Perspective - 360°

Are we at war?

Published Mar 23, 2015 06:16pm

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Pakistan Army troops — Photo by AP
Pakistan Army troops — Photo by AP

Hitler invading Poland. Saddam and Khomeini wrestling over the borde. The state of Israel bombarding Beirut. The Sri Lankan army squashing the Tamil Tigers. Bashar al-Assad’s murderous last stand in Syria. No doubt war is the world’s most gruesome business – but it is also the world’s most obvious.

And yet, here in Pakistan, there is seldom such clarity. For a republic reeling from war for the last many years, there is ambivalence in the air. This isn’t war, they say, or alternatively if it is, it’s not ours to fight.

Part of this is down to the changing times we live in. For a nation raised on the valour of its Major Aziz Bhattis, this war refuses to make any sense. Because if Pakistan Studies is anything to go by, wars require two sides of soldiers with rows of medals on their chests. It means dramatic tank battles, the kind we saw in 1965. It means a comforting sense of otherness in the enemy – Hindu India or the godless Soviet Union.

In essence, war was about simplicity. It was never about strafing the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan with gunships in the north, or reclaiming the country from a gang of barbarians in the Swat Valley. But this is the Pakistan we find ourselves in today: where the enemy calls himself Muslim, the goals are unclear, and the national will is wavering. Nor is Kashmir the cause — this war threatens the Pakistan we already have.

That is, if we are talking about the ‘major war’ – Operation Zarb-e-Azb – the all-out assault on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other assorted militants in North Waziristan. There is also the ‘non-war’ we should be fighting, that is, against the sectarian virus in Punjab. And the ‘wrong war’ we are fighting and shouldn’t, via heavy-handedness in Balochistan. But those are discussions for another time.

So now, to the fighting at hand — can we call this a war? The word merits mention just three times in the Constitution: Article 245 holds that the armed forces “shall, under directions of the federal government, defend Pakistan against any external aggression or threat of war.” But the aggression we face is decidedly internal – barring some Central Asians – and one must look elsewhere. Declarations of war, as an official instrument, may have to wait.

It is the red button Part X where greater ambit is afforded us: under the Constitution’s Emergency Provisions. The president may proclaim emergency in the case of “internal disturbances” with parliamentary approval (and proceed to suspend fundamental rights). But in our instance, it was the army that announced Operation Zarb-e-Azb; it was the prime minister – and not the president – who okayed it; and just informing parliament was an afterthought, forget getting its approval. In any case, no emergency was proclaimed, which also means there are no get-out-of-jail-free cards for infringing people’s fundamental rights anyway.

So where to turn to? Article 256 forbids private armies, that is, the Taliban, but that may be shooting in the dark. In lieu of a constitutional definition, Operation Zarb-e-Azb may have to settle for ‘civil war’, a war that knows no bounds, where hotels are bombed in Islamabad, where airports are attacked in Karachi, where the sanctity of the church in Peshawar means as little as the security of the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. The Constitution, unfortunately, doesn’t cater to such a situation.

As to whose war it is, a question constantly raised by Imran Khan, the chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, and the answer would admittedly have initially been painted in red, white and blue hues. But in the here-and-now of 2014, ask the TTP whose war it is. Having mounted attack after brazen attack on Pakistani interests, the answer lies bare in front of us.

One we are finally coming to understand. There are no more talks about talks, no more peace delegations and ceasefire declarations. However unconventional it may be, this is a war Pakistan has prepared itself to fight. A war that must be complemented with bringing our tribal areas back to the national fold, opening our doors for internally displaced persons, and redeveloping a part of the north that has been brutally ignored since the days of the British.