Pakistan is now in the unenviable position of facing serious challenges to its security on both the eastern and western fronts besides the danger of internal destabilisation posed by the monster of terrorism stalking the country from one end to the other. On the western front, Pakistan-Afghanistan relations are currently under severe strains because of accusations and counter-accusations between the two countries on the subject of terrorism. The same is true of the eastern front where Pakistan and India trade accusations of terrorism against each other. In addition, the revival of the freedom movement in the Indian occupied Kashmir has heightened tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi. Over and above this two-front nightmare scenario, the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Pakistan has reminded the nation that the battle against terrorism, despite the achievements of Zarb-i-Azb, is far from having been won. The current state of affairs calls for prudence and long-term thinking with the objective of lowering the level of threat on external fronts while stabilising Pakistan’s internal situation. Emotional and knee-jerk reactions may lead us into a trap laid out for Pakistan by its enemies.

The recent terrorist attacks in Pakistan leading to the tragic loss of over 100 precious lives brought home once again that the nation is yet to vanquish the monster of terrorism. There is a renewed resolve on the part of the political and military leadership to overcome this menace as reflected by the launch of a countrywide urban counterterrorism operation, codenamed Raddul Fasaad. The Punjab Rangers were given additional powers to carry out anti-terrorism operations. According to the latest reports, several terrorist suspects have been killed and hundreds of them have been arrested in Punjab. This is all very welcome but not enough.

It is necessary, in addition, to eliminate the breeding grounds of religious extremism and terrorism in the country. Madaaris and other educational institutions encouraging extremism and fomenting terrorism need to be identified throughout the country with the objective of reforming their curricula through determined action. These reforms, which should aim at promoting moderation and religious tolerance in accordance with the real teachings and spirit of Islam, should be applied indiscriminately with the cooperation of the mainstream religious parties and groups. All avenues of funding, domestic or foreign, for elements and institutions propagating extremism in the country should be blocked.

Even more urgent is the need to neutralise terrorist outfits and their supporters in the country. It is obvious from the latest country-wide terrorist attacks that earlier operations to eliminate terrorism, despite their commendable achievements, have fallen short of the desired goal. Our intelligence agencies should be strengthened so that they are able to identify, penetrate, and neutralize terrorist cells which plan and execute acts of terrorism. The arrest of the facilitator of the terrorist attack at Lahore on 13 February clearly shows that facilitators of terrorism live amongst us. More stringent surveillance at the local levels through the formation of mohallah committees and the strengthening of police stations to watch for any unusual activity or unfamiliar persons may help in interdicting most, if not all, planned terrorist attacks. The sale and purchase of weapons and explosive materials should be monitored strictly to prevent them from reaching undesirable hands. Finally, we should make use of modern technological means such as CCTV cameras and DNA analysis to identify and apprehend terrorist elements.

The problem of terrorism in Pakistan also has an external dimension. It would be next to impossible to overcome this menace unless we deal with its external dimension in an effective manner. This factor links the elimination of terrorism in the country to the state of our relations with Afghanistan and India. Pakistan-Afghanistan relations currently are under severe strains because of accusations and counter-accusations of terrorism against each other. Kabul, supported by Washington, has been accusing Pakistan for a long time of harboring the Afghan Taliban and their affiliates in its tribal areas, thus, enabling them to carry out attacks against military and civilian targets in Afghanistan. Pakistan, on the other hand, alleges that Afghanistan has provided sanctuaries to Pakistani terrorists and other criminal elements, who are actively involved in terrorist attacks in the country. In response to Pakistan’s recent demand that Afghanistan hand over 76 wanted terrorists, the latter responded by demanding the handover of 85 leaders of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani Network allegedly in Pakistan.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan need to sit across the table to resolve this issue in a mutually satisfactory manner. While recognising that terrorism is a common enemy of the two countries, their representatives should work out mechanisms to tighten border controls and take effective action to prevent terrorists from using the soil of either country for terrorist attacks in the other. Pakistan should give notice to any remnants of the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, who may be on its soil, to leave Pakistan or cease forthwith any militant activities in Afghanistan. In return, the Afghan government must take steps to deny sanctuary to Pakistani terrorists on its soil. At the same time, in view of the civil war that has been going on in Afghanistan for a long time, Pakistan should encourage the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban and their affiliates to reach a political settlement and a power sharing formula through an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. This is important because as long as the civil war in Afghanistan continues, Pakistan and Pakistan-Afghanistan relations will continue to suffer from its spill-over effects. However, in the ultimate analysis, it is not for Pakistan to decide whether there would be peace or the continuation of the armed conflict in Afghanistan. This decision rests with the various Afghan parties.

Barring an agreement between Pakistan and Afghanistan and resolute action by them on these lines, the relations between the two countries will remain strained threatening regional peace and stability and denying them the opportunities for engaging in mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields. India would obviously be happy to exploit the situation to its advantage and create a two-front scenario for Pakistan. There is also the possibility that Pakistan may come under increased pressure from the Trump administration if it fails to take effective action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network who may be on its soil. A recent report issued by the Hudson Institute and the Heritage Foundation asks the Trump administration to be ready to adopt effective measures against Islamabad. As a first step, it recommends that the US must warn Pakistan that its status as a Major Non-NATO Ally is in serious jeopardy. The report further suggests that the US may present “to Pakistan a list of calibrated actions for ending its support to the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network, and make clear that failure to make substantial progress on these lines could eventually result in Pakistan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism”.

Islamabad must do its best to reach an understanding with Kabul on mutually satisfactory lines on the issue of terrorism. Failing that, the danger is that the worsening of the situation on the western front combined with the hotting up of Pakistan’s eastern front because of the Kashmiri freedom movement and the adoption of a muscular style of diplomacy by India under Narendra Modi would pose an extremely serious threat to Pakistan’s security. Pakistan should avoid walking into this trap. The forthcoming ECO Summit in Islamabad presents Pakistan with a useful opportunity to engage the Afghan government in talks at the highest level in the best interest of the two countries.