Pakistan’s Response to Terrorism: Will it Work?

Pakistan has launched the much-anticipated operation against Taliban and foreign militants in the North Waziristan tribal region. Aerial bombing of militant targets in regions close to the country’s border with Afghanistan has left dozens of militants dead. A ground military operation is also underway. But one analyst thinks that “targeted” military operations against terrorists may not be enough. The country, he says, needs a new and comprehensive socio-political narrative to educate the civil-military bureaucracy, media and judiciary about the primacy of the internal enemy and the need to build peace with, and diffuse, the external threat.

Posted on 06/10/14
By Najam Sethi | Via The Friday Times
A Pakistani soldier standing at the guard at some check post. (Photo by Ali Mir, Creative Commons License)
A Pakistani soldier standing at the guard at some check post. (Photo by Ali Mir, Creative Commons License)

The audacious terrorist attack on Karachi airport by Central Asian terrorists has finally brought home one naked truth. The terrorists have cunningly utilized the space for “talks ” and “ceasefire” to entrench their fierce resistance to the state. The application of force only can now degrade and disrupt their plans. Accordingly, the military has announced its decision to go after terrorist hideouts in the tribal areas and solicited the help of American drones to take out targets. Does this signify a resolve by the Pakistani state to uproot the scourge of terrorism by all means possible?


Some questions are bound to linger and cast doubt about the state’s will and ability to go after the terrorists. Why didn’t the state come to this conclusion years earlier when high state functionaries like General Musharraf, Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Benazir Bhutto, and several ANP (Pashtoon nationalist Awami National Party) leaders were attacked or killed by terrorists? Or when soldiers like Lt Gen Mushtaq Baig, Maj Gen Ameer Faisal Alvi, Maj General Sanaullah Niazi, Commandant Safwat Ghayur and scores of army and police officers were target assassinated? Why didn’t we respond when state institutions like Bacha Khan Airport Peshawar, Minhas Airbase Kamra, Mehran Naval Base Karachi, GHQ Rawalpindi, Manawan Police Training School Lahore, Askari Mosque Rawalpindi Cantt, Pakistan Ordinance Factory Wah Cantt, were targeted? Why has it taken the lives of over 50,000 people, including 5000 LEA personnel, to persuade us that we need to act firmly and finally against the terrorists who have laid us low?


The fact remains that there is still no consensus in state and society about a suitable response to terrorism. Should we still consider talking to the terrorists or should we fight them to the bloody end? Are there good terrorists and bad terrorists? Are these terrorists homegrown or foreign inspired? Is this a case of Intel failure or policy failure? Who is responsible for this crisis, soldiers or civilians, or both?  How should we deal with it? So many unanswered questions!


The irony is that since independence we have doggedly built a “national security state” against external threat and aggression and now find ourselves under relentless attack from an internal enemy. No one put it better than ex-army chief General Ashfaq Kayani, who led the ISI and GHQ (Pakistan’s military headquarter) by turns, when he publicly confessed before retirement that the existential threat to Pakistan is internal and not external. The irony is that there are 33 police, army, paramilitary, security and intelligence organisations employing over 800,000 people and spending over Rs 1000 billion every year (half our tax resources) and they cannot protect us against this terrorism. A bigger irony is that – according to the National Internal Security Policy document drawn up recently by Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan – 56,000 vacancies exist in these 33 security organizations, absurdly implying that if these vacancies were to be injected into the ocean of over 800,000 security personnel, the internal terrorist threat would be effectively tackled.


There are two dimensions to the problem. The first relates to the State’s perception and assessment of various aspects of terrorism. The second relates to the State’s response to them on various fronts. If the perception is skewed, or distorted, or false, and therefore removed from reality for one reason or another, then the response is bound to be inadequate or misplaced.


It is correct that Hindus and Muslims couldn’t live together in one state because of economic and political discrimination. This led to the creation of Pakistan. But the narrative of post independence Pakistan that its survival is based on assessing and reacting to India in a sum-zero game as the permanent enemy is the fatal flaw that haunts this country.


There are two adverse consequences of this fatally flawed “national security” narrative. One, it has accorded primacy to the military over the civilian order. This has had adverse consequences for the rule of law, political stability and democracy. Two, it has justified the military’s doctrine of “asymmetric warfare” based on first-strike nuclear weapons and armed non-state actors for external meddling in the region to redress conventional military imbalances. This in turn has led to the growth of cancerous sectarian, jihadi and Taliban groups. Three, it has sanctioned a disastrous love-hate relationship with the United States which has stunted economic and political development.


Therefore it is not enough to launch “targeted” military operations against terrorists in the tribal areas. A new and comprehensive socio-political narrative is needed to educate the civil-military bureaucracy, media and judiciary about the primacy of the internal enemy and the need to build peace with, and diffuse, the external threat. This narrative has to be woven around notions of a civil-military balance, democracy, regional amity, global integration and universal human rights, and embedded in revised curricula and textbooks. The sooner the first steps are taken to signal a dynamic reassessment of the new realities, the better.


Najam Sethi is one of Pakistan’s leading analysts. This article was first published in The Friday Times, Pakistan’s leading political weekly. Click here to go to the original.

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