The statement by the Foreign Office (FO) on 22nd December that dismissed the latest assessment by the Pentagon that the Taliban and the Haqqani network were operating in and from Pakistan must be treated with considerable caution. The Pentagon report is biannual and derived from a mix of open source and secret intelligence. The FO says the report is mere rhetoric, and that Afghanistan is ‘infested’ with terrorists because of the instability there. The FO also acknowledged that the ongoing operations in Tribal Areas had resulted in the decanting of extremist and terrorist elements to Afghanistan — and therein lies the rub.
Terrorism is evolving quickly. It is becoming smaller-scale; incidents are often committed by self-radicalising individuals as recently demonstrated in Germany and France. In Pakistan the denial of a presence of the IS is problematic. The IS is unlikely to have a formal network supporting an operational wing, but it has worked assiduously to establish a climate of support nationally that can be operationalised or potentiated. There is no ‘Terror Central’ in Pakistan, but there is no shortage of pools of extremism that are sustained financially and ideologically often by groups that are supposedly ‘banned’ either. Dismissing that reality has inherent dangers, not least being that this is a ball that an eye must be kept on and failing to do so has grave consequences.
The military operations against terrorism and extremism have been very successful, but the military is not an agent of societal change. It is not for the military to create the countervailing narrative that over time shuts down the incubator in which extremism is cultivated. It is naive to believe that terrorism is somehow defeated in Pakistan. Elements of it have been, but the nature of the beast is that it changes shape; it is adaptable, self-repairing and parthogenetic. The very least thing it is vulnerable to is political delusion.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2016.
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