By Air Commodore ® Khalid Iqbal
America is busy devising ways and means to further tighten the screws on Pakistan. During his latest visit to Pakistan, Marc Grossman demonstrated his remarkable tenacity to avoid the real issues. Environment is so confusing that a traditionally non-interventionist Texas congressman, Ron Paul, fears an American occupation of Pakistan. “I see the whole thing as a mess, and I think that we are going to be in Pakistan…I think that’s the next occupation, and I fear it…It will probably be very unsuccessful,” he said.
In the footsteps of the sole super power of the world, India made it public last week that it had handed over a list of 50 most “wanted fugitives” to Pakistan, which it believes to be residing in Pakistan. List included the names of Wazhul Qamar Khan and Feroz Abdul Khan, who have since been found living in Mumbai!
Nevertheless, during these trying times, Pakistan’s true friends are coming forth to express their solidarity with Pakistan. After the equivocal support by China, there has been a refreshing breeze from Tehran as well.
Recently President Mahmud Ahmadinejad showed immense empathy with Pakistan. He expressed his sympathies with Pakistan in the wake of recent spree of terrorist attacks. “We have precise information that the person they [Americans] have recently killed has long been in the hands of the US militaries.” He reminded that bin Laden served as a precious pretext for the US to invade “our region and we witness the murder of 150 people in Pakistan, each day.” He said bin Laden was killed as part of an effort to attract voters as the US presidential election is nearing.
He made these remarks during the concluding session of a two-day conference on ‘Global Alliance against Terrorism for a Just Peace.’ This seminar was attended by participants from over sixty countries cutting across religious, ethnic and geographic divides. It was opined that only just peace ends terrorism; peace achieved through brutal force by suppressing the voice of people does not end terrorism; it only postpones it for another day. There was a consensus in the seminar that Islam is a religion of peace, and it does not subscribe to terrorism. Terrorism cannot be linked with Islam; and Muslims cannot be stereotyped as terrorists.
Historically, a number of countries have gone through the spells of home grown terrorism; most of these states have come out of this menace. Sri Lanka is a recent example where decades’ long terrorism has been effectively tamed in. Likewise, many other countries like Lebanon, Italy, Ireland, Indonesia, India, Egypt etc have been through this agony; all these countries have overcome the problem through national resolve and innovative strategies suiting their local conditions. In case of political deprivation as an underlying cause, reconciliatory accommodation has helped in ending the terrorism. Many, once a terrorist, form the part of current political leadership in Ireland.
However, wherever foreign intervention and occupation has been the underlying cause of terrorism, it has only ended when the occupation forces left the country. Current wave of terrorism in Pakistan is one of the fallouts of occupation of Afghanistan by foreign forces. There is no likelihood of a sustained respite till the withdrawal of foreign forces from our neighbourhood. People of Afghanistan are indeed striving for just peace in their country.
In case of domestic as well as trans-border terrorism, eradication of extremism is a tall order; it requires a mammoth effort, involving wholesome participation by the state and society for domestic terrorism and conjoint effort by neighbouring countries in case of trans-border terrorism.
Within overall broad counter extremism strategy, four phases operate in an overlapping and mutually complementary way. These are prevention, containment, elimination and consolidation phases.
Preventive phase is an all pervasive and perpetual phase. This requires institutional and structural support at local, national and international levels. This phase continues to make supplementary contributions even when other phases are functional. Prevention comprises of monitoring the factors that could contribute towards extremism. This requires an elaborate monitoring and intervention system, including control over trans-border movement of men and material. State intelligence systems alone cannot perform these actions until societies also join hands.
Containment phase comes into play when preventive measures are unable to keep the things under control. Mainstay of containment phase is positive engagement through constructive dialogue. Here also, public private cooperation is essential to generate synergy to accrue desired credibility for the containment measures. Stringent scrutiny of trans-border movement is an essential component of this phase.
Elimination phase carries forth the effort of curtailment phase and eliminates the positively identified hardened cells of extremists through proportionate use of military power and judicial accountability.
Here a caution is due; use of excessive military power causes unwarranted collateral damage and breeds sympathisers for extremists. Military personnel should be appropriately trained for this job and provided with low yield weapons to keep the collateral damage at the lowest possible level. Military component of elimination phase must run alongside a meaningful political process. This phase should not end up into a stalemate.
Judicial process is another component of elimination phase. This requires specially trained judges and comprehensive legislative cover. Judges and prosecution witnesses need to be protected against intimidation. Forensic skills need to be upgraded for developing all encompassing circumstantial evidence. So far, this has proved to the weakest link in Pakistan’s counter terrorism effort. Hardly any one has been punished meaningfully. Many on bail or those acquitted have been caught again for their involvement in fresh incidents of terrorism.
Consolidation phase capitalises on the gains of elimination phase. Its prime objective is to convert an uneasy calm into permanent tranquillity. Through political process, this phase focuses on establishing essential institutional checks to ensure that the elements which breakaway from the extremist gangs do not relapse. End of this phase is marked by the benchmark that extremists lose public appeal and sympathy, they are reduced in capability and capacity to an extent that they are neither able to regroup nor reconstitute. Rehabilitation is an essential ingredient of this phase. During this phase, military instrument goes into background while maintaining an effective deterrence.
In our national context, the political process in some of the areas, which were reclaimed through combative effort, has been either slow or timid resulting in relapses. This indeed needs focused attention involving multi-disciplinary effort.
Pakistani nation and leadership stands committed to deal with the menace of terrorism head on. We need to simultaneously handle domestic and foreign factors contributing towards proliferation of terrorists’ activities. A wholesome and concentred effort would slowly show the results. Certainly, the process is painstakingly slow and we are in for a long haul.
Under these dry circumstances it would be appropriate to effectively network with Iran for a joint strategy for achieving just peace in Afghanistan that could in turn provide enabling environment for sustained eradication of terrorism from our region.
Note. A variant of this text was read as a paper by this scribe in the seminar on‘Global Alliance against Terrorism for a Just Peace’ held in Tehran on 14-15 May, 2011; under the title ‘Structures for Countering Terrorism’