As our vitriolic media would have us believe, the targeted attempt on Malala Yousafzai is a watershed in Pakistan’s policy on the war on terror and a full-fledged counter- terrorism operation is inevitable. This extraordinary child was overplayed by the state propaganda to portray a soft, progressive and defiant Pakistan against the forces of intolerance. The Western media used her to depict an enlightened Pakistani whose heroes were the forces of moderation. This has now led to a non-productive debate in Pakistan not likely to subside till the next event of media sensationalism. Each segment is using the incidence to advance its own interests. In a country torn by corruption, incompetence and militancy, this is a sorry state of affairs.

The Malala incident is not isolated. The killings of Punjabis and Hazaras in Balochistan, the unchecked targeted killings in Karachi and beheading of a superintendent of police in Peshawar invariably find a linkage with militancy. Not very long ago, a formation of soldiers was taken prisoners and beheaded in Dir. The intensity of such incidents is around the Khyber Agency, Darra Adam Khel, and forays of the Fazlullah group in Chitral and Upper Dir with its epicentre in Kunar, Afghanistan. Hence, the need to look at the entire situation, in the broader context, becomes more important.

This violence indicates motives other than what the perception management would have us believe. Another event eclipsed by the Malala incident is the ‘peace march’ of Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf to the proximity of South Waziristan joined by peace activists, human right groups and international media.

Conversely, some political parties and factions of media turned the Malala tragedy to blast Imran Khan, projecting him as an apologist of the Taliban. Religious parties with affiliations and sympathies to militant groups have also moved into the melee to ensure that Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaaf makes no inroads into hitherto forbidden territories.

In a strange fit of frenzy, some leading dailies and columnist have also joined the chorus to depict Imran Khan as politically naive, ill informed and pro-Taliban. This has relegated an otherwise healthy debate on terrorism to counter-productivity and the demand for a comprehensive National Counter-Terrorism Policy an illusion. Whose interest this serves is anybody’s guess? Do these cynics, propagandist and opportunities offer any solution to the problem? If not, then why must they take pot shots at an individual without guns, thinking out of the box and trying to rally masses around a Pakistani agenda of peace?

As I have written in the past, the intricacies of Pakistan’s internal and external dynamics are complex and intertwined like a gunjal, a local word for something beyond untangling in kite-flying. There is no easy and readymade solution to myriad of problems the security-led establishment has callously created for itself with the pliant acquiescence of the politicians both in and out of power. This laissez-faire syndrome has to be dispensed. With a state of affairs as pathetic as this, had it not been for Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence, the maps would have long been redrawn. As for the army, it finds itself trapped in a minefield with no political and military plan for an exit. Many pseudo-liberals wish that this is the only way to bring this juggernaut to knees.

The present state of affairs is also a reflection of an ever increasing multi-polarity weakening Pakistan. Yet, despite the absence of a cohesive policy and the reluctance of Parliament to enunciate one, the internal and external demands on Pakistan to “do more” keep increasing. Rather than rebuke and demean Imran Khan’s three-point roadmap to stability, the least his detractors can do is to invigorate a healthy debate point by point, dissect the reasoning, improve upon it and if falsified, consign it to the dustbins.

Within the context of United Nations Resolution on Afghanistan, Pakistan has ample space to extricate itself from the US-led war. To do it with dignity, Pakistan will first have to put its own house in order. The economy has to revive, tied aid and trade eliminated, agriculture sector facilitated to provide the jumpstart and good governance to substitute corruption or political bribery. A new purpose and urgency has to be infused in the Taliban peace negotiations to control the violence along the Durand Line.

Most importantly, relations with the countries in the region must improve positively. Inevitably, Iran, the Achilles heels of USA, will also have to be co-opted. Concurrently, the internal dynamics of instability with external linkages, like the mayhem in Karachi, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, will have to be controlled and defeated. In this regard, much will depend on the willingness of political parties with militant wings or affiliations to cede space to peace. With the situation improving, Pakistan will have to get into a diplomatic overdrive to convince the USA to get its footprints off Pakistan and give peace a chance. If Pakistanis decide to become Pakistanis, this tall order can become probable; what I often term as ‘Reclaiming Pakistan’.

There is an illusion and make belief within the security circles that the army has contained the menace of terrorism within the confines of Waziristan. If true, this is a faulty assumption fraught with serious internal vulnerabilities. Militants and their sleeper cells are spread all over, most vulnerable being the major cities of Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Faisalabad and Quetta. As the peace initiative will begin to take shape, these major centres will be under threat of militant activities and urban terrorism. Military installations and movements will be under attack. The most complex situation will arise in Karachi where religious and political parties, mafias and militant groups compete for influence and domination. The government will have to evolve a comprehensive strategy based on effective cooperation between the political parties, civil administration, judiciary, law enforcement agencies and the intelligence. Sifting the grain from the chaff and then consigning it to hell will be a laborious and challenging process with multiple flashpoints. As events stand today, these actors of reform are all daggers drawn. This internal cleansing as a prerequisite, warrants reformation and change of heart, though difficult, yet probable.

If Pakistan can reinvent its nationalism, it will be a matter of time for the wave to spread to Fata and Pata. The traditional tribal culture will need to be restored and strengthened with enduring reforms. The people of the area will need to be empowered and rewarded with socio-economic benefits. It is then that these people will feel confident to engage the diverse militant factions operating in their areas. Towards this purpose, a comprehensive and practical plan acceptable to all stakeholders will need to be devised and incrementally implemented. Within the political paradigm, the strategy will involve placations, persuasions, coercion and use of force to restore stability and dignity to the region; though daunting but not improbable.

I pray that the media as principal opinion makers pick up these themes in a flurry of talk shows. As discussions mature and consensus begins to arrive, Imran Khan’s three-point roadmap to stability will start making sense.

There could never be a bigger tribute to the many Malala Yousafzais and people of Pakistan, who suffer and endure like an unknown soldier.

­    The writer is a retired officer of Pakistan Army and a political economist.