Tackling terrorism

By Hussain Mohi-ud-Din Qadri

(This article was published in Daily The Nation on Thursday, Jan. 17, 2008)

Ever since 9/11 struck the world, Pakistan has been the worst affected country of the phenomenon of terrorism. Other than Iraq and Afghanistan, where naked civil wars are being fought as a result of foreign interventions, Pakistan is the only country, which has paid so immensely for its contribution to the so-called war on terror. The assassination of national leader Benazir Bhutto in cold blood in Rawalpindi on December 27, 2007 is a cruel reminder of the penetration of terrorists in the body politic of the country. Going by the statistical data on terrorist attacks in the recent years, one is left gasped and aghast at its fast-speeding occurrence. The incorporation of suicide bombing into the terrorist strategy aimed at bleeding Pakistan has posed a major challenge to the national security planners.

What is even more horrifying is the fact that the state and its symbols are also the target of attack by the terrorists. The perpetrators of gloom and doom have declared a war on the state of Pakistan. The state needs to bounce back with full might at its disposal to take on terrorism in a befitting manner and arrest its onward march. It would be in the fitness of things on the part of policy makers to make an assessment of Pakistan's anti-terrorism strategy, identify its flaws and suggest proposals for mid-course correction. Some of the points given here below are instructive in this regard:

Right from the word go when the Pakistani establishment turned its back on the terrorist organizations and declared its support for the US-led war on terror, certain flaws bordering on strategic errors were too discernible to be neglected. No formal channels were utilized for arriving at consensus on the issue. From the hindsight, it appears that our ruling class chose to move ahead, single-handedly, on the question of cooperation with the US. The terms of engagement negotiated for participation in war on terror left much to be desired. Our policy makers should have calculated the nature and enormity of backlash in case of such a policy turnaround. The guardians of our national security have long been in touch with such shadowy characters due to their mutual involvement in Afghan Jihad in the 1980s. We should have told the US about our domestic compulsions while jumping on the American bandwagon, at the same time, extending our cooperation to the US.

Secondly, our anti-terrorism strategy has been based on the use of force to the exclusion of other available means. Such an exclusivist approach has been counter-productive for our national unity and internal law and order. It should have been known that this war is not a traditional war with a foreign enemy for which our armed forces have been trained. Here the enemy is nameless, faceless and region-less closely intermixed in populations of our tribal areas and parts of NWFP. Although some sporadic attempts were made for solution of the issue through political engagement but the approach was soon to be jettisoned under foreign pressure much to our own detriment. Therefore, we need to revisit our policy of use of force in the light of our experience of fighting militancy and in the larger national interest.

Thirdly, our government has been under fire from the US and other allied quarters to 'do more' in spite of delivering so much in war on terror. We have always been on the defensive vis-a-vis the US demands. Dictation seems to have been the order of the day. Coupled with sporadic acknowledgement of cooperation and praise on the leadership, the US has used the policy of stick effectively. Our internal disturbances and law and order situation, a natural corollary of our role in war on terror, is being invoked as a sufficient reason for lack of security of nuclear assets. These clearly are the pressure tactics being employed to force the Pakistani government to do more. Unfortunately, our government has been equally ready to accept all sorts of pressures owing to its own legitimacy problems.

Our internal situation is touching the boiling point by any standard. This is high time we thought of making mid-course correction to arrest our downward march into abyss and anarchy. There is no time for further procrastination. It is high time for action. Our reformulated anti-terrorism strategy should be aimed at following two planks for the achievement of both short-term and long-term interests.

The first and foremost is the tactical plank in order to salvage the fast-deteriorating situation. We need to rethink our engagement with the US on the present terms and conditions. Our further staying the course can be disastrous. We need to disengage ourselves from the American baggage to ensure our tribal brothers and sisters that we are not fighting someone else's war. In the light of peculiar conditions and tribal traditions of the area we should enlist the support of local elders for alienating and defeating the terrorists. This calls for a shift onto political approach. Military approach subordinated to the political strategy can have the potential of healing the wounds and restore some semblance of normalcy in the country.

At the strategic level, there is a need to think of long-terms steps for calming the situation. The top most at the agenda is the conduct of fair and free electoral exercise resulting into the formation of democratically elected government. Democracy provides the best shield against terrorism and militancy in that people have the feeling of participation in the national decision-making, which is not the case in authoritarian regimes. Thus in this way they come to own governance and its institutions. The biggest challenge at this point in time is to enlist the support of common man against terrorists and terrorism. This can only be done if they are made stakeholders in policy-making. In the long run, it is the institutions, which can eliminate the feelings of deprivation and dispense justice. Therefore when national institutions are credible and above-board, it is easier to fight such scourges as terrorism.

The government needs to take an initiative to reach out to all religio-political parties to form unity among all strands of opinions and develop consensus on all the thorny issues facing the country. Our foreign policy decisions should be informed by such consensus. Political parties also need to realize that rising above party divide for national interest is the need of the hour. Only such a holistic and repackaged strategy may reverse the situation and heal our festering wounds.

E-mail: hmq@hmqadri.com