Success creates its own problems, a gross misperception created by the outstanding “Operation Zarb-i-Azb” is that terrorism having been dealt a decisive blow we have little to worry about. Nothing can be further from the truth! True that the loss of training camps, hideouts, military dumps, ammunition and bomb manufacturing factories, medical centers etc has been devastating for the insurgents once in almost total occupation of North Waziristan. Previously roaming around with impunity, mostly on 4 x 4 vehicles, worse was their loss of freedom of movement. They are now footing it in very difficult terrain like the Shawal Mountains, etc. Their logistics chain being badly disrupted has certainly emasculated their potential for wide ranging “blowback” in the Pakistani hinterland, diminishing their capacity somewhat but given the extensive infrastructure established over years, only limiting their capability for targeted mayhem.
The horrific suicide atrocity at the Wagah border barely 4 days ago was its most visible demonstration. Resulting in more than 60 dead, mostly women and children, and many more critically injured, among the Shaheed three Rangers personnel on duty. The brutal mindset of the terrorists is exposed by their choice of a “soft target” for accomplishing their evil objective of spreading death and devastation. A regular festive event evoking patriotic favor, people come from all over Pakistan to see the flag-lowering ceremony and extravagant ceremonial drill by the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers and Indian Border Security Force (BSF).
Despite the mind-searing tragedy, the suggestion, mainly from the other side of the border not to have the ceremony next day, was turned down. It was vital for public morale to have the ceremony as usual, a clearcut message of unity and defiance needed to be sent to the terrorists. A newspaper headline about “the day after”, “Bombing fails to damper Wagah Border pageantry”, and the news item said it all, “the ritual flag-lowering ceremony still took place 24 hours later undeterred by the carnage. Hundreds of men, women and children filled the spectator stands chatting “Death to terrorists” and “Pakistan Zindabad”.” While the patriotic fervor par excellence graphically displayed the inherent resilience of the Pakistani public, the “show of force” by the military was outstanding.
Corps Commander Lahore Lt. Gen. Naveed Zaman did the uniform and country proud by his presence along with two of his General Officers Commanding, Maj. Generals Fida Hussain Malik and Aamir Abbasi and the Director General Rangers Major General Khan Tahir Javed Khan, Lahore Police being represented by CCPO Capt (Retd) Amin Wain. Naveed Zaman spoke for all Pakistanis in no uncertain fashion, “Today’s ceremony proved that terrorists cannot lower the spirit of the nation or the morale or zeal of our countrymen by their cowardly activities.” It would have been nice to see some of our rulers and opposition politicians at Wagah when the chips were down and a representative segment of our society including women and small children came in droves without fear into harm’s way to join our military hierarchy and be counted as Pakistanis!
Coordination in intelligence failure despite the early warning was a major security lapse. Any public venue attracting large numbers daily is always vulnerable and almost impossible to protect even when well secured. The fact remains the suicide bomber did get through the first security screen, with disastrous consequences.
Consider the unprovoked escalation the Indians have contrived by their belligerence on the working boundary adjacent to Sialkot over the past month, we should not rule out their involvement. Should we kid ourselves by the timing that this was not a well thought out maneuver meant to achieve multiple objectives to keep the Pakistan Army fixed in place and divert them from their primary mission, defending the frontiers of the country? The Army could well acquire counter-terrorism (CT) capability but they should not be used in the urban and/or urban/rural areas except in dire emergency as a last resort, their involvement in the cities would be tailor-made for a public relations disaster. Special police powers over an extended period have its own inherent problems, incidents are bound to happen. The Rangers in Karachi are subjected to motivated adverse propaganda, despite doing an excellent job they are quite often targeted by civil society and sometimes by the superior judiciary.
The protection given to hard-core terrorists by some politicians on the deluded pretext that they have sworn off their penchant for murder and mayhem must stop. Let’s not confuse freedom fighters, those who fight to rid occupied country from oppression, with terrorists who target their own country and countrymen in cowardly attacks pursuing a vicious agenda of imposing their own perverted version of ideology. The government needs to implement the well-crafted “National Security Policy”, presently lying in cold storage. They must differentiate between a successful counter-insurgency (CI) and our CT operations being successful only intermittently. Without a dedicated CT force we will keep fighting for a 100 years.
An umbrella “Homeland Security” Command must be created to combine all available resources of logistics, manpower, intelligence, communication, operations etc. from both civil and military resources. Our CT Force, or whatever else you may like to call it, must quickly come into play to eliminate the scourge of terrorism. Unfortunately those who should listen to good advice act deaf, dumb and blind, Pakistan has suffered a lot by people acting stoic while making money for themselves!
The writer is a Pakistan-based defense and political analyst. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org