"Terrorism cannot be fought without addressing the root cause that is denial of justice, opportunities and reduction of gap between the rich and the poor. Slogans do not fill the empty stomachs or provide jobs etc." Raja Mujtaba
By Sobia Hanif
Almost a decade has gone by since our involvement in the US-led war on terror and today we are more vulnerable to acts of terrorism and violence than we ever were. In recent years the trend of growing terrorism has shifted from previously hard hit areas such as KPK and FATA to urban centers where it was previously least expected. Now major cities and sensitive locations are under greatest threat. In 2009, terrorists concentrated their activities in KPK but in 2010, Lahore became the hub of terrorist attacks. This year also, we have seen terrorists relocating and strengthening their positions, and regaining control of areas where they were fast losing influence. In a report to the Congress on October 2, 2011, President Obama informed its members that ‘Pakistan’s counter-terrorism measures had failed to yield results this year with insurgent activities gaining ground’. While many in the Pakistani establishment could easily brush aside US criticism by accusing it of conducting propaganda against Pakistan, one must also not forget that Pakistan for its part has yet to devise a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. While acknowledging Pakistan’s sacrifices and its sincerity in trying to up-root terrorism, we need to realize that our counter-terrorism strategies are not as effective as we would have liked them to be. If that had been the case the ten years down the road, Pakistan would have been a much safer place than it is today. Therefore, it is only sagacious to search for loopholes within our strategies and devise methods which can effectively thwart terrorist attacks and eventually eliminate the menace of terrorism from the Pakistani society.
The phenomena of terrorism in Pakistan, is not only extremely complex but also multi-layered. At its heart, there are issues such as conflict of ideologies; whose brand of Islam is right and how to have this brand imposed on others. The recent treacherous killing of members of the Shia Hazara community in Balouchistan indicates a surge in sectarian violence in the country which must not only be condemned but also met with an iron fist. But the issue is not all religious or sectarian. A sense of bereavement and depravity, a lack of belongingness, a frail political establishment and overpowering military not to mention the avarice of an unwholesome few who play the pawn in the hands of external agents, have created a monster which is difficult to contain and almost impossible to eliminate. In the past decade or so, the citizens of Pakistan have witnessed a gradual but assured destruction of its assets. Ascending terrorist activities have not only snatched away a sense of security and economic well being but has also hurt our pride and standing in the world. While on one hand, Pakistan is struggling to tackle internal security threats, on the other hand, it is combating a war of perceptions on the international front. It is constantly being bombarded with allegations of duplicity in the war on terror, ignoring the bitter reality that Pakistan has suffered the most in all respects during the course of this long war. The world community must understand Pakistan’s genuine security concerns amidst US with drawl from Afghanistan in the near future. Neither do we want history to repeat itself nor can we change our neighbours.
As the menace of terrorism continues to wreck this country apart, the political establishment has decided to let the military deal with the issue on its own which relies mainly on a four-tier approach; clear, hold, develop and disintegrate. As yet, the first two stages of this approach are underway while the latter two cannot be carried out without a favourable public opinion and support. The Chief of the Army Staff, Gen Kiyani rightly remarked during the National De-radicalization Conference held in Swat in July this year that ‘there is no military solution to terrorism’. Therefore, the government needs to re evaluate its present policies on counter-terrorism and adopt substantial measures to compliment the army and other security forces in their efforts to eradicate terrorism.
While Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani has advocated for a ‘Triple D’ approach which comprises of Dialogue, development and deterrence, it is yet to see an implementation. The government ought to devise a counter-terrorism strategy based on a holistic approach whereby the root causes of terrorism are addressed, coupled with an effective military campaign and collective regional and international efforts to dismantle terrorist networks in the country. In this respect, Pakistan may learn from the experience of regional states such as Sri Lanka which successfully defeated the LTTE (Liberation Tigers OF Tamil Ealam) in 2009.
Enduring efforts by successive governments to resolve the issue politically coupled an effective military campaign eventually ended the 26 years old armed conflict which resulted in the loss of more than 80,000 lives, with hundreds of thousands internally displaced. In this regard, Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari and his Sri Lankan counterpart, Mahindra Rajapaksa agreed to coordinate efforts against terrorism and promote intelligence sharing for greater regional peace. Pakistan agreed to learn from the Sri Lankan experience of countering terrorism. However, despite optimism, we have yet to witness the fruits of such cooperation. Having already lost more than 35,000 lives, it is high time that we devise and follow a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy by accepting the fact that terrorism is hollowing out the foundations of this great nation and providing a justification to hostile external agents to sit and gloat about the realization of their vile designs.