press had breathing space and soon the electronic media was to be allowed development; a thing not commensurate with military takeovers. It was no miracle that the Musharraf government opened the 1971 debacle report without any hang-ups.
A fresh middle-class leadership above political expediency can be the ray of hope. Currently, any spontaneous public disapproval of the state and deep state can set into motion events, which may force the entrenched to vacate their ‘trenches’
However, fate has something else in store for Pakistan. The 9/11 incident and Pakistani linkages were a bolt from the blue for the established order, whose reach was receding with each passing day until 11 September 2001. It was a new life for that receding state. That dreaded conceptual state with ironic complete backing of the ‘free world’ unleashed a ‘police state’ on the polity, economy and above all the democratic culture. After that, it was no surprise that people were picked at random for their religious or ideological orientation. The emerging police state ensured the transformation of a sympathizer to a ‘hardcore militant’ through its newly acquired power.
That state of mind was a blessing for the established order. Holding the society hostage under the pretext of bouts with terrorism. The facilitated assassination of the Generation X leader of many Pakistanis of that period; Benazir Bhutto, the trapping of the succeeding political order in the War on Terror, the periodic talks with the same terrorists and accommodation with them on the basis of ‘operational expediency’ became the order of the day.
The animation was predictable. A militant group massacres civilians or the military. It is followed by surprisingly precise intelligence, detailing which mud house the terrorists are sitting in, sipping tea; PAF jets appearing in the sky and finally the statement that ‘terrorist backbone has been broken’; followed by candlelight vigils and self-appreciation. At that point, no civil polity had the courage to ask the deep state, what was the logic of the talks, ceasefire or negotiations, when the outcome was predictable.
To connect the dots, the current wave of terror has its origins in the TTA or Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021, followed by the TTP getting the required sanctuary there. The deep state approval of the TTA can be gauged from the fact that in August 2021, Moharram orators were advised by sleuths not to criticize the Taliban tearing down Muharram banners in Afghanistan then. Taliban were also ‘asked’ to behave accordingly.
The recent wave of terror too was preceded by talks taking place in Kabul and in Pakistan. There was even talk of settling them in KPK by the outgoing PTI government in the centre. However, during the same time the TTP was free to target the KPK police as and when they liked to strike. If one studies through the fact sheet from any newspaper archive based in KPK, the Monday strike was all but expected. The enemy struck with devastation. However, the big question is whether the state is ready or even serious this time to root out the scourge or if it is something else?
Experience and observation points to the fact that any government which might be in the position to form government in the aftermath of the 2023/2024 general elections, will have to inherit the TTP headache as the proverbial ‘bridal dowry’.
That dowry is accompanied by an increased role of the deep state in almost every aspect of public life. A trader having windfall profits in KPK might have to be at pains with his bank to prove why his receivable is not a ‘suspicious transaction’. A person posting his viewpoint on social media will have to be careful, not to invite an unceremonious ride in a Toyota Vigo.
In such a scenario, the head of an institution might be calling all the shots, with the popularly elected prime minister not more than a ‘company secretary’. Such scenarios regretfully continue to progress in a state like Pakistan. It is even more painful that while many states or even ideological states are revisiting their stances regarding the extent of ‘headscarves’, Pakistan is increasingly being groomed as a police state. A state, where it is necessary for the common man, especially the middle class professional, student etc. to have his or her CNIC or any other identification document handy, to ward off inconvenience.
While the terrorist continues to strike, the deep state is orchestrating ‘candlelight vigils’ with the aid from ‘fifth generation’ assets. It is the degeneration of the civil state, which is taking place at a faster speed. As a result, resources end up around the deep state and the common poor have all the incentive in the world to join a willing rank of non-state actors, for rent or for sale among the horde of under-nourished and unemployed. Lesser investment in HD indicators, slow or nonexistent trade and commerce, cannot sustain a state for long.
Regrettably, the developing scenario is that a client deep state with the outer tier of a front-line one and the inner tier of a police state is here to stay in Pakistan. That state is not interested in trade, so it has decided to be on IMF injections perpetually. Given the fact that the Pakistani on the street understands the mechanics of the corridors of power and ‘bayonets’, it will not be easy to repeat the previous experiments for another soft NSS takeover.
A fresh middle-class leadership above political expediency can be the ray of hope. Currently, any spontaneous public disapproval of the state and deep state can set into motion events, which may force the entrenched to vacate their ‘trenches’.