Terrorism has been haunting the state and society of Pakistan with its lethal power of intimidation, fear and destruction. Having borne loss of over 40,000 human lives, above $80 billion economic losses and uncountable intangible losses in social and psychological terms, Islamabad has still been unable to rein in this specter. Since the beginning of the war on terror, a number of policies have been crafted so as to control the threat, but to no avail.

The newly elected government of the PML-N has also been trying to come up with an antidote to the problem. The APC was called on the 9th of September which was being expected much earlier but could not be called on account of a number of reasons, some known and some unknown. This was meant to map out a unanimous course of response. The APC passed a unanimous resolution which laid down no clear-cut outline of response, but just called for negotiations without weighing the implications of such a fatal move. Given, first, the recent attack on the army’s convoy by the Taliban which resulted in the death of a Major General, a Lt. Colonel and a Sepoy; second, attacks on the armed forces’ personnel at three other places the same day; third, the TTP’s main spokesman’s statement issued recently claimed continuation of war and further insisted that the Taliban will keep on attacking the army; and the massive attack launched by the Taliban on the Khar Qamar checkpost located in Dattakhel Tehsil of North Waziristan tribal region, it would be no exaggeration to term the APC resolution and the government’s current counterterrorism strategy as flawed, inefficient and myopic, if not an utter failure.

As a matter of fact, the track record of talks with the Taliban is replete with utter disappointments –the Taliban have almost always reneged on the agreements and by far the worst instance is that of the Swat deal. Ironically, despite having enough empirical and historical evidence, the government-led APC found a rather simple remedy to a rather complex problem, i.e., parleys. There is no denying the fact that negotiations is ideally the best tool to defeat the menace; however, history of asymmetric warfare –take the example of Ireland or Srilanka –tells, and renowned military and war strategists confirm, that ‘negotiations’ as a strategy in guerrilla warfare can bring dividends only when the state is in a stronger position. On the contrary, evidently, such an equation is far from reality in this case. Therefore, calling for negotiations without attaining a superior position seems to be rather myopic and the developing scenario in the shape of the Talibans’ aggressive steps and statements bear out the argument. Therefore, Islamabad must not rely on negotiations as the sole option.

Instead, in the first place, there is an urgent need of a clear and comprehensive “national” counterterrorism strategy which should be based on two principles. First, deterrence and compellence strategies should be employed to bring the terrorists on the negotiation table. Second, when the terrorists’ morale gets bog down, only then move forward towards negotiations, though keeping the former strategy in place simultaneously. It is rather perplexing that in spite of making announcements that such a strategy is being worked upon and will be presented in the APC, the government has, ironically, been unable to come up with any such document in the APC.

Given the fast emerging adverse scenario, it is high time the government took a hardline stance in dealing with the terrorists without giving them the opportunity to play havoc by launching attacks with impunity.

The writer is a freelance columnist.