Understanding Pakistani Taliban

The U-Curve
Babar Sattar,
Dawn, October 21, 2013

MALCOLM Gladwell in his latest book David and Goliath writes about the relevance of the inverted U-curve to violence. Using the example of North Ireland and other data from criminologists he argues that, “there comes a point where the best-intentioned application of power and authority begins to backfire”.

In other words the application of force up to a certain point bears positive results after which it plateaus and then comes the downward spiral where use of force actually makes things worse.

The inverted U-curve argument seems logical. In the context of violence and terror, it rests on the concepts of rational actors and deterrence on the one hand and limits of power and state legitimacy on the other. The upward spiral in the inverted ‘U’ is explained by the fact that humans are rational beings and their cost-gain analysis influences their behaviour. Thus if a criminal feels that there is high probability of getting caught and reasonable certainty of punishment, crime would be deterred.

The downward spiral of the inverted U-curve is explained by the inherent limits of what power and authority can accomplish and how their excessive use can undermine the legitimacy of the state. If the state itself is perceived as illegitimate by a sizable part of the populace, use of force by it can become counterproductive and provoke more violence by creating more recruits who see those challenging the state as fighting a just war against an unjust state.

If we analyse our Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) conundrum as realists (not as moral pacifists or denialists) and agree that excessive use of force is counterproductive, we need to consider the following: one, when can we deem the use of force to have become excessive; two, what are the demands or grievances of terrorists that inform their concept of state legitimacy; and three, how does adhering to the demands of terrorists affect the rest of the law-abiding citizens of Pakistan.

Consider the examples of East Pakistan or Northern Ireland that Imran Khan uses to support his pro-talks stance (Gladwell also uses Northern Ireland to explain the limits of power). These were movements driven by a sense that the state was unjust in its distribution of rights, resources and power in relation to a community that had a shared identity. Such lack of justice undermined the legitimacy of the state in the eyes of the community and excessive use of force by the unjust state entrenched the resentment and provoked more violence and hate.

Notwithstanding horrible acts of terrorism against state officials or innocent citizens, within the realist paradigm the state can talk to an aggrieved community and its terrorists whose demands are rights-based. If a community feels that the state is stealing its rights and resources, there can be a conversation about redistribution. Balochistan falls within this category. And that is where the inverse U-curve is relevant. The aggrieved Baloch are focused on their rights and the resources made available to them by the state.

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