State’s knee-jerk response to terror

Updated February 20, 2017


The civilian and military leadership may be trying to project a firmness and decisiveness of action, but the state’s response to the recent devastating spate of terrorist attacks in the country has increasingly appeared haphazard and ill-thought-out.

Consider the short timeline of the publicly disclosed diplomatic and security reactions since the attack on the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar. Overnight, a brutal crackdown was unleashed against terror suspects, with many killed and many more arrested. The following day, attention shifted to Afghanistan, with highly charged diplomatic condemnations leading to military action along the Pak-Afghan border.

In the meantime, provincial security apparatuses appear to have launched their own uncoordinated actions helter-skelter, with a wide net cast that has possibly led to the capture of innocent citizens and Afghan refugees.

Alarming as the attacks were, the state’s confused and seemingly indiscriminate reactions are cause for further alarm. The long war against militancy and terrorism cannot be won if a perpetual cycle of action and reaction is allowed to unfold.

Certainly, the shocking and grave nature of the recent attacks did call for an urgent and emphatic response by the state. But the state’s response must be rooted in a clear strategy that is supported by a sensible, legal and purposeful set of actions.

The two militant groups that are believed to be responsible for the latest attacks did not come out of nowhere. Indeed, the cadres and leadership of Jamaatul Ahrar and the militant Islamic State group active in Pakistan have been drawn from banned groups such as the TTP and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, about which much is already known.

By allowing the problem to fester and, in the case of IS, being in denial of the problem, the possibility of a devastating set of attacks eventually occurring was a very real one. In fact, it may well be the case that the IS and Jamaatul Ahrar are better positioned to withstand the state’s desperate attempts to crush them.

Change is possible. Six months after the launch of Operation Zarb-i-Azb, the APS attack took place in Peshawar. In what now seems like an earlier era of the war, Operation Rah-i-Rast in Swat led to an escape of the senior leadership; Mullah Fazlullah is still believed to be at large in Afghanistan. From those episodes, lessons can be learned and better policies crafted.

There is necessarily a public component to any successful anti-militancy strategy, yet PR cannot be allowed to dominate strategy. There are no certainties in the long war against militancy except that winning will need determination — and a plan.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2017