Surge in terrorist attacks

It is no secret that we have differences with the US on several aspects of Afghan policy

Talat Masood February 21, 2017
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army and a former federal secretary. He has also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Recent surge in terrorist attacks in which over a hundred people lost their lives and several hundreds were wounded in a span of less than a week has shaken the nation. The attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar was by far the most devastating even from our gory standards. Immediately fingers started pointing at Afghanistan that terrorists were launched from bases in that country.

The military’s Zarb-e-Azb operation was able to clear the deeply entrenched terrorist sanctuaries in Fata successfully and there had been relative calm. This led to an air of complacency as though the challenge of militancy has been largely overcome. Amongst the perpetual optimist there was even an air of dejavu, which was abruptly shattered. Nonetheless, recent terrorist activity throws up a huge challenge and could be a defining moment for the nation provided our leadership is willing to realise the gravity of the security situation. There also has to be a realisation that our past policies failed and a fresh approach is clearly needed.

With the new leadership in the top ranks of the army it provides a unique opportunity to critically review our policies towards Afghanistan and the region as a whole. The current situation reflects the bankruptcy of the policies Afghanistan and Pakistan are pursuing. All they are doing is placing blame and strengthening each other’s enemies. Pakistan rightly considers Afghanistan giving refuge to TTP leadership in its backyard a hostile act. Similarly, Kabul has serious reservations about Pakistan pandering Haqqani network and the Taliban Shura. True, we all are aware that it is a complex situation and there is a history to it. But how long are the two countries going to remain prisoners of the past especially when the policy is not working and creating deep distrust among them? Besides, the price of pursuing this policy in terms of innocent lives and loss to the economy has been exceptionally high and continues unabated. It has damaged our national reputation and credibility. Despite the enormous losses and hardships that Pakistan has suffered there is no international appreciation of its role in fighting terrorism. This indifference of major powers has coloured Pakistan’s relations with the West and given an opportunity to India to shift international focus from the happenings in Kashmir.

Major point of contention with the Afghan government is our perceived support for Haqqani network and the Quetta Shura. This is not to deny that the Taliban have wide support in Afghanistan. But it is for the Afghans to decide how they would like to bring peace in their country. By providing Afghan Taliban a safe environment in Pakistan and the TTP leadership operating from safe haven in Afghanistan is a recipe for disaster.

The notion that has currency among some of our decision-makers that the Afghan Taliban is different from the TTP does not hold to scrutiny. Both owed allegiance to Mullah Omar, the spiritual and ideological mentor. The two accommodate each other in their sanctuaries from where they plan and launch attacks. More significantly, Pakistan’s support of the Afghan Taliban pushes the Afghan government to lean heavily on India and the US and strengthens the RAW-NDS nexus. What is being overlooked is the latent threat of Daesh in Afghanistan and its potential fallout on Pakistan. Already we find that TTP and the LeJ are rebranding by affiliating with Daesh. The only way to come out of this vicious cycle is for Pakistan to stop supporting the Afghan groups and the demand from Kabul to act against Pakistani militants residing in Afghanistan. It was refreshing to learn that Afghanistan has shown willingness to cooperate with Pakistan on security matters and General Bajwa has welcomed the move. If implemented faithfully it could contribute significantly to stabilising the border.

We also cannot dissociate the Indian factor while dealing with Afghanistan. It is, however, not a zero sum game. For Afghanistan’s ruling elite, India plays a major role in the country’s infrastructural development and helps in creating a balance in its relations with Pakistan. Afghanistan however fully realises Pakistan’s unique position and would like to have a relationship based on mutual trust. If both India and Pakistan refrain from using their proxies in Afghanistan it would vastly improve the security situation.

It is no secret that we have differences with the US on several aspects of Afghan policy. In fact, their grievances are very similar to those of Afghan government. The more Pakistan and Afghanistan accommodate each other’s interest the better. This would of course require a more holistic approach.

Our internal problems demand greater focus on governance, internal security and nation building but hostile relations with Afghanistan is taking the focus away. Our criminal and civil laws are outdated and creating serious problems in dealing with cases related to terrorism. Vested interest of strong lobbies to maintain the status quo and inertia in the ruling party is preventing from introducing new legislation. The indifference of the government to take appropriate measures to deal with terrorist cases by civilian courts were completely ignored. As a consequence the government was left with no choice but seek for extension of military courts for another three years. With the government unable to provide satisfactory protection to judges, lawyers and witnesses there is no way that civilian courts were in a position to function.

It is understandable the current wave of terrorism invited a strong response. But when the public is informed that over 100 terrorists were killed in a short span of few hours question that immediately comes to mind why were we waiting to deal with them for a catastrophic event to occur. The momentum that has been generated should help in maintaining our resolve. Although past experience shows that such knee-jerk reaction is short-lived. What is needed is a long-term comprehensive strategy that aims at eliminating terrorism through policy reforms. This would require reappraisal of our policy towards non-state actors and internal reforms. On the external front, cooperation with Afghanistan and stabilising relations with India is equally important.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2017.

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