In the “Inside Story” on terrorism in Pakistan, Al Jazeera has referred to a comment on the subject by Stephan Cohen of Brookings Institution, who also is the author of a book titled “The Idea of Pakistan”. Stephan makes the point that Pakistan is either unwilling or unable to stop terrorism. If it is unwilling, it suggests “complicity” with the terrorist groups. If, however, it is unable to defend the integrity of the country, the matter becomes a very important international issue given Pakistan’s nuclear capability and its larger status in the world, especially for USA as well as India and China.

The horrendous terrorist attack in Quetta, the other day, in which 87 Shias were killed, has once again exposed the incompetence of the governments at the federal and provincial levels. The information provided to the Supreme Court, which has taken up the case suo motu, has revealed the failure of not only the provincial and federal governments, but also the intelligence agencies and how uncoordinated and ineffective their activities are.

For the last many years, we in Pakistan have endured various kinds of terrorist attacks targeting individuals, security installations, educational and religious institutions, besides suicide blasts in crowded places in cities and towns. Dozens of people are killed and many more severely wounded, every month.

These terrorists are of diverse vintages. Remnants of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan - mujahideens, victims of the Pakistan Army and US operations in the tribal areas, foreign militants, Afghanistan-based miscreants, armed religious extremists and mercenaries funded by outside agencies. Besides currently active Talibans of Pakistan and the banned militant groups, like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, there are also professional killers and bhatta mafias backed by political parties in Karachi. Further, there are alienated armed nationalists in Balochistan. Not to be forgotten is the phenomenon of the “missing persons”, taken away by supposedly the intelligence agencies.

Although there were some violent activities on the part of the extremists prior to Nine Eleven, serious terrorist strikes picked up manifestly after the start of Musharraf’s military operations in Fata. That not only disrupted the existing administrative and social patterns of life, but also - along with America’s ruthless unmanned drone hits - turned the aggrieved and armed Pakistani Pashtuns into vengeful fighters against the military forces and the government. There also has been a fallout of the Halaku Khan-like invasion of Afghanistan by the US and other foreign powers.

Who, besides Musharraf’s unpardonable hasty and selfish policies, is responsible for Pakistan’s descent into lawlessness and chaos? None other than the successor national and provincial governments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

Yes, the role of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies has been poor and most disappointing, but whose job it was to ensure that these entities were well manned, properly trained and equipped? That their work was monitored carefully. What kind of police do we have in Karachi and Quetta? Has their recruitment been on merit? Are they trained properly? Are their placements done with care? And are the ruling political parties not involved in the violent activities in the largest metropolitan city of Pakistan and other places? Isn’t it a fact that each of the coalition partners in the Sindh province has militant wings that are patronised and funded by them?

And what about the IB - the major civilian intelligence agency of the country? How independent and well equipped is it? What kind of relationship does it have with the ISI and MI? How do these agencies coordinate with each other and the provincial police and related departments as also rangers, who off and on are hauled up for the police activities? How promptly does the government act on the information and advice provided by the agencies?

Do we have a national intelligence monitoring organisation to see that each of the agencies perform well and according to the policy and procedures laid down?

From their record of performance, it appears that there is neither a well-devised policy, nor are the agencies personnel properly trained and adequately equipped to counter terrorism.

During one of Benazir’s prime ministership, a committee was appointed to examine the structure and functioning of all the intelligence agencies in Pakistan. It was headed by Air Marshal Zulfiqar Ali Khan. The committee’s report recommended the creation of an overarching national organisation to coordinate, supervise and monitor various agencies. The recommendations, however, have remained unimplemented.

After almost five years of wasted opportunities, to expect from the federal government, which is to disappear within a few weeks, that it would transform itself into a serious, responsible entity able to take up the complex and all-important task of framing a sound and workable policy and strategy for counter-terrorism, is tantamount to asking for the moon. After more than four years of tinkering with the issue, the Cabinet did approve the setting up of a counter-terrorism national organisation late last year. It, however, has remained a non-starter, as the legislative parameters have yet to be worked out.

Who will do this most crucial job? Who will constitute the next government? Will that be much different from the present one? Should the caretaker administration, which essentially will be responsible for providing maximum support to the Election Commission for holding free and fair elections, take up the challenge of firmly and sagaciously formulating a counter-terrorism policy and a well administered national agency to guide, coordinate and monitor the many intelligence and counter-terrorism units? Can it also initiate a reasoned dialogue with the authentic terrorist leaders?

Pakistan badly needs a good and clean leadership. The media, higher judiciary, Imran Khan, Dr Tahirul Qadri and, to some extent, the PML-N have made a considerable contribution towards awakening and sensitising the people of Pakistan to play a positive role to bring up, through the elections, a government that possibly could usher in a change for the better. Hoping against hope, let us look forward to a leadership with a difference.

Pakistan’s wholesome political future is anchored on two requisites. One, the armed forces will continue to keep away from politics and remain determined to resist the temptation of interfering in political matters. And two, that the coming elections will not only be free and fair, but also bring in a large number of honest, able and patriotic members of the National and Provincial Assemblies.

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

    Email: pacade@brain.net.pk