President Zardari’s comments in an interview during his visit to France that the international community – including Pakistan – was losing the war against terror because they had lost the battle for hearts and minds is rather demoralising. The thought that we may be on the losing side even after all the sacrifices made and all the lives lost to suicide bombers is depressing. But if we bravely face up to facts, there may indeed be some truth in the president’s grim warning. It certainly offers up a reminder of the
need to avoid complacency and to look realities squarely in the face.
Even today there is a distinct element of shakiness as far as support for the struggle against the Taliban goes. In Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, flood-hit people have spoken of relief efforts by militants. In the conflict-zone and elsewhere people have gained little from the defeat of the Taliban, in terms either of stability or an improvement in the quality of their lives. In some places, notably Bajaur and also South Waziristan, military claims of victory have been rather premature or even false. These are key factors in the failure to win over people — even though many dislike the Taliban or the brutality they have brought to so many tracts of the north.
What is crucial is that a strategy be put in place to make up for errors in the past. Pakistan, more desperately than any other nation in the world, with the possible exception of Afghanistan, needs to defeat militancy. If it fails the future may be too awful to contemplate.
Alongside warnings of defeat, the president needs to tell us what can be done to turn around the war. President Zardari has indicated the strategy used so far has not worked. He needs now to suggest to allies what tactics should be used to ensure his dark predictions do not come true. Only then can the people be persuaded to unite and rise against the extremism most of them already oppose.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2010.