How serious is the PML-N government to take effective steps to successfully address the terrorist challenge? The attacks go on but little of urgency is seen to take the requisite action.

It took the new government more than four months to hold an all-parties conference. It got a unanimous mandate to hold talks with the Taliban. For months it sat on this decision, backed as it also was, by the army chief.

It perked up suddenly when a US drone strike killed the TTP head, Hakeemullah Mehsud. Eloquent speeches were delivered by the Interior Minister on the floor of the National Assembly and outside blaming the Americans for sabotaging the start of the dialogue. Many more months have gone by and there is no clear strategy to engage the militants. Yes, with Fazalullah assuming the TTP leadership, the task has become difficult. But if negotiations was the mandated approach to diffuse the worsening violence and arrive at some sort of a settlement, surely a determined government could have found ways and means to build up contacts and start an exchange of ideas.

The continuing dithering characterizing government’s conduct has on the one hand further emboldened the Taliban and other violent groups, and on the other, has also created a breach, so to say, in the political ranks. Today except for PTI, Jamaat-e-Islami, and JUI, all other political parties including PPP are no longer on the same page in terms of the earlier consensus.  They in fact openly run down the PML-N government and accuse it of incompetence. Even the PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami are unhappy at the lethargy and cavalier attitude of the government in tackling the terrorist threat.

An impression is gaining ground that PML-N has all along been unwilling to take the matter seriously. And if the party in power did subscribe to the option to engage the Taliban, it has proved unequal to the task. Thus while terrorism has continued and is spreading far and wide all over the country, the government keeps fiddling with the menace.

Interior Minister’s latest statements are of little help. On the one hand he renewed the offer of talks with the Taliban and on the other declared that “the time has come to rid the soil of this orgy of death and destruction that has been continuing for years”, and added “what is the difference between those choosing the option of unrest, killings and bomb blasts instead of talks and the external forces which have pushed the country towards an unending war”. Again, he questioned the use of force as a solution and posed the question: would an operation in North Waziristan or FATA bring peace in the entire country?

The overall feeling one gets, reading the words uttered by the Interior Minister is, that the government lacks conviction and passion to pursue the approach it chose to follow.

That the government has not invested energy, imagination and determination in devising a workable strategy with regard to terrorism became glaringly manifest in the interview given by the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to a senior journalist in the plane while on a recent visit to Swat. When the journalist drew Nawaz Sharif’s attention to government’s failure to open talks with TTP even after 7 months since the takeover by PLM-N, the Prime Minister had little to say except express a promise to look into the matter on his return to Islamabad. When Saleem Saifi said that as government had not done the job, let Imran Khan, Fazal-ur-Rehman and Sami-ul-Haque do it, the Prime Minister responded positively to the suggestion. The impression created is that the PML-N government is incapable of dealing with the most crucial challenge facing the country.

Does the PML-N leadership realize that it is fast losing credibility? That the opposition including PPP and especially PTI and JI as well as the media are fast turning hostile, hammer and tongs.

Again instead of adopting a policy to carry various political parties along, at least in the case of PTI, the PML-N leadership has resorted to an unnecessarily provocative stance. The taunts and accusations hurled by Abid Sher Ali and to some extent, the Information Minister, have added to the bitterness already existing between the two parties. If terrorism is to be managed through talks (the prospects are becoming thinner by the day), PML-N has to keep PTI on its right side.

It needs to be pointed out that terrorism in Pakistan is not merely a Taliban phenomenon. There are many other elements mobilized and funded by outside forces. Both India and Afghanistan are involved in unleashing hired/brain-washed militants to operate in various parts of the country. In a recent article in the Daily Beast, Bruce Riedel who served as advisor to four US presidents has written that America has been fighting two wars in this region, one in Afghanistan and the second, a “covert” war in Pakistan. (Drone strikes are in addition to these operations.) He concludes the column by saying: After 2014, “we will need to protect our own interests there ….only that will prevent another Al-Qaeda renaissance in the most dangerous country in the world, Pakistan”. And further that “over the longer term, America will need a more realistic and tough policy towards Pakistan”. Add to this grim scenario the fact that India and Afghanistan have entered into a strategic partnership agreement under which the Afghan army personnel are being trained by Indian military experts.

To face the formidable situation after 2014 and taking into consideration that almost 2 million Afghan refugees are still living in Pakistan, it is imperative that there are stable governments in the country, at the centre and the provinces especially in the North-West. This also means that all destabilizing elements and forces must be put down with a firm hand.

Late as it is, to safeguard Pakistan’s integrity, PML-N leadership needs to wake up and harness itself to the all-important task of dealing effectively with the challenge of terrorism without further delay. Let all the national resources be used, to develop a workable strategy to deal with Pakistani Taliban and simultaneously deal with foreign elements militarily.

Put to good use, civil and military intelligence and deploy fully political, administrative, financial and military resources overtly and covertly, to sort out the miscreants. Put in place a National Security Council. Promulgate necessary laws. Set-up special anti-terrorism/insurgency mechanisms. Establish think-tanks focused on internal threats and external challenges.

There is no time for dithering and dilly dallying. The very existence of the country is on the line. No more tinkering please.    

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

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