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Suicide attack in Peshawar

Updated September 25, 2014

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.— AP file photo
.— AP file photo

IN the fight against militancy, a military operation in North Waziristan Agency was always considered a necessary step and blowback in Pakistan proper a likely price that would have to be paid. Now, with the military’s Operation Zarb-i-Azb well into its fourth month, the blowback that did not immediately materialise appears to have finally arrived, and possibly may rapidly escalate.

The suicide attack on a senior commander of the Frontier Corps in Peshawar on Tuesday has indicated just how potent the Taliban threat still remains: from target selection to reconnaissance to pairing suicide bomber with munitions, the TTP still has all the elements necessary to cause much damage.

It is possible to point to the escape of the senior FC commander as a sign that the TTP threat is waning, but in the world of terrorism an essential truth is that the militants only need to succeed once in many attempts to land a massive psychological blow.

Yet, to definitively succeed against terrorism and militancy, the state will need a wide-ranging strategy involving many arms of the state, not just the armed forces. The weakness of the present strategy was underlined yet again on Tuesday as the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee vowed to eradicate terrorism in the country and to work tirelessly to develop and execute an effective strategy against terrorism.

That sentiment may be noble, but to what extent does it reflect reality? The military can operate in Fata, where it is waging a counter-insurgency with nearly 200,000 troops, and it can operate under the protection of Article 245 in the cities, doing selective counterterrorism operations. But does the fight against militancy need a military-led strategy or a civilian-led one? No military strategy can tackle the roots of the problem of militancy nor can any militancy strategy change the social dynamics that make violent ideologies so appealing to sections of the public.

Moreover, with some doubts about whether the long-standing policy of the security establishment of differentiating between good and bad militants has truly been abandoned, is the state really poised to effectively fight militancy?

Unhappily, while the focus is on military-led approaches, the civilian set-up remains ill-equipped to even understand the dimensions of the militancy problem. The previous PPP-led government was clear in its language, but more than just ambiguous in its actions.

Now, the PML-N is often accused of tolerating or even collaborating with militant elements to keep the peace in Punjab — a misguided notion of peace given that it has only allowed the infrastructure of jihad (the mosque, madressah and social welfare networks) to grow without any oversight or control. Surely, where brave soldiers fight on the front lines in the war against militancy, their courage and sacrifices should be recognised and applauded. But the fight against militancy will not be won with guns alone.

Published in Dawn, September 25th, 2014