Securing the First Line of Defence

30 May, 2013    ·   3964

D Suba Chandran explores the role of political parties in the dialogue between the society and the state

The violent attack on the Congress leaders by the naxalites in Chattisgarh is almost a reality check for those who would like to negotiate with the militants in South Asia. While the violence perpetrated by the militants against the State is well documented and analysed in South Asia, the violent attacks against the political parties has generally gone under noticed. The media – print, electronic, and now the social as well, do not understand and subsequently analyse the reasons behind such militant attacks against the political parties.

Political parties, along with panchayat institutions, in our part of the world, especially in South Asia, play a major role and occupy a crucial space in the dialogue between the society and the State. In fact, given the lack of other institutions, political parties are the biggest liaison between the society and the state. They represent the society, dialogue with multiple constituents of it, constantly attempt to win over their support – both during and after the elections.

The civil society also needs the political parties to transform their expectations into policy inputs; many of the decisions taken by the government are a part of this dialogue between the State and Society, with the political parties as a crucial medium between the two institutions. It is a different story that in South Asia, the political parties are highly corrupt and abused by the people and media. However, they play an important role, and more importantly, occupy a crucial role in the society.

The militants, on the other hand, clearly understand the role and space that the political parties occupy, hence consider them as a primary rival. In fact, more than the State and its institutions, especially the police and military, the political parties pose a serious challenge to the militant groups. In Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, since the 1980s wiped off most of the moderate Tamil political leaders and political parties, in its fight against the Sri Lankan state. Why would the LTTE target its own people, those who are also representing the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils? When the ethnic conflict between the Sri Lankan Tamils and the State was at the peak during the 1990s, more Tamil leaders were killed by the LTTE leading the Tamil cause, rather than the Sri Lankan state, representing the Sinhalese interests!

In the recent months, a similar trend could be identified, especially in the FATA region and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province of Pakistan. The Pakistani Taliban is against any presence of the political parties within the multiple tribal Agencies of the FATA. When Imran Khan announced to organise a rally in Waziristan early this year and during last year to oppose the drone attacks by the Americans, the first opposition came from the Taliban.

Why would the Taliban oppose Imran Khan from organising a rally in Waziristan against the drone attacks? The drone attacks led by the Americans based in Afghanistan have been targeting the Taliban leadership in the FATA and have been extremely devastating in terms of decimating the militant leadership. Imran Khan is also known to be soft vis-a-vis the Taliban; in fact, many would refer him as “Taliban Khan”. Despite that, why would the Taliban oppose Imran Khan from holding a rally in the FATA? More importantly, the Taliban, in a neatly organised fashion targeted the Awami National Party (ANP) in the last few years. One of the primary reasons for the routing of ANP from the KP provincial assembly is this systematic assault by the ANP. Unlike the other political parties, the ANP did not have a level playing field, as most of the leaders were in the target list of the ANP.

Not only the political parties, even the panchayat leaders play this role, which is again repulsed by the militants. It is no wonder, that the panchs and sarpanchs are attacked by the militants in Jammu and Kashmir, while the tribal leaders and jirgas were attacked by the Taliban in the FATA. The LTTE, in its initial years targeted many officials of the local self government in Jaffna and around.

Why would militants – be the leftist naxalites, secular LTTE and the rightist Taliban target political parties and leaders of local self governance, irrespective of whether they also represent the same people? Are they trying to prevent the political parties from forming the government? Or, are they trying to warn the political parties from framing strategies against them?

The answer is simple. The attack on political parties is a part of the militant groups’ strategy to prevent any other institution from reaching out to the people. The militants consider the society as their own space and want to keep it exclusively under their control – through either massive propaganda machinery, or a high level of violence. Either way, the militants want to remain the “sole spokesmen” of the people.

In fact, the militants are much more afraid the political parties than the military or police. Given the inherent nature of these two institutions – the military and the police, the personnel serving these two institutions are unlikely to receive the societal support in any conflicting regions. On the other hand, the political parties, by their very nature are omnipresent in every village. In any democratic set up, or even otherwise, the political parties will pose a serious challenge to what the militants want to claim.

It is unfortunate, that in South Asia, neither the civil society nor the State understands the role played by political parties in a conflict situation. It is also equally unfortunate, that even the political parties do not understand that their own significance in a conflict situation.

The political parties and the panchayat leaders are the first line of defence in a conflict situation, which needs to be protected. Unfortunately, the State does not understand this simple defence line, which the militants are extremely afraid of. The State has failed to provide sufficient security to this first line of defence in its fight against the militancy; in fact, protecting them should have been a part of its counter militancy strategy. On the other hand, the militant groups understand the challenge that these leaders pose, hence attempt to eliminate them.

It is in this context, the recent effort to talk to the Taliban in Pakistan, by the new government led by Nawaz Sharif should also be seen. Not only Nawaz Sharif, even the other political parties including the PTI, JUI and ANP seem to be in favour of talking to the Taliban. This will be counter-productive. The militants do not seek to negotiate with the political parties; rather they see the political parties and panchayat institutions as rivals and attempt to eliminate them.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir