COAS Gen Kayani said earlier this month that the nation must create national consensus against terrorism. Of course, the Army Chief is 100 per cent correct, but the path to that consensus requires us to forge a new consensus on the legitimate use of force in society.In recent days, several seemingly unrelated incidents have captured the media spotlight. Sikander brought the capitol to stand still when he appeared in the streets with automatic rifles and hostages demanding imposition of Sharia system in Pakistan.
In Karachi, people continue to be killed in merciless and senseless acts of violence, and even a 7-year-old girl received bullet wounds in Orangi Town this week. In Lahore, one youth died and three others were injured when armed men fired at them on the Davis Road. Last night, an explosion rocked Rangers HQ in Korangi number 5 killing two people and injuring several others. All of these things seem unrelated, but actually they share a common denominator – the belief that the use of violence to get their way is the legitimate claim of each individual.
In 1919, the eminent sociologist Max Weber explained that the basic foundation of the state requires that it maintains a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of order. If the state does not maintain this monopoly, then society has descended into chaos.
In Pakistan today, weapons are everywhere, and the belief that the individual has a legitimate claim to use physical force, or violence, to achieve his ends is demonstrated daily as everyone from well organized and well funded militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi to the lowest street criminal takes up his weapons against his fellow citizens and feels perfectly justified in his actions.
It is this belief in the individual’s right to use force to promote his beliefs that results in attacks on Shias, Christians, Ahmedis and other minorities. It is this belief that resulted in the shooting of Malala Yousafzai by a Taliban militant. It is this belief that allowed Malik Qadri to turn his gun on the man he was sworn to protect and commit a murder in broad day light without the least hint of shame.
This belief is reinforced when we spread conspiracies about the victims, such as those that spread against Malala. It is also reinforced when those sworn to uphold the law throw roses on assassins. But the question that must be asked is how this belief came to take hold in society. For if we are going to remove the weed, we must first find its roots. Ironically, the roots of this problem lead back to the state itself.
The rise of militants groups under Gen. Zia was part of a strategy to defend Pakistan by augmenting the state’s official military power with unofficial armed groups. These unofficial groups received training, weapons, and intelligence cooperation from state and military agencies and served as armed proxies in Afghanistan and Kashmir.
Much has been written and said about how the Frankenstein’s Monster got out of the state’s control and began to recognize its power to go beyond the dictates of its state masters and advance its own agenda resulting in the confused belief in ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. Less has been said, though, about the broader effect the creation and use of militant groups as proxy fighters has had on society. State agencies can deny that there is any support for any militant groups, but nobody really believes that. Passively tolerating these groups alone is demonstration enough that, at a minimum, state agencies accept their legitimacy.
By supporting and using ‘unofficial’ forces such as militant groups, state agencies have given away their monopoly on the legitimate use of force in society. ‘Plausible deniability’ may give state agencies cover for the acts of proxy fighters in Afghanistan and Kashmir, but it also gives ‘plausible legitimacy’ to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who can get his hands on a Kalashnikov. Reversing this perception requires action.
Gen Kayani is right when he says that securing the nation requires creating a national consensus against terrorism. But doing so will require not only saying that terrorism is illegitimate, it will require the nationalization of the legitimate use of force. To achieve this, state agencies must either publicly acknowledge which groups are official agents of the state, or shut them all down. Without making clear who has a legitimate claim to use of force and who doesn’t, it is not just state agencies that risk losing their legitimacy, it is the state itself.