To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often
— Winston Churchill
Add to it another universal truth: when a strategy fails to deliver, change it.
Elements that constitute Pakistan’s strategy in its war against terror include: creating a political consensus; formulating a National Action Plan (NAP); Operation Zarb-e-Azb; coordinating with Afghanistan on Mullah Fazlullah and the TTP; improving the capacity of the police to fight terror; and apprehending extremists and terrorists in a law-enforcement sweep across the country. Reasonable, you would say.
The consensus fragmented the moment Pakistan’s political leadership walked out of their huddle — it hasn’t repaired till date compromising the NAP, which lies uninitiated; the NAP, to begin with, was not exhaustive enough but touched the more important and the more immediate issues and still awaits implementation — the provincial governments have little inclination, and a very badly shifting focus to buy into what is a crucial accompaniment to fighting terror.
Operation Zarb-e-Azb, for the moment, is in a pause because of the prevailing weather, instead relying heavily and at times solely, on air operations, giving the terror groups a reprieve of sorts. Air operations alone will not get us to clear Shawwal; ferreting the terror groups out of every nook and corner through a ground combing action will. Areas already cleared must be routinely re-swept to seek out those who may have missed the dragnet. Relations with Afghanistan are on the mend, but Fazlullah thrives and operates almost with impunity, controlling and coordinating his terror backlash in Pakistan’s cities and towns (APS, Rawalpindi, Shikarpur, Lahore, Hayatabad, Rawalpindi again… ?). This calls for a change in strategy.
Diplomacy, when adopted by soldiers as a parallel occupation, is addictive and risks dilution of focus from leading troops, fighting battles and winning wars; the attendant consequences are simply unthinkable. This war cannot be lost. And the army (yes, army) has the leading role to play in this, not only in Fata, or on the borders but in the cities and towns of Pakistan as well. When the army and the police and the intelligence together would have won this war, Pakistan would have won this war. Shun the oft-stated principle that ‘armies do not fight urban terror’; this one will, because only this one can. And if not it, no one else will. And the crap about the civ-mil balance, and who controls what — cut it. Now is not the time; we have a task at hand.
It exists at two levels — externally, what emanates from Afghanistan, and what elements rooted in there (NDS, RAW, Isaf et al) manipulate the environment in Pakistan to deliver to them their objectives; and an internal dimension that is a bigger strategic imperative for the imbalance it creates in our system of nationhood and attacks from within. This includes terror as common currency in a radicalised society, sectarian terror which is pervasive, and a state machinery as a shell only — its innards long decayed into labyrinths incapable of standing up to the challenge.
The inner front first. The NAP is a good place to start though it must gradually expand to include constitutional provisions of spending at least five per cent of the GDP on education. Even if it be a provincial matter for now, the responsibility under suitable legislation needs to be extended to the provinces. The latest figures for 2013-14 under this head speak poorly of the utilisation of the intended 2-2.5 per cent of the budgetary allocation. Public institutions at the primary, middle and the secondary level must be invested on a sustained basis to wean away those underprivileged and poor of the society who currently route their children to madrassas instead. Going by the unfortunate trends, the provincial governments neither retain such foci, nor the imperatives of such attention for inclusiveness to achieve a more cohesive society.
The apex meetings in the provinces are not only essential to integrate the law-enforcement efforts at fighting internal terror, they are also necessary to keep the focus and accountability of both policies and strategies towards attaining a more disciplined, law-abiding and equitable society. Inequalities will not go away in a spur but politics at the grassroots levels can at least keep people enfranchised towards a common purpose as a society. Without these apex huddles, no one has the time to give to these ideational measures. The political elite tend to gather around what delivers immediate returns, especially material. Lesson: keep going back to each of these provincial capitals, once-a-week, and get the players and the actors together to seek answers on what has been intended as the agreed plan of action. Number two: get the brigadiers and colonels to lead similar apex meetings at the divisional and district levels. Fighting terror may be a national mission, but for the moment, only the military owns it. It must integrate and bring to the fore the resident capacities in varying institutions to eliminate terror as a joint mission in a joint application under a unified leadership.
Externally, the task is crucial too but cannot linger at the altar of diplomatic niceties. Yes, Afghanistan should help rein in, capture or neutralise Fazlullah and company, but nations hold dear their own interests and none will go out of the way to help, especially when institutional memories colour perceptions despite good intentions. Pakistan and Afghanistan do not share a pleasant past and the effects of it are likely to last. Pakistan has a task at hand as these differences even out. See how the US diluted al Qaeda: by eliminating the top three to four cadres of leadership with a sustained effort at counterterrorism. That remains the only way to neutralise Mr Fazlullah and Co: taking the fight to where they inhabit. Afghanistan may be told of the option, and that our patience is running out fast. Recount the towns where Pakistanis have been hurt already, and that there will not be another place where Mr Fazlullah may enact his monstrosities.
Pro-Action rather than reaction; incessant pursuit rather than inchoate recalcitrance; deeds rather than words. If what you have doesn’t deliver, change it; if it doesn’t deliver fast enough, make it work faster. If Raheel Sharif can do it for Pakistan, so be it. The politics anyway is in a deep lag, and time doesn’t wait for laggards.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2015.
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