The Peshawar school massacre of schoolchildren pulled the nation out of the Stockholm Syndrome (in which victims develop sympathy with their oppressors). This psychological paralysis caused by fear and a trail of tragedies frequently inflicted by terrorists and extremists has somewhat stalled. The bestial massacre of children and a general consensus that the state must act to eliminate terrorism in all its forms and manifestations has arisen.
The proclaimed ‘firm’ resolve of the civilian and military leaderships to curb terrorism has been translated into a 20-point National Action Plan (NAP). However, besides the hanging of a few terrorists and the formation of committees at the national and provincial levels to implement NAP, no substantive action is being taken so far on any of the 20 points. The establishment of military courts has dominated the media and parliamentary debates. As expected, parliamentary political parties gave into the military’s demand for more constitutional power. It is ironic that the leadership of mainstream political parties never challenged the misdirected national security paradigm and foreign and domestic policies set by the establishment for decades. Instead of relying on the power of votes and voters, the political elite have notoriously played along as the establishment’s ‘B’ team and compromised the people’s interests.
The 20-point NAP hints at the immediate and underlying causes of terrorism that need to be eradicated. However, NAP makes no paradigm shifts in terms of proposing changes in the state’s discourse. Enmity with India was portrayed as the reason behind developing the state’s national security paradigm. The state’s collusion with US imperialism and the Afghan jihad prepared a breeding ground for terrorism in the country. The neglect of human security and development provided foot soldiers for terrorist organisations. These are the structural causes of terrorism that get no mention in the NAP. However, this is not to say that the 20 points are not relevant or important. As a matter of fact, all the points included in the NAP are fairly crucial and its effective implementation can help eradicate terrorism. The real challenge is can we achieve all these without making a paradigm shift in our domestic and foreign policies? The other challenges come from the level of political will and the capacity of state institutions to execute the NAP.
As far as political will is concerned, a change at three levels is imperative: 1) without bringing the much-needed shift in state ideology, it would be impossible to create religious harmony in the country. The state has been unable to treat its minority citizens in a fair manner. Thus the separation of religion from the business of the state is the need of the hour. This was clearly envisaged and stated by the Quaid-e-Azam in his speech in the first Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947.
2) Our foreign policy needs a radical change. Instead of pursuing the policies of hate and enmity with India and strategic depth in Afghanistan, we need to strike peace deals with our neighbours. Pakistan should not allow any world or regional power to fight its proxy wars from Pakistani soil. This will eliminate the state’s need to create and promote its own proxies. Pakistan must claim its national sovereignty by delinking its foreign policy from imperialist powers, such as the US and Saudi Arabia. The wave of terrorism in the country is not an isolated local phenomenon. It is linked with global terrorism and works in collaboration with terrorist organisations working across borders. Only with an independent foreign policy will Pakistan be able to eliminate militant outfits that are receiving funding from foreign powers.
3) The state must prioritise the goal of nation-building instead of state-building and should make a shift from the notion of Pakistan being a national security state to it being a human security state. Without investing resources to build human capital, we will not be able to protect our youth from becoming victims of the propaganda of extremist organisations.
Without taking steps to remove these structural bases of militancy and terrorism, it will be difficult for the government to deal with underlying causes of terrorism, such as controlling madrassas and mosques that are involved in forging extremist mindsets and which serve as training camps for militants.
As far as the capacity of the state to root out terrorism is concerned, it is certainly far less than desired. Military action appears to dominate the plan to eliminate terrorism. This issue demands a multi-pronged approach with stakeholders taking full responsibility for engaging in the drive against terrorism. The government fails to engage people at large to help them provide information about sleeping cells of terrorists. People can be involved in monitoring media content, madrassas and mosques in their vicinity. A mechanism should be instituted where people could provide information to the authorities about those involved in creating sectarianism, indulging in hate speech etc.
The government and state institutions alone cannot execute the fight against terrorism. The fissures within the government and security agencies and the vacillation on part of the state have been witnessed time and again in the past. To ensure that the state takes the responsibility of defeating terrorists, all progressive, democratic forces in the country must play their role too. They must galvanise public support through making a united front in keeping pressure on the government to make a radical shift that is critical for the success of the NAP.
The delay in taking some immediate doable steps has already begun to erode the confidence of the public in the government’s resolve to combat terrorism. The arrest of leaders of sectarian outlawed organisations, taking control of those madrassas and mosques, such as Lal Masjid, that have clear links with terrorists and taking stern action against Maulana Abdul Aziz and certain televangelists, who are involved in inciting violence against Ahmadis and Shias, could have gone a long way in reposing the public’s faith in the government’s commitment to root out the menace of terrorism.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 10th, 2015.