The Big Nothing

Military solutions to the problem of terrorism are never complete by themselves

Editorial February 20, 2017
The Pakistani government has intensified the crackdown on terrorist groups following the recent upsurge in terror attacks. PHOTO: INP

Even the most cursory examination of the ‘crackdown’ currently in train with considerably varying degrees of ‘crack’ reveals very little of substance. Whilst it is accepted that not everything is going to be in the public domain for reasons of operational security, the release of a steady stream of figures relating to the numbers of dead, arms and ammunition recovered and the mass detentions — tells us nothing about the fight against terrorism. Thus far the courts are not overwhelmed with men and women who have been charged under terrorist-related legislation despite the numbers scooped up in the ‘sweeps’. There are no reports either of the jails being even more full than they already were, which begs the question as to where all these detainees are being warehoused. A further question begging an answer is what happens to those detained once it is ascertained that not all of them are dyed-in-the-wool terrorists — because not all of them are or could be.

As for the numerous Afghans now in custody, a majority seemingly without appropriate documentation which is by no means unusual — if, as it has to be assumed not all of them are terrorists either are they to be released back into the community or deported as illegal aliens? Perhaps it is too early to define the latter with any certainty but there does not appear to be any swelling of the numbers en-route back to their Afghan homeland.

All this activity has the hallmark of looking busy while doing nothing. The fact that the air force is once again in action in the Tribal Areas against terrorists that were ‘regrouping’ is a clear signal that the operation to clear them out failed. It failed not because the army did not do its job — it did all that was asked of it and more — but because the civilian administration and the politicians failed to create and implement that all-important countervailing narrative that tackles the mindset that allows terrorism to germinate. There was no follow up, and there are no signs either that the current ‘crackdown’ is going to be any different in terms of its aftermath.

Military solutions to the problem of terrorism are never complete by themselves. No matter how successful they are and Pakistan has an effective army with years of anti-terror operations under its belt, without a holistic and national effort to roll back the paradigm terrorism exists within they are, sadly, blood and treasure shed and spent in vain.

‘You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people most of the time but never all of the people all of the time’ — a quote that is unreliably attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Whether he said it or not is irrelevant. The relevance lies in the drip-feed of infotainment currently emanating from assorted organs of the state. The masses are much entertained by these gobbets of news hence the label of ‘infotainment’, the comfort-eating end of the pointless statistics spectrum. So are the media that scoops them up and reports them avidly and is equally beguiled by a bite of numerical fast-food. This is not to say that they are in any way fake news because they are not, and the figures are most likely reliable. Just useless.

What they do not add up to is any sort of strategic vision as to how terrorism is going to be battled and defeated. Which is where the bit about fooling people comes into play. Before the blood and havoc and bodies of last week Pakistan had slipped into a comfortable doze, millions safely fooled. A self-delusional state wherein terrorism had receded at least to the middle distance. The dreadful awakening, the waking nightmare, revealed a complex folly deep within the body politic. If the state believes its own PR people — and it possibly does — then the future is bleak and blissfully plan-free. We expect no change.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2017.

Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.

Facebook Conversations