On the eve of the New Year, the stern pronouncements made after long-drawn-out meetings offer some proof that the military and political leaders of this poor, benighted country — a country traumatised but also united by the Peshawar tragedy — have moved beyond the stage of ‘denial’ and ‘more denial’ to an acknowledgement of the existential threat that internal terrorism poses. For the first time, political leaders who had plaintively asked why the Taliban were targeting places in Punjab now acknowledge that it is in Punjab that terrorism flourishes and it is Punjab that, after North Waziristan, must be the focus of the country’s anti-terrorism and anti-extremism effort.
It has been particularly heartening that there has been little or no mention in the course of the debate on the 20-point action plan that the prime minister announced of the ‘foreign hand’. But will this last? My last article on the Peshawar tragedy invited a letter to the editor in which the writer castigated me for failing to mention the “utter failure of our diplomatic arm to persuade and desist regional powers from providing safe havens and financial, as well as moral support to terrorist groups operating in Pakistan”.
Is this form of ‘denial’ likely to re-emerge as we come face to face with the human and material costs that the terrorists will seek to impose as we proceed with our anti-terrorist campaign? Much of the world and many among the local intelligentsia believe that this will happen because the ‘deep state’ promotes fantasies and conspiracy theories. I do not share this pessimism.
I believe that we will summon the courage to acknowledge officially that the safe havens we willy-nilly provided to ‘freedom fighters’ contributed not only to the destabilisation of a neighbouring country but to our own descent into the morass of terrorism and extremism.
First: using the influence and coercive powers we undoubtedly have to persuade the Afghan Taliban on our soil to commence negotiations with the National Unity Government in Kabul taking as the starting point perhaps, the Roadmap for Peace presented by Mr Salahuddin Rabbani, Chairman of the Afghan High Peace Council, in November 2012. If the Taliban remain obdurate then they must be treated like the Afghans and Isaf are beginning to treat the TTP in Kunar.
Restored government control over the refugee camps in Balochistan and establish the government’s writ in the Taliban- dominated suburbs of Quetta, such as Pushtunabad and Khrotabad. Continue building the trench along the Pak-Afghan border. Clear the seminaries from which the adherents of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi launch attacks on pilgrims, devoting more resources to this than to the ‘indigenous insurgency’.
Second: follow up on the appeal against the grant of bail to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. Expedite the hearing of the case against the alleged perpetrators of the 2008 Mumbai attack. Use the recent decision on hate speech to control the public appearances of Hafiz Saeed and his cohorts.
We may want to take with a pinch of salt the outpouring of sympathy both at the official and public levels from our eastern neighbour but it is far better at this time to accept it at face value as an indicator of the regional concern about the cancer of terrorism.
Third: establish the sincerity of our anti-terror and anti-extremism campaign and then launch a special campaign in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to eliminate the flow of funds from Pakistanis, and more importantly, from private Arab philanthropists, to suspect organisations in Pakistan. Recognise that a positive response will come only if our internal measures are seen as indiscriminate and as ruthless as the situation demands.
Fourth: be more candid with our own public about our need for assistance to pursue the war on our internal terrorists. Acknowledge that it is in their own interest that our principal trading partners want us to succeed and will help us. Stop the airing of conspiracy theories on which our entire media narrative has been based and which, more than anything else, can erode the current unity of purpose that has been achieved.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th, 2014.