Now that a full-fledged military operation has been launched in North Waziristan, are the military and the government well-prepared to take all necessary steps to ensure its success on the one hand and properly manage the various tasks flowing out of the consequences of the aerial and ground warfare?
There is bound to be a violent and widespread blow-back. While there are reports of deployment of army in Islamabad and some other places, how good is our counter-terrorism apparatus? Yes the law has been tightened, an internal security strategy planned, the counter-terrorism authority said to be somewhat strengthened and rapid action forces are being created but how much has been actually put on the ground systematically is not quite known. The attack at the Karachi airport told us that a lot has yet to be done to establish an effective machinery to officially cope with the challenges to the state and the society from terrorism and subversion. In addition to the mentioned envisioned special measures, the capacity of the law enforcing agencies has also to be enhanced. This will require well-devised training programmes inclusive of developing capabilities to use new technologies. The criminal justice system also needs to be reformed to act as a deterrent.
A seminar was organized recently by the newly established Institute of Policy Reform in Lahore to discuss various aspects of an effective counter-terrorism policy in Pakistan. The key note speech was delivered by Director South Asia US Institute of Peace based in Washington, Dr Moeed Yusuf. The speaker referred to his study of insurgencies in South Asian countries. Some of his noteworthy insights and observations with reference to Pakistan were:
a. The military operation in North Waziristan may take a few weeks but it will not result in the restoration of peace.
b. To be successful in the war against terrorism , core reasons for the insurgencies need to be figured out and root causes identified and seriously addressed.
c. Economic development per se is not a solution of the problem of terrorism .
d. It needs to be recognized that funding and support for the insurgents/terrorists do come from abroad. This fact has to be factored in the overall strategy.
e. The terrorism and insurgency in Pakistan was externally driven and can be traced to the events of 9/11 and US-led Nato involvement in Afghanistan.
f. Pakistan needs to tackle terrorism within its border by finding the right balance between force and talks with the TTP keeping in view the country’s internal security problems and strategic considerations.
g. No state wins the war against insurgency if it is unable to win the war of narratives between the state and insurgents/terrorists. Unless this war is sought to be won, no sustainable peace can be achieved in the country. There is an alarming confusion over narratives in Pakistan. Because of this confusion, the state of Pakistan has not been able to formulate a coherent policy to combat the ongoing wave of terror.
h. The real game is taking place in Pakistan’s cities where besides pockets of terrorism , extremists including banned organizations remain active.
i. Pakistan’s police and criminal justice system do not have a good record of capturing terrorists and convicting them.
j. The media has an important role to play with a view to shaping a realistic public opinion. It has to orient itself to speak from an informed perspective so that it can enable itself to project positive/moderate voices.
Humayun Akhtar who chaired the meeting expressed a deep concern for the blow-back of the military operation launched in North Waziristan. He observed that the state was not prepared to handle the backlash. He highlighted the existence of sleeper cells in the urban centres. The political leadership has been found wanting to cope with the unfolding fallout.
I might add that the fallout will not be restricted to collateral damage in terms of causalities of innocent civilians but will also result in large scale displacement of the local tribal population—men, women and children. Already thousands of displaced persons have crossed the border to enter Afghanistan. More than 60,000 residents have moved into adjoining settled districts. Those who have lost their kith and kin and who had to leave their homes and hearths are bound to be unhappy and remain extremely resentful of the use of air and ground strikes.
The military operation will give rise to a new wave of suicide bombings in different parts of the country. The adverse effect on the economy and the society can be well imagined.
The one thing the country needs today is peace. With more of bomb blasts and anti-state activities, insecurity will increase, investment will go down further and life will become much more miserable.
Nobody knows how long the war will continue. Swat is often cited as a story of a successful military action. The area has yet to return to normal conditions. The military is still there. Swat is a settled area. Waziristan and some of the other Fata areas are unsettled territories where the traditional administration system has been badly disrupted and has broken down. There are hardly any well-designed schemes in hand to start development projects.
Dr Moeed Yusuf’s emphasis on a consensus narrative is well-taken. In September last year, all political parties came to a unanimous decision to open a dialogue with the Taliban. The dithering and non-serious manner characterizing the holding of talks with the TTP resulted in the process coming to a sudden halt. The military initially did go along the policy adopted by the civilian government. Finding that the initiative was not yielding any fruit, the top brass started having second thoughts and opted for the operation after the stunning attack at the Karachi airport.
May one hope that government will move fast and efficiently discharge its responsibilities to manage the tasks arising out of the military action.
Wisely enough, it will keep the door open for a settlement with the aggrieved and resentful Pakistanis living in the tribal areas.
Pakistan cannot afford the continuation of conditions of insecurity, turmoil and turbulence. All the plans for the development and welfare of the people will go awry, if we fail to bring peace to this benighted country. The one strident voice raised for bringing an end to the war in Fata has become almost inaudible. Imran Khan, recently, did say a few words about his stand on the issue when the operation was launched. It was, however, just a passing statement unsupported by a credible resolve to achieve the desired objective. Jamaat-e-Islam keeps talking about it. Its plea for a dialogue is, however, a cry in the wilderness.

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

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