Counter-terroism without countering its idealogy is half-baked (Daily Times)

Counter narrative to terrorists ideology needed Impressive figures have been released by the ISPR on the1st Anniversary of the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb. During this operation which was launched after dithering for years, 2763 terrorists have been killed, and our forces suffered a loss of 347 officers. Many more were seriously injured on both the sides. Result of this sacrifice is that about to “90% of North Waziristan has been declared to be free from terrorists,” and the central command and control apparatus along with communication systems of terrorists has also been destroyed. But the remaining 10% is a difficult terrain to conquer. Over one million North and South Waziristan people who were displaced feel neglected but have been going back to their homes under uncertain situation. Official claim is that indiscriminate action has been taken against the terrorist groups which include Tehreek-e-Taliban’s Shehryar Group, Mansoor Group, Sajna group, Haqqani Network, Gul Bahadur group, Punjabi Taliban, Uzbek Taliban, Turkistan Islamic Movement and Al-Qaeda While there was consensus in the country that action should be taken against the terrorists — who were responsible for killing over 55000 civilians and around 6000 soldiers — independent journalists take the official account with a pinch of salt as only embedded journalists are given access to war zones in FATA. Human rights activists are concerned that the bombing from thousands of feet above does not discriminate between the innocent and the terrorists. But such are the wages of a war! Regionally, the neighbouring countries have their own doubts about the claim that the operation is indiscriminate. Afghanistan government is still blaming Pakistan for harbouring terrorists of Haqqani group and Afghan Taliban. Indian government is warning that it would not tolerate cross-border terrorism anymore and demands action against Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jaish Muhammad and Salahuddin’s Hizbul Mujahideen. My friends who have access to the establishment tell me that the paradigm shift is happening and the Titanic has to be steered away from the iceberg slowly. A genuine predicament could be that they cannot take action against all the terrorist groups at the same time. As these groups are not challenging the writ of the establishment within the country and are considered as useful tools of our revanchist policies, there is hardly any will to withdraw the covert support to them at present. But the geostrategic fast-changing scenario is perhaps demanding urgency. This issue deserves separate analysis some other time as success of war against terrorism is interlinked with our short-sighted foreign policy. However, coming back to the ongoing operation which was started after the Taliban killed 23 soldiers and released a gruesome video. The army then rightly said enough is enough and launched the Zarb-e-Azb while the reluctant civilian government limped along. The country then needed another jolt to wake up, some six months later, when in a most cruel attack on the Army Public School the terrorists killed the children and teachers. It was ironic that the 20-point strategy to fight terrorism was spelled out six months after the major tactical operation against terrorists was launched. A cursory assessment of the National Action Plan (NAP) shows that very little progress has been made on most of the suggested actions. Much because of the political governments vacillating behaviour. They are confused and afraid to take actions against the Jihadis street power and propaganda. 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. 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 few years. 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. Recent example is that of Pervaiz Rashid, one Fatwa by a bigot sent him reeling from one channel to another back-tracking his comments. An upfront question which we should address is that will Pakistanis be ruled by the constitution and its laws or by the Fatwas backed by the gun power of the terrorists. Bangladesh has banned such edicts, shouldn’t Pakistan do the same? Most uphill task is to counter the Jihadists’ narrative. They have an ideology which has many active and inactive sympathisers. According to one estimate based on 2009 data 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’s. 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 compliant media, while the progressive who challenge the Jihadi ideology are harassed. Writer can be reached at ayazbabar@gmail.com. He is author of What’s wrong with Pakistan?

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