A national internal security policy has been announced.

It was earlier discussed in the central cabinet and approved.

It however, has yet to be finalized.

The interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan presented some of the salient contents of the policy in the National Assembly. Leader of the opposition, Khurshid Shah, quipped that the minister’s statement had created “confusion” with regard to government’s stand on the peace dialogue with the Taliban, referring to the minister’s remarks that the talks had been “put on hold.” He complained that political parties had not been taken into confidence. The Prime Minister, who happened to be present in the house, took notice of Khurshid Shah’s criticism and clarified the status of the announced policy. He gave the assurance that leaders of opposition parties would be invited for heart-to-heart discussions and their advice sought to improve it, it being a state policy rather than a government’s.

He added that the government’s well thought-out policy was not the final word and suggestions would be welcome.

A word about the policy.

It has, according to the interior minister, three dimensions. The first dimension will deal with day to day affairs and shall be kept secret. It shall be reviewed weekly or monthly as required by the situation. The second would be strategic, spelling out how to proceed and operate. The third dimension would be operational. Nisar said there were four options to choose from—the first to continue with the status-quo, the second to hold dialogue, the third to go for a full-scale military operation and lastly to carry forward dialogue and strategic action, side by side. Dialogue was opted out but because of the Bannu attack and the killings of FC Jawans. It was stated: “we decided for strategic strikes along with dialogue with those who desired dialogue.” The precision strikes he said, were a result of a change in policy. These strikes are being executed in the light of intelligence reports, collateral damage is being avoided and care is being taken for the safety of the citizens, he added.

An important part of the policy is a revamped and strengthened NACTA—National Counter Terrorism Authority. There will also be a Joint Intelligence Directorate for the coordination of all the intelligence agencies. Another initiative is the raising of a rapid response force at the centre and in the provinces which will work under the police. Helicopters are to be provided. An internal security division will be created for ensuring coordination amongst the civil armed forces. “We have a firm resolve to root out terrorism and extremism” concluded Nisar, winding up his speech at the National Assembly.

While a realistic analysis of the policy has to wait till the policy document is released, one or two comments are in order.

Terrorism being Pakistan’s number one problem, the security policy could and should have been formulated months earlier. Nisar’s claim that the present PML(N) government deserved special credit for making it, doesn’t absolve the government from the delay of eight months. And as indicated by the Prime Minister, it has yet to be finalized. One wonders how the policy will be implemented and how much time it will take for the new institutional set-up proposed to be established and made functional. As pointed out in my earlier columns on the subject, it took the government three months to call the All-Parties Conference and another three to initiate dialogue. Precious time was lost before the process was launched. Along with talks, steps could have been taken to win over influential elements in the tribal areas, to ferret out foreigners, initiate measures for the welfare of the displaced persons and isolate hardened terrorists. The government should also have been prepared for disruption so that necessary measures could be taken speedily to reduce the misery caused by military action, whenever necessary.

Although the PTI is reported to have endorsed the government policy to inflict military strikes in response to unacceptable terrorist attacks on soldiers and civilians, there is much food for thought in Imran Khan’s recent observations. Speaking on TV he said: “I am afraid that those who want the talks to fail are achieving their objective… there were no Taliban in Pakistan until we sent the army into Waziristan… then, between 2007 and 2013 about 360 suicide attacks took place. Dialogue would help you identify those who want to talk and those who don’t. If I were the PM, I would lead the dialogue because terrorism is our biggest problem.”

Already 50,000 people are reported to have fled from North Waziristan. Where will they go? Does the government have a plan to accommodate them? Tens of thousands already displaced from other agencies are etching out a miserable existence. Many of them, well-armed and angry are a sitting target for recruitment by the anti-government militants and foreign agencies.

The army is reported to have claimed that they can “clear the area (North Waziristan) in 4 to 6 weeks.” With all the success presumed to have been achieved in other agencies, have the Taliban’s reach and strikes been reduced? They have, in fact, now spread to many of our major cities and have been active in Peshawar and Karachi. Can Pakistan afford to be bogged down in fighting its own people for another decade? Will this help the economy and promote peace and security?

By all means, let there be retaliatory strikes but no let up in our resolve and dynamics to continue with the dialogue. We have on record the Taliban’s admission that the talks shall be within the framework of the constitution of Pakistan. We cannot throw away another hundred billion dollars to pursue a fight with our own angry citizens who were attacked mercilessly by a myopic dictator and transformed into monsters.

The one overwhelming goal today is to bring peace back to this hapless country. All our wisdom and energy should be deployed to achieve this highest priority objective. We have to stop interfering in other countries’ affairs and not allow others to interfere in ours. We have to ensure that peace and security are restored. Without them, no sustained social and economic development can take place.

 The writer is an ex-federal secretary and ambassador, and a freelance political and international relations analyst.