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Pakistan’s ‘war on terrorism’

FINALLY, Pakistan has declared its own ‘war on terrorism’. The North Waziristan operation, the prime minister’s pronouncements and the adoption of the Protection of Pakistan Bill by the National Assembly are significant signals of serious intent to rid the country of the terrorist menace.

To succeed, the government will have to plan and pursue a comprehensive strategy and utilise all relevant instruments of state power — military, police, intelligence, diplomatic and economic.

The North Waziristan operation was long in coming. The political reticence was overcome by the failure of the talks with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its relentless acts of terrorism. The attack on the Karachi airport was the final straw.

The North Waziristan operation is unlikely to be fully successful since it lacked the vital element of surprise. Most of the militants, it must be presumed, have slipped out of the agency. Even so, the military operation will disrupt the militant groups that are affiliated with the TTP and cleanse the epicentre of anti-Pakistan terrorism.

The North Waziristan operation is unlikely to be fully successful since it lacked the vital element of surprise.

However, the presumed dispersal of the motley group of TTP militants will require the elimination of their external (Afghan) safe havens and their ‘internal’ hideouts within Pakistan. Both objectives are challenging.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif rightly, if belatedly, requested Afghan President Hamid Karzai to seal the escape routes from North Waziristan into Afghanistan. Given the known and self-declared support given by Afghan Intelligence to elements of the TTP and the safe haven provided to Mullah Fazlullah, the current TTP ‘leader’, Karzai’s unhelpful response was not surprising.

To eliminate the Afghan safe havens, and end the support to the TTP and the so-called Balochistan Liberation Army from Afghan (and Indian) intelligence, Pakistan might find itself considering both soft and hard options.

Like Washington, Pakistan can hope that Afghanistan’s next president will be more helpful than Karzai. Pakistan can reciprocate Kabul’s cooperation by using its presumed ‘influence’ with the Afghan Taliban to promote reconciliation within Afghanistan. Unfortunately, if the Afghan election ends in controversy and crystallizes that country’s ethnic and regional divisions, the likelihood of any cooperation from Kabul to eliminate the TTP’s safe havens will recede further.

Failing to secure such cooperation, Pakistan could press the United States to use its vaunted drones to attack the TTP safe havens inside Afghanistan. This would be an acid test of America’s sincerity in combating all terrorists. If such US action is not forthcoming, a much harder option might be considered: Pakistan’s acquisition of armed drones (from China) to target the TTP’s safe havens in Afghanistan.

Since elements of the TTP consist of Uzbeks and Chechens, who also threaten Russia and Central Asia, and Uighurs, who threaten China, Pakistani authorities might seek support from Moscow and Beijing — both military and political — to eliminate the TTP safe havens. (Collaboration with Moscow and Beijing may also be useful in promoting internal reconciliation within Afghanistan.)

Eliminating the TTP’s ‘havens’ in Pakistan will be equally if not more difficult. A priority aim must be to smoke out the TTP terrorists from their hideouts in Karachi. Further terrorist attacks like the one on the airport in Karachi could stifle all chances of investment and economic revival in Pakistan.

A second priority should be to neutralise the Punjabi Taliban. This will need bold decisions by the ruling party, some of whose members have well-known political links with sectarian groups. These groups should be pressed to break with the TTP and renounce terrorist violence or suffer the consequences of security action by the state.

Among the Pakistani groups, the Lashkar-i-Taiba has a unique position. It is not a part of the TTP. Its agenda is pro-Kashmir and anti-Indian. A dialogue can be attempted with the LeT to dissuade it from embarking on adventures, like Mumbai, which do not serve the larger interests of the Kashmiris, the Indian Muslims or Pakistan. It should be encouraged to pursue its agenda through political means.

Combating terrorism in Fata and adjacent areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa will involve winning over insurgent factions, such as the Sajna group, and tribal leaders, through a combination of incentives and disincentives. The incentives could include: provision of speedy justice, electricity, health services and education, political representation, monetary rewards and job creation, especially through infrastructure projects. A parallel endeavour is essential in Balochistan.

Halting terrorist financing is crucial. All the three main sources of such financing need to be addressed: criminal activities, such as kidnapping and drugs; contributions from religious zealots, both foreign and domestic, and money supplied by hostile foreign agencies and governments. With a determined, honest and intelligent effort, most if not all terrorist financing can be controlled.

Success in the counterterrorism campaign will depend considerably on effective intelligence and police functions. Existing structures are not up to the task. One or more special units, equipped with honest and qualified personnel, modern investigative and operational capabilities, and the intimate involvement of the armed forces and the intelligence agencies, will need to be created to address the multi-dimensional objectives of the counter-terrorist campaign.

It also seems essential to create an apex body, similar to the Nuclear Command Authority, where the political, armed forces, intelligence and diplomatic leadership can jointly formulate and oversee the execution of an agreed national counterterrorism strategy.

Ultimately, Pakistan’s ‘war on terrorism’ will be won only if it addresses and resolves the root causes of extremism and terrorism in the country: poverty, unemployment, injustice, inequality, ignorance and the erosion of tolerance, decency, humanity and nationalism within our society and polity.

This will be a long ‘war’. It will entail suffering and sacrifice. But it is a war worth fighting to achieve peace and prosperity for Pakistan’s 200 million people and to reclaim the soul of the country that was created by Pakistan’s founding fathers.

Pakistan’s ‘war on terrorism’
by Munir Akram,
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.

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