THE security forces are supposed to have launched another operation to cleanse the country of terrorism after a spurt of suicide bombings and attacks across the country in the month of February, in which none of the four provinces were spared.
As part of the latest operation, the army-led paramilitary Rangers have been authorised to conduct security sweeps across Punjab as well; the province had previously remained immune from such action by paramilitary forces, in contrast to the latter’s aggressive role in other provinces.
It is safe to assume that a year ahead of likely general elections, the governing PML-N was apprehensive of the repercussions if the Rangers targeted any of its members or allies in extremist religious parties whose support it deems vital to a win in the crucial, numerically superior Punjab.
The launch of every operation raises hopes that terrorism will be eliminated. Such expectations are unreal.
But the deteriorating situation, as underlined by the recent bombings, forced the government’s hand as inaction was not an option anymore. The government would also have been reassured that the army command was now in the hands of a man it sees as apolitical and so gave the go-ahead.
The launch of every such operation generates optimism that its end will also spell an end to rampant terrorism in the country. Ask any security expert and they will tell you that such expectations are unreal, given the multifaceted terrorist threat that the country is facing.
At best, with improved intelligence and better trained counterterrorism forces terrorism can be somewhat contained, and a decline in the number of incidents and human lives lost may happen. However, that stage in itself is several years away.
A decline in the number terrorism-related incidents was witnessed following the Raheel Sharif-led operation in North Waziristan, which uprooted the terrorist bastions and displaced their planners and cadres in their last established safe haven on Pakistan soil.
Having relocated now, it seems, to the largely lawless region along the Durand Line, the terrorists are striking at will across the length and breadth of our land, because the network of their ideological allies or even coerced collaborators remains intact or has regenerated itself in Pakistan.
The magnitude of the challenge can be gauged by what security officials say about the ratio of terrorist incidents that occur and those that are detected and prevented. While they offer no specific number, officials say dozens of terrorists are stopped before one manages to get through.
And if indeed hostile foreign powers are also taking advantage of this situation and endeavouring to destabilise Pakistan in order to effect changes to Rawalpindi-Islamabad’s foreign policy in key areas such as Kashmir, then the problem is that much greater.
Even in that case, there should be no ambiguity about our self-created fault lines that, left unaddressed, grow more and more prominent every day and can potentially wreak havoc, nullifying any improvement in the security situation that any operation can bring about.
Yes, the current security operations are quite clearly and rightly aimed at the so-called takfiris, those who kill in the name of faith and consider even Muslims following a different interpretation of their religion as deserving of death.
By definition, such ideology defies what the vast, peaceful majority in the country believes to be Islam. Will it be enough then for the government, security forces and society at large to be content if and when the takfiri thought represented by the Taliban and their allies is defeated?
To me, a larger battle will be the one to somehow move society to a ‘live and let live’ state from the current intolerant, even bigoted, environment. I recall with horror the recent forced disappearance of five social media activists (one remains missing).
All their detractors needed to do was to plant a suggestion or two in the public sphere that those gone missing were guilty of blasphemy for some of the self-proclaimed guardians of our faith to start acting like a lynch mob and baying for their blood.
Did a single one of them bother to ascertain for themselves — as decency, law and most of all any faith would require — if what they were accusing the ‘disappeared’ of was based on facts? No. It is much easier to join a galloping, frothing-at-the-mouth hysterical herd than to stop and examine facts.
I have watched in horror recent sermons of some of the religious leaders who are supposed to have radicalised Punjab governor Salman Taseer’s (subsequently executed) murderer Mumtaz Qadri. They continue unabated. If anything, they now have their own martyr to market.
In the aftermath of last week’s carnage in Sehwan at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s shrine, a leading religious leader and the head of the Ruet-e-Hilal Committee, Mufti Munibur Rehman, may have condemned the suicide bombing but his other remarks were equally, or more, significant.
Addressing the media this week in Hyderabad, Mufti Sahib said that dhammal, a dance at Sufi shrines in which both men and women participate, was against the teachings of the saints, as was the ringing of the bell at the shrine. He suggested total segregation at the shrine, with one day a week reserved for ‘women only’.
Of course, out of respect for the cleric no journalist was reported to have asked him why an all-male gathering of leading Barelvi and Sunni Tehrik clerics was bombed in Karachi in April 2006, or why several all-male Friday prayer congregations or Shia majalis have also been attacked across the country.
One could quote endless examples. There is no point. Mufti Munibur Rehman represents the thinking of a far larger number of people than the few who may agree with me. At the same time, repeated elections have also demonstrated that Pakistanis do not vote for theocrats in any significant numbers.
It is incumbent, then, on those who are elected to step forward and make sure that Quaid-i-Azam’s plural Pakistan is a reality. Equally, state institutions have to abandon their surrogate, non-state actors. No military operation can achieve that.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2017