Despite Pakistan’s deep involvement in the fight against terrorism and extremism for over a decade, it has yet to truly formulate a comprehensive policy and action plan to combat militancy. It is essential that we do this because militancy combined with extremism feeds directly into terrorism. The government has essentially relied on the army leadership to formulate and execute policy. In this vacuum, many political leaders, especially from the religious and rightist parties (including Imran Khan), have come out with their policy prescriptions based on the idea that militancy will go away once we disassociate ourselves from the US-led war in Afghanistan.
While it is true that the foreign occupation of Afghanistan has given rise to a strong nationalist impulse that feeds militancy in Fata, that alone has not resulted in the increase levels of militancy and extremism we are experiencing. Overlooking other major factors that have transformed Pakistan into what some call the ‘epicentre of terrorism’ would amount to self-denial. It is possible that if the militants feel vindicated and empowered following Nato’s departure from Afghanistan, they may turn their sights even more forcefully towards Pakistan itself.
The recent attempt by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government to devise a strategy to combat militancy, albeit delayed, is an admirable initiative. It needs to be carried forward to its logical conclusion by the federal government. We have already witnessed how many tribal leaders favourable to Pakistan have been assassinated in Fata.
As a result of flawed external and internal policies pursued over decades, Pakistan today, faces multiple sources of terrorism. Although, by far the greatest threat comes from the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), jihadi elements, sectarian and ethnic militants also remain a serious threat. Although the army’s selective operations in Fata have brought about limited success, the TTP remains a potent threat. Attacks have occurred on major military installations, intelligence headquarters and places of worship where different radical groups have acted independently or in unison with other groups with the object of weakening the state and capturing power.
Poor governance, weak state structures and flawed national policies have facilitated the rising power and influence of these groups. Illiteracy, unemployment, the elitist character of our society and pervasive corruption also contribute to extremism. We need to neutralise the sectarian and radical organisations that practice and preach violence. The state should stop pandering to jihadi groups as it damages the credibility of its anti-extremism policy.
In 2008, when the democratic government took over, people thought that it augured well for combatting terrorism. Prolonged military rule had contributed toward strengthening militants. But the verdict of the people against military rule and their rejection of religious parties were regrettably not channelled usefully against extremist forces. To clean the swamp of militants required economic development and political integration of Fata into the mainstream, along with a host of other measures. Terrorism can be beaten when moderate forces mobilise themselves to isolate and defeat its perpetrators, but by remaining a silent majority they allow a free hand to militants. The TTP and other militant groups have become media savvy and are putting across their narrative effectively. Pakistan needs a forceful and positive counter-narrative.
Apart from banning militant organisations and keeping a close watch on their activities, the government should attempt to get to the roots of such groups. What is their motivation level, source of funding and who is providing them patronage? The TTP pays its cadres from earnings acquired from criminal activity, drug trade, charities and collecting local taxes. Their financial inflows have to be squeezed. The government has to treat terrorism as a criminal offence.
There has been a large internal displacement of people during military operations, nearly 300,000 in South Waziristan alone. If not suitably rehabilitated, they will be exploited by the militants. With 70 per cent of the population unemployed, a female literacy rate of three per cent, and a large number of people under the age of 30, the government’s highest priority in Fata should be to focus on providing employment and education.
Militancy and extremism will not be defeated piecemeal. Without a comprehensive policy and a serious action plan, we will continue to drift into a dangerously downward spiral.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2012.