Terrorism: A geopolitical malaise
Yet another bloody wave of terrorism has just swept across Pakistan, leaving many Pakistanis dead and many more wounded. Pakistan has lost three brave and ablest senior police officers in three separate terrorist incidents in Quetta and Peshawar. Last week, four TTP terrorists stormed Agriculture Training Institute in Peshawar, killing at least nine people. Had the local police and security forces not timely thwarted this attack, death toll would have risen manifold. On last Wednesday, two worshipers were gunned down in an Imambargah in Islamabad by two unidentified riders. Last month, in another gruesome incident of terrorism in Turbat (Baluchistan), as many as 20 young men were shot dead by the BLF separatists. Similarly, a number of young military officers and personnel have also embraced martyrdom while fighting against the militants across the country during the last few months. Noticeably, Pakistan’s internal security is currently in disarray.
Undeniably, there is a visible reduction in the intensity of terror incidents in the country as a result of Pakistan’s domestic counter-terror measures. However, these measures have yet not succeeded in completely eliminating this menace from the country. With a score of 8.4 out of 10, the Australia-based Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) has recently ranked Pakistan fifth on the Global Terrorism Index (GTI). This situation is still quite worrisome. According to DG ISPR, the recent terrorist attack on Peshawar Agriculture Institute was planned by the terrorists based in Afghanistan, and the attackers were also in contact with their abettors in Afghanistan. As a matter of fact, a hostile Afghanistan, sharing more than two thousand Kilometers long but porous border with Pakistan, is currently posing the greatest threat to Pakistan’s internal security. Most of the terrorist attacks in Pakistan are planned in Afghanistan under the very nose of anti- Pakistan intelligence agencies, namely the RAW and NDS. Most of the miscreants fled to Afghanistan as soon as Pakistan military formally launched Operation Zarb-e- Azb in June 2014. Now these ‘broken backed’ terrorists have recovered to attack Pakistan afresh, thanks to numerous ‘rehabilitation facilities’ in Afghanistan.
There have been certain conspiracies theories that the US is desirous of undermining the conventional military strength and nuclear capacity of Pakistan as part of its ‘Greater Middle East’ initiatives. It is also believed that the US is playing a game of run-with-the-hare-and-hunt-with-the-hound in this region in the name of War on Terror. Now Pakistan is also an important component of its so-called China containment policy since the CPEC, a flagship project of China’s One-Belt One-Road (OBOR) initiative, is just situated in Pakistan. In fact, the broader US strategic interests have somehow converged with India’s security doctrine in this region. Therefore, we can observe both ‘strategic partners’ jointly calling the shots in Afghanistan to the disadvantage of Pakistan. It is a fact that militancy has mushroomed in Pakistan since the US invasion in Afghanistan.
The CPEC route largely passes through the provinces of Baluchistan and KP. So both troubled provinces have become the primary target of terrorism and militancy. Pakistan Army has raised a Special Security Division (SSD) to secure the CPEC route and its accompanying projects in Pakistan. However, it is not humanly possible to fully secure every inch of the CPEC route. Indeed, Pakistan will have to evolve a comprehensive security strategy to improve the general state of its internal security. Pakistan’s domestic counterterrorism policy includes a number of kinetic military actions (Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, IBO’s, Combing Operations etc.) besides some preventive measures in the form National Action Plan.
The primary focus of NAP is on containing sectarianism and religious extremism in Pakistan. In fact, sectarianism is just one of many aspects of the phenomenon of terrorism. Noticeably, the pattern of terrorism has transformed from the traditional sectarian and jihadist model to an anti-state model, which primarily aims at destabilizing Pakistan. Moreover, most of the suicidal attackers are not the students of religious seminaries, but usually are the tender-minded young boys who have been brained-washed for this particular purpose. Similarly, their facilitators are generally the rouge criminal elements who only work for money. Therefore, now Pakistan should seriously focus on evolving a multi-prong external strategy to adequately tackle the geo-strategic dimension of terrorism.
Pakistan currently doesn’t possess any significant external strategy or regional policy to counter or neutralize anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan. Instead of proactively endeavouring to force Afghan government to abandon its hostile and cunning policies against it, Pakistan has mostly been seen defending itself against the terror allegations level by the US and Afghan government. After every major terror incident in Afghanistan, Afghan government readily blames Pakistan. Similarly, the US has also started holding Pakistan responsible for its current Afghan woes. It has long been asking Pakistan to eliminate terrorist sanctuaries inside its territory. So, during their recent visits to Pakistan, both the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and US Defense Secretary Jam Mattis just resorted to the US typical ‘do more’ rhetoric.
Pakistan needs to initiate a ‘strategic dialogue’ with the US to marginalize anti-Pakistan forces in Afghanistan. The US has visibly failed to accomplish it desired objectives in Afghanistan despite fighting the longest and most expensive war in its history. So now the US-India ‘strategic partnership’ would also get it nowhere. Instead, the US may lose the confidence of its important ‘non-NATO ally’ in this region. Moreover, Pakistan should also try to engage India through back-channel diplomacy, preferably at the NSA-level, to negotiate the terms of peace on reciprocal basis.
Iran is another key player in the region. Following the US Invasion in Afghanistan, Iran helped the US topple Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Iran has influence on certain non-Pashtun Afghan groups. Following the development of Chabahar Port, Iran occupies a crucial position in the regional connectivity. It also has an important role in connecting Afghanistan to the outside world. Pakistan can hardly afford an unfriendly Iran alongside a hostile Afghanistan in this region. Therefore, Pakistan should focus on improving its long-strained relations with Iran. Iran can help Pakistan in stabilizing its troubled province Baluchistan. COAS General Qamar Bajwa’s recent official visit to Iran is a positive step in the right direction. This process should certainly be intensified through a serious diplomatic maneuvering.
A harmonious civil-military relationship is a sine qua non for devising a comprehensive strategy as well as foreign policy to combat terrorism inside and outside Pakistan. But regrettably, at the moment, there exists a considerable mistrust between these two crucial state institutions. Both are trying to establish their respective institutional superiority in the wake of current political turmoil. So the civilian and military intelligence agencies are just busy in spying on each other rather than penetrating into the terrorists’ network to pre-empt terror attacks in the country. The recent wave of terror in Pakistan signifies, among other things, the dilapidated state of our intelligence apparatus. Last week’s humiliating capitulation of Federal Government before the TLY’s clerics in Islamabad is really worrisome. If Pakistan can’t handle a few fanatics in the capital city, how can it overcome terrorism and militancy, involving a large number of state and non-state actors?
Considering Afghanistan and Pakistan a single war theatre, the term “AfPak” has been coined by the US military strategists and formulators of foreign policy. Now The Office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan has been established in the US to safeguard the US broader strategic Interests in both countries. Probably influenced by this US geographical division, the Islamic State militants have also recognized Afghanistan and Pakistan a single region- “Khorasan”. Therefore, Afghanistan and Pakistan are now the ‘Area of Responsibility’ of ISIS-Khorasan. In fact, the so-called AfPak region became volatile and destabilized as soon as US invaded Afghanistan in 2001. This region has turned into a battleground where a number of proxy wars are being fought. Now the fate and future of both troubled countries are interlinked. Therefore, there can be no peace and stability in ‘AfPak’ unless the ‘friendly occupying forces’ leave Afghanistan for good.