The stepped up terrorist activities in the first month after the installation of the new federal and provincial governments have provided the latest evidence, if some evidence was still needed, of how terrorism, violence and extremism are the major threats to the Pakistani state and society.
The recent statement by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that “Pakistan has suffered long at the hands of terrorism … Curbing terrorism is my government’s topmost priority” shows that he is learning, albeit slowly, from the experience of one month. However, his government still shies away from taking a forthright position on this issue.
The military top brass views the current efforts to contain terrorism as “Pakistan’s war” but the current political leadership in power shies away from owning the war on terrorism in which over 40,000 civilian, military, paramilitary and police personnel have been killed.
The irony of the situation is that the federal level, Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are being ruled by political parties that are known for their soft approach towards the Pakistani Taliban and other militant and sectarian groups. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) are known as sympathisers of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and their perspective on Pakistan’s role in the war on terror, and security operations in the tribal areas overlap with that of the TTP. The PML-N has pursued a soft attitude towards these groups, too.
However, the TTP and other militant-sectarian groups have sent an unambiguous message to the new federal and provincial governments that they mean business and want to secure a domain of authority for themselves or humble the Pakistani state system in order to enforce their political and religious choices on it. This calls for a total review of the counterterrorism policies of the PML-N and the PTI.
If the government and state institutions cannot ensure protection of life and property to the citizens, the latter lose confidence both in the government and the state. An electoral triumph can carry a government for four to six months only. After that, it is its performance that counts. Any government that leaves the citizens at the mercy of violent groups loses legitimacy quickly.
No meaningful economic development is possible if powerful non-state groups establish their domains in parts of the country or use coercion, violence, and terrorism or threat thereof to dictate their terms. In such a scenario, the economy cannot sustain itself — forget about mega economic projects.
Pakistan cannot retrieve its positive image at the international level if violence and terrorism are not contained. It will have to give up completely the notion of reliance on militant groups for advancing some foreign policy and security agenda. The country should rely more on conventional diplomacy, soft power of culture, media and human excellence, and an increase in Pakistan’s economic relevance for other countries. Our counterterrorism policy must reflect the following principles.
First, violence and terrorism must not be tolerated on any count. The state agencies must tackle terrorist groups at the earliest. No space should be given to violence on the pretext of reaction against drone attacks or any other excuse.
Second, the primacy of the Pakistani state must be asserted over all organisations, groups and individuals within Pakistan’s territorial limits. If drone aircraft violate Pakistan’s sovereignty, the violent activities of all kinds of militant groups are also a negation of Pakistan’s sovereignty.
Third, the military must assert its control over the tribal areas. The prolongation of the operations in five tribal agencies has raised doubts if it is a problem of capacity of the military or a matter of policy that militants are given space to survive. If the military cannot assert its authority in the tribal areas against militant groups, it will be difficult to do so after the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan in 2014.
Fourth, a dialogue with the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups must be held within the framework of Pakistan’s Constitution and territorial integrity. The stoppage of violence by these groups would be a precondition for talks.
Fifth, Pakistan faces different types of terrorism. This includes terrorism by the tribal areas-based groups. They also fight with each other to expand their domains. Then there are the mainland-based militant and sectarian groups, as well as Baloch separatist groups and the violence in Karachi that combines violence of various kinds: Taliban-inspired, political and ethnic, criminal activity, land grabbing and extortion. You will need firm but different strategies for dealing with different types of terrorism.
Sixth, violence and terrorism in the urban areas can be contained mainly by a professional, qualified and well-paid police force. The police should be strengthened by giving them special counterterrorism training and their salaries should be enhanced. All appointments and postings on political considerations should be done away with. The Special Branch and the Intelligence Bureau should be upgraded and given the assignment of information collection regarding extremist and militant groups, and others engaged in such activities in the cities.
Seventh, attention should be given to economic development and employment generation to ensure that our youth opt for a normal life. However, all this requires that terrorism be controlled. Otherwise, the much-needed economic development may not be possible.
Eighth, rehabilitation and reorientation progammes should be launched to accommodate those who give up terrorism and violence. They need to be retrained to lead a normal life in society and must be helped to adopt professions that lead them towards living a financially stable life.
Countering terrorism is going to be a slow process. However, the civilian government and the military need to create operational strategies keeping in view the above principles. Furthermore, the civilian government and the military should work together to eliminate terrorism, and they need to create a discourse to justify their policy and counter the discourse that directly or indirectly supports or glorifies militancy. This calls for a change of mindset on the part of the political leaders and civil society leaders.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2013.
Like Opinion & Editorial on Facebook, follow @ETOpEd on Twitter to receive all updates on all our daily pieces.