The gibbering incomprehension as to how to formulate a counter-terrorism policy in Punjab — or any other part of the country for that matter — is finely exemplified by the report that the Punjab Apex Committee has decided to ‘intensify and expand’ the raids being carried out as part of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. As innumerable analysts and commentators within Pakistan and around much of the rest of the world have pointed out effective counter-terrorism is directly linked to a range of factors. Military and paramilitary responses are part of the solution, but never, ever, all of the solution. No state has ever been able to arrest or detain its way out of the terrorism trap, and trying to do so only compounds the problem.
As things stand the terrorists own the narrative nationally and the state does not have the moral authority to mount a credible challenge beyond the mailed fist. At one level we welcome this latest development, as perhaps, just perhaps, some of the festering chancres in south Punjab may finally be turned over, exposed and for the time being cleared out. What happens after the cleaners have left is the great unanswered question, and it is unanswered everywhere. At another level there is a growing and profound disappointment that opportunities to counter the evil that sits within our midst are being missed, deliberately or otherwise, almost daily. Foot-dragging, prevarication and dissembling all characterise much of what is said and done on the civilian side of the counter-terror equation. There is no unity of purpose at a national level and the provinces have widely-differing agendas regarding counter-terror beyond the midnight collar-lifting and well-publicised shootouts with high body counts. The turn of the screw in this new operation is also illustrative of the failure in part of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, with questions of ‘if now, why not then?’ being to the forefront. The military and paramilitary forces cannot be blamed for civilian failures and they are many — in particular any sense of leadership that goes beyond the soundbite and the press release. It is minds that need a refill rather than the courts and jails.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2017.
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