The Pulwama attack and the subsequent escalation between India and Pakistan has had one unintended benefit- other than placing Pakistan on a higher moral footing due to our diplomatic efforts for de-escalation, the bilateral fiasco has also led us to re-evaluate, as a state, our approach towards the important but uncomfortable question of tackling militancy and violent religious extremism.

We can see the efforts on way-the government recently notified a 2019 order of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) that would provide a legal basis for freezing or seizure of properties owned by individuals and organisations designated by the council as terrorists. Perhaps even more significant was the meeting of the National Security Committee where it directed law enforcement agencies to accelerate actions against proscribed groups and reinstated a ban on the Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) and its charity wing Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF). Now it has emerged that forty four under-observation members of proscribed organisations have been taken in preventive detention for investigation.

It would not be fair to say that Pulwama was the sole trigger- talks of countering funding of militant groups had been underway since the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) placed Pakistan under review. The FATF deadlines have seen Pakistan making headway by strengthening its financing and anti-money laundering regimes. While these efforts have not been enough to satisfy FATF, there has been progress. Perhaps the real barrier that Pulwama broke down was the informal social taboo that had been associated with the conversation on militancy. Despite the continuous FATF reviews and our government’s emphatic response to avoid placing Pakistan on the blacklist, our political leaders, as well as our own public, did not like to talk about concrete efforts to tackle violent extremism and militant groups- until now.

The topic is rife with complexities and nuances. As much we wish, extremism and militancy cannot be whisked away with a simple operation. In any anti-militancy plan we take, there are many questions of international law that Pakistan has to deliberate on. Before making any decision, Pakistan would also have to take the sensitivities of our relations with neighbours in contemplation as well, considering the nexus to the Afghan border, and China’s position in the UNSC.

What was sorely needed, and which is changing now, is more clarity on Pakistan’s approach. It is time to face up to the fight against militancy with loud resolve- the government needs to declare unambiguously Pakistan’s goal towards ridding our country from all forms of militancy, terrorism and violent extremism. The road to countering terrorism is a long one- but an unapologetic stance against militancy is a good step.