Friends and enemies
The fate of the peace talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) remains uncertain after the group ended the month-long ceasefire in early December and accused the Pakistani authorities of failing to keep their promises in the early stages of negotiations.
It is also unclear at the moment whether Pakistan wants to make war or peace with the TTP in order to resolve the conflict that has claimed thousands of lives, displaced millions and caused irreparable economic losses to the country. Meanwhile, Pakistan continues to advocate Afghanistan and its new Taliban rulers internationally, hoping to use that support to neutralize the internal threat posed by the TTP. In the fog of strategic ambiguity, it is not known whether the TTPs will be treated as friends or enemies of Pakistan.
The German lawyer and political theorist Carl Schmitt wrote that the specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is between âfriendâ and âenemyâ. In the book âThe Concept of the Politicalâ published in 1932, Schmitt says: âThe enemy is not just any competitor or partner in a conflict in general. Nor is he the private adversary you hate. An enemy only exists when, at least potentially, a fighting ethnic group encounters a similar community. The enemy is only the public enemy, because by virtue of such a relationship everything that has a relationship with such a human community, especially with an entire nation, becomes public … friend-enemy distinction. “
In other words, the distinction between a friend and an enemy is not just a matter of individual preference; it is the state that decides both its internal and external enemies. The possibility of a war – which does not necessarily have to occur – always suggests this distinction.
India has been Pakistan’s greatest external enemy for over 70 years, and this position has worked not only in wars but also in times of peace. The need for this hostility has dictated most, if not all, of Pakistan’s foreign policy considerations.
Internally, however, Pakistan has no fixed enemy, or perhaps even a well-defined criterion that can determine the characteristics of an internal enemy. For this reason, we have often seen patriots become traitors overnight or citizens become outlaws. There are numerous examples of such patriots turned traitors; Fatima Jinnah when she challenged the dictatorship of Ayub Khan, Huseyn Suhrawardy, GM Syed, Wali Khan, Ataullah Mengal, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo and Mujibur Rehman. More recently, we have the case of three-time Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, the parliamentarians of the Pashtun Tahaffuz movement, and even academics like Dr. Ammar Ali Jan.
Schmitt wrote that internal peace considerations force states to declare themselves internal enemies, and this is especially true of constitutional states. For him, the constitution is “the expression of social order, of the existence of society itself. As soon as it is attacked, the struggle must then be waged outside of the constitution and the law, that is, it must be decided by the power of arms.”
Interestingly, those whom the Pakistani ruling order viewed as “internal enemies” had not attempted to attack the constitutional order during their long political careers. Your fault could have been the opposite; these “internal enemies” tried to uphold the law of the land and demanded accountability for those who undermined or overridden it.
Units like the TTP, sometimes referred to by the Pakistani rulers as âmisguided youthâ, do not recognize the Pakistani constitution and should be viewed from Schmitt’s perspective as domestic enemies. Indeed, the TTP has carried out numerous attacks on security guards and civilians over the past two decades to express its contempt for the Constitution and the state apparatus that is designed to preserve and protect it.
When security operations were briefly launched in Waziristan to clear breeding grounds for terrorism, the TTP was seen as an enemy. The need to eradicate the ongoing threat of terrorism was perhaps the first case in recent history to bring the civil and military establishments “on an equal footing”. Media campaigns were then launched to highlight and justify the need for military campaigns and the internal displacement caused by the process. This mass displacement was seen as a necessary public sacrifice in the face of a national security imperative. The military campaigns produced some positive results; Terrorist attacks have decreased, networks have been destroyed, and there has been a semblance of peace and security in the country for at least some time.
While the TTP was viewed as a domestic enemy, Pakistan complained that Afghanistan provided sanctuaries for militants in Kunar and Nuristan after they fled across the border during operations. On December 17, 2014, during a visit to Kabul, the then army chief demanded decisive action against the militant troops and even threatened to chase the militants if the Afghan authorities fail to act. At the same time, Pakistan maintained its position that the Afghan Taliban deserved a share of the government – and eventually helped broker a withdrawal agreement for the US forces, which catalyzed the overthrow of Ashraf Ghani’s government.
Pakistan now hopes to use its influence over the Afghan Taliban to negotiate a peaceful solution with the Pakistani Taliban – and to blur the distinction between friend and foe. This decision to negotiate with the TTP was taken without a debate in parliament and without a consensus among the country’s political representatives.
What has changed Pakistan’s stance towards the TTP? Is it a matter of will or capacity or both? The answer can be a combination of three factors. First, the perspective of the ruling party and Prime Minister Imran Khan. Prime Minister Khan has always made his position clear towards the Taliban; While in the opposition, he spoke out against the US war on terror several times. In many interviews, he described Pakistan’s involvement in the war on terror as one of his “greatest mistakes”. Once he even threatened to block NATO supply routes after US drone strikes in Pakistan.
Khan also had public sympathy for the Taliban in Afghanistan, saying they “broke the shackles of slavery” by overthrowing Ashraf Ghani’s government and forcing the US to withdraw. There are many who reflect his views in the corridors of power, and these voices are satisfied with the strategic victory in Afghanistan, even if it comes at the expense of encouraging domestic terrorist groups.
The second factor can be the financial cost of military campaigns. As the US withdrew from Afghanistan, the billions of dollars in Coalition Assistance Funds (CSFs) available to allies in the war on terror also increased. Part of this funding was military aid to fight terrorism in the region. Pakistan was a beneficiary of these funds. Since the liquor has dried up, the incentive to fight has decreased significantly.
Finally, the rise and strengthening of right-wing extremist forces in Pakistan indicate changes in attitudes towards society over the years. Progressive forces, constantly attacked over the decades, have become too marginal to have any appreciable influence on public opinion and attitudes. The tragic cost of terrorism remains a marginal issue in the minds of many Pakistanis. For others, it is an inevitable consequence of a degenerate system administered by incompetent rulers.
The author is a journalist and tweets at @aimamk