After dithering for a year the government gathered the courage to endorse the all out military operation against various groups of local and foreign Jihadi headquarters in North Waziristan. Most of the political parties supported the operation as did the public opinion. Only a few apologists of the militants accepted it reluctantly with ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.
The army was convinced that the Jihadis who have gone astray and killing its officials and jawans will have to be taken on militarily but they wanted political support. Nawaz government’s policy of negotiating with the Jihadis, which did not succeed, was to please its right-wing supporters and show that they gave peace a chance. After the Swat operation during PPP’s tenure, once again the operation has public support. It is not always that people in this country support the military action.
Nawaz government’s indecisiveness on this issue had two main reasons: one, that the backlash of the military operation would result in more attacks in the major cities of the country, particularly in Punjab which is its constituency and where it has covert alliance with some extremist Islamist groups; and two the Sharif’s were afraid of Imran Khan who has delusions that Jihadi groups are open to reason.
The first fear that Jihadis will bring the war to the cities was not wrong, but the terrorists have been attacking in the cities for many years now which included even the army installations so the apprehension that they will increase attacks was denying a reality. The recent attack on the busy Karachi Airport was the ultimate leaving no choice for the prime minister to snub the pro-talk lobby in his kitchen cabinet and stand behind the armed forces. Imran Khan who had launched the campaign allegedly with the support of the agencies thinking he can push for mid-term elections couldn’t say no to his Khaki benefactors.
Now the question is, is the military operation in tribal areas enough to put an end to the hydra-headed terrorist network in Pakistan? Indeed not. For decades the state has nurtured this dragon which no civilised and sensible establishment does. The military operation would need to be backed by a more comprehensive strategy. The Islamist terrorists have to be countered militarily, politically and above all ideologically.
To reduce the terrorists’ attacks in the cities the provincial governments should move on a war-footing, as it is not the peace time to take things leisurely and settle political scores. For instance pitched battle between police and Tahir Qadri’s workers at this juncture was the grave mistake of the Punjab government. The need is to sweep the cities and detain the suspected terrorists and their supporters in Islamist militant organisations. The federal and provincial governments should focus on the biggest challenge being faced by Pakistan and be prepared for this long drawn unconventional terror war which is likely to last for a couple years. It would become bloodier when India specific terrorist organisations would be asked to close their shops.
Politically, all the parties should moblise their elected representatives to go back to their constituencies and convince their followers to support action against the terrorists. True the Islamist militants have been able to terrorise the people and the parliamentarians are no exception. Some have lost their lives or of their kith and kin. But we don’t have a choice, if we want to give a secure and modern Pakistan to our younger generation. Not only the army but people have to rise against terrorism. Each Tehsil should have a toll-free number where people could report if they suspect that terrorists are hiding in their areas. SHOs and local CID should report about the terrorists who have spread out to the cities.
The opposition has the right to criticise the government and use all democratic means to reach the people, but people like Imran Khan and the imported Dr. Qadri should not rock the system on which democracy stands. Their antics may tempt the Khakis to intervene. So far these parties are being encouraged by the establishment to tame the Nawaz government and bring him on the page written by them. If the situation gets out of hand like it did because of Punjab government’s ‘Gullu Butt style’ handling of Pakistan Awami Tehrik workers in Lahore, the whole system is going to fall. Otherwise nobody is interested in the revolution call given by Dr. Qadri barring his cult followers.
Most uphill task is to counter the Jihadists’ narrative. They have an ideology which has many active and inactive sympathisers. According to one estimate there are 104 militant groups and 230 religious parties in Pakistan. The militants have vast resources to propagate their ideology which is not much different from Al Qaeda. They produce one Mullah for every 225 Pakistanis annually and have direct access to the people through over 250000 pulpits. Not all preach terrorism but a good majority sympathise with the cause of Jihadis.
On the other hand the state does not have any counter narrative. On the contrary its functionaries promote dubious Islamists through the complaint media, while the progressive who challenge the Jihadi ideology are harassed.
Writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is author of What’s wrong with Pakistan?