Pakistan has rendered innumerable sacrifices in the war on terror. Many civilians and law enforcement agencies’ (LEAs) personnel have been martyred in this war. No doubt, LEAs have played magnificent role in fighting this war. However, now, when Pakistan is heading towards 2018 election, a rising tide of terrorism has flabbergasted many. It has put into question the role of LEAs in common and of caretaker government in particular. Specifically, when National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) has earlier predicted such attacks why the countermeasures could not be materialised? It seems the caretakers took it for granted and, hence, failed to neutralise the threat.
Let’s have a look at the recent terrorist events to gauge the severity. On July 10 a political rally of Awami National Party (ANP) was attacked in Peshawar, wherein, apart from 19 others, a leading figure of the party, Haroon Bilour, was martyred and 60 others were injured. Similarly, on July 13, a heinous blast targeted the election campaign of Baluchistan Awami Party (BAP) in Mastung, Baluchistan that martyred 149 people and more than 150 wounded, amongst them was a notorious politician, Siraj Raisani. The blast was so fatal that the death toll is continuously increasing till today. After Karsaz and Army Public School attacks, this was the third largest attack in the history of Pakistan. The same day, another suicide blast targeted apolitical gathering hosted by JUI-F killing four people and wounding 19 others.
Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Islamic State (IS) have claimed responsibility for carrying out those heinous attacks. According to a report by Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies at least 158 people have been killed and 670 wounded in six weeks leading up to general election. So, pre-emptive measures are imperative to rule out any chances of future attacks.
Now question arises what might have been the possible objectives to carry out those fatal attacks? The answer, simply, is to sabotage the election process. Both the external and internal enemies wish to destabilise democratic process in the country. One can see that the terrorists targeted political parties irrespective of their political or religious ideologies. The attacks were massive and targeted election rallies of BAP, ANP, and JUI-F. So, the purpose seems to be spreading chaos for sabotaging upcoming election.
Second, antagonistic powers have tried their level best to internally destabilise and externally isolate the country. This resurgent wave of terrorism is not an exception in that regard. Perhaps, the election campaigns were the ‘soft targets’ for them to cause a massive destruction. Therefore, it was carried out. However, certainly, people of Pakistan are very courageous and brave; they have rendered infinite sacrifices against war on terror with great courage. And it is impossible to shatter their valour. In this regard, Election Commission of Pakistan took a right step in the right direction-to continue election process.
Furthermore, attention diversion might have been another agenda behind those attacks. Recently, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights unleashed the first ever enquiry report on atrocities and human rights violations in India-occupied Kashmir (IOK). The report focused on human rights violation in IOK from July 2016 to April 2018. Wherein, it laid down that, “in responding to demonstrations that started in 2016, Indian security forces used excessive force that led to unlawful killings and a very high number of injuries.” This was the first report of its kind that not only highlighted the Indian violations in IOK but also demanded to constitute a commission for an impartial enquiry into the matter. Also, the UN Secretary General endorsed this report and asked for political solution of the prevailing conflict. This worried the enemy of Pakistan who left no stone unturned to destabilise her. Also, this report substantiated Pakistan’s claims of Indian sponsored state terrorism. In future, if Pakistan works on global perception management at international level her narrative will, certainly, be acknowledged and applauded. Henceforth, the recent wave of terrorism might have an agenda of diverting attention from this report. So, it should be countered by appropriate measures at both national and international level.
Now the question is how to get rid of this menace, terrorism? First, Terrorism is a transnational phenomenon; and regional and international agencies can, by collaboratively working and intelligence sharing, eliminate this threat. In this regard, a quadrilateral meeting of spy agencies was hosted by Pakistan last week. Wherein spy chiefs of Russia, China, and Iran participated. They discussed strategies for countering IS and the overall regional security. More such measures would play a proactive role in countering extremism.
Second, a successful war against terror combat needs two front warfare; operational and psychological. Since Post-APS attack the LEAs have been successfully executing operational activities. On operational front, they have eliminated most of the terrorist sanctuaries and hideouts. However, the psychological front has continuously been either ignored or not given the importance it needed. Third, a unanimously agreed 21 point National Action Plan could not be executed in its true letter and spirit. The political dimension of this plan remained vague. Ultimately, the root causes of terrorism could not be ruled out and, hence, continue to pose severe threats to stability of the country.
The following strategies may be adopted at psychological level of this war. First, a counter narrative is the need of the hour. This counter narrative must be established through debate at national level. For this a healthy debate may be started at university level. Most importantly, this narrative then should not be imposed on all segments of society; otherwise, it would add fears to the problem. Ensuring freedom of speech, let the debates at different levels of society create a new realistic narrative. Second, restructuring the whole educational system is essential to eradicate extremism. Educational reforms are necessary to establish harmony in our society. The syllabi should be reformed in order to address extremist views of our society. It should have a balanced approach towards historical and current issues rather than establishing biased opinions. It must not discriminate amongst people on the basis of caste, colour, creed or religion.
Third, the religious scholars have profound impact on our social fabric. They need to play a more proactive and constructive role in establishing harmony in our society. They must expatiate the teachings of Islam according to the current demands of our society. They should teach people to respect and tolerate each other’s views. Fourth, the state must ensure a peaceful environment for all citizens. It must not distinguish among its citizens on any basis. In order to formulate a coherent society, free of extremism, state must provide equal opportunities to all segments of society. In this way the manpower of country would be used in its social and economic development. Fifth, Media should play a constructive role in restructuring the traditional views of our society according to the modern values. For that, it must disseminate awareness in our society regarding tolerance and moderate behaviour. Also, it should aware our young generation to productively use social media.
Those are the long-term solutions. However, in the short-term the caretakers need to take the matter seriously. Amid the prevailing chaotic environment in the country, when we are heading towards general election- a week farther, a level playing field is imperative for all political parties. The caretaker government should plan and execute pragmatic strategies to fulfil its mandated responsibilities. In this regard it is pertinent to call the meeting of National Security Council to discuss the looming threats and the counter-measures. The provincial caretakers need to activate provincial apex committees formed under the mandate of NAP. Also, the LEAs should work on intelligence sharing and execute coordinated operational activities to eradicate the threats of terrorist activities in election campaigns. A peaceful conducive environment needs to be provided to all political parties for a free, fair and transparent election.
The writer is serving in Punjab Police. He holds masters in International Relations from Quaid-I-Azam University Islamabad. Currently, he writes in different journals and newspapers on Foreign policy and Security issues.