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Avenging terrorism?

Updated Feb 28, 2017 12:17pm


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IT was good while it lasted, but it was too good to last for too long. The complacency has ended as we see terrorists still striking nationally. The official reaction has been swift and furious. But swift and furious do not often add up to effective. The top soldier has vowed to avenge terrorism. Top analysts have penned articles on how to do so. But talk of avenging terrorism is troubling, for it often implies anger and disregard for the rules.

Predictably, many immediate reactions have shown such disregard and ineffectiveness. Cross-border action breaks international law, will only push terrorists deeper into Afghanistan and may make neighbours retaliate. Sealing official borders disrupts innocent civilians’ lives and trade without deterring terrorists who may use other paths. Military courts are ineffective and discourage judicial reform. Evicting Afghan refugees breaks refugee law and apes Trump’s mean actions.

Seeking justice is a more apt goal. It implies respecting law, using both military and diplomatic means, and reviewing our own follies. In 2006, terrorism’s hubs lay in plain sight within our borders but we dithered as the army, ruling then, developed the same compulsions that stop politicians from targeting terrorists. Increasing insecurity hastened democracy’s return in 2008 which transferred the army’s national (but not regional) compulsions to politicians. This allowed it to start meaningful actions against terrorists, leading to the seemingly very potent Zarb-i-Azb.

Seeking justice is a more apt goal.

By 2016, we had almost perfected the art of having our cake and eating it too: protecting ourselves against major terrorism without curbing our regional aims. But 2017 has broken this myth and shown that blowback is inevitable. Now we are upset and puzzled even though it was inevitable.

What do we do now? We can try to secure soft targets. But terrorists will still find places where desperate suicide bombers can cause fatalities that spread chaos. We can aim to choke the transmission routes and facilitators. Most effective is eliminating hubs. But they lie across the border now. Firing at them may cause initial loss, but nimble-footed terrorists will soon regroup far enough from the border to be safe. We can wade deeper into alien territory chasing them. But that is risky. Afghan forces may attack us. More likely, terrorists may ambush us in areas alien to us but familiar to them. It is also against international law even in retaliation for cross-border attacks.

We can demand from the hosts to clamp down on these groups. But this involves states we have gripes with — Afghanistan, US and even India. We have been stone-walling their similar demands for years under different pretexts: provide better proof, we are busy with our own war, why should we fight your wars, we have already cleared terrorists from our soil; or these are not terrorists but freedom fighters. At best, they will repeat these pretexts back to us and demand reciprocity. At worst, even that may not be enough to gain cooperation.

But this thought must not deter Pakistan from reviewing its regional policies. Basing its policies on principles, laws and logic alone will produce best long-term results whatever the policies of others. In Afghanistan, Pakistan pursues a place for the Afghan Taliban in the political set-up, despite years of efforts not even getting peace talks started earnestly. Chances that they will start now are remote, and that they will succeed and produce a lasting and functional governing coalition which secures Pakistani interests are almost zero. Pakistan should instead focus on working with others to eliminate the Afghan Taliban militarily, by choking their supplies, eliminating their leaders and working to develop good relations with whoever rules Afghanistan, as does China.

In India-held Kashmir, we argue it is not terrorism but a freedom struggle. This mixes goals with means. Freedom is a goal and terrorism one means to it. One can be both a freedom fighter and a terrorist if one kills civilians in pursuing freedom. Terrorism cannot be justified despite Indian state terrorism. Freedom fighters could justify non-terrorist militancy, ie, targeting only armed forces, as a last resort. But it is wrong for a state to support even that even in a disputed area. We must only support peaceful means in IHK and encourage local groups to pursue only them.

We say we no longer support militants in Afghanistan and India. But outsiders and credible local media sources doubt this. Perhaps, it is fringe spy elements and not the state supporting them. But Pakistan must take tangible steps that remove all doubts on this count, including muzzling militant groups operating openly. Only such a basic rethink will secure Pakistan. Otherwise, gains against terrorists will again be temporary. The current uptick will likely subside soon. But future upticks may keep coming.

The writer heads INSPIRING Pakistan, a progressive policy unit.

Published in Dawn, February 28th, 2017


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (15) Closed

brr Feb 28, 2017 05:00am

Coming to the measures taken to counter terrorism, there seems no fool proof way to achieve success. Pushing their previously pet militants out of pakistan into Afghanistan has not been that great a strategy. Frequent croos-border shelling will only result in Afghans doing the same.

The politics of playing one benefactor against other by pakistan has emboldened it, despite the appearance of exploitation by such benefactors (read China). In its hubris, quite often, pakistan has waved the tactical nukes against India and its Taliban clout against Afghanistan. When its bluff was called on its Taliban clout, pakistan was unable to get them to the table. Now, in desperation, all that pakistan can threaten the Afghans with is deportation of Afghan refugees. Assuming that the paktun polulation of KPK will not be upset by it, such deportations will only make Afghans hate pakistan more. Very little will be gained by that.

Abraham haque Feb 28, 2017 05:43am

Sir some of us have been trying tell not only the state but also others but who cares

PR MAN Feb 28, 2017 07:22am

Good citizens and newspaper columnists like you who practically have no say or influence on these matters can continue delivering abstract opinions and counter-opinions in vain. People have no trust or confidence in the inept and dishonest political leadership which ought to implement programs and policies sincerely and honestly, instead they blame each other for the poor state of the state, and the life keeps going on for some but not for all.

Shashank Feb 28, 2017 07:30am

Very apt.

tochi Feb 28, 2017 08:32am

Dr.Murtaza your excellent analysis of situation is praiseworthy. Authority should listen to you .

Raj Feb 28, 2017 10:46am

Fully agree with the author. Your terrorist cannot become my freedom fighters. Both are separate.

maleeha Feb 28, 2017 11:00am

A very practical and Holistic approach !

maleeha Feb 28, 2017 11:00am

A very practical and Holistic approach !

Feroz Feb 28, 2017 12:26pm

Excellent analysis of how Pakistan got here with clear ideas on the route to be taken for getting back on the right track. Neighbors and the global interlocutors have been repeatedly pointing out the same to the rulers of Pakistan but they have been fobbed off by the same excuses as covered here.

Situation is very difficult because it is the ideology, propaganda and narrative of the State which has led to the creation and empowerment of these same terrorists. Rulers and these terrorists share the same mindset, only on the goals, means and targets there is a dispute.

Anil Feb 28, 2017 01:49pm

As an Indian Kashmiri, I support these views. Terrorism and its supporters can only destroy and not create anything.

Zarb e ghazab Feb 28, 2017 02:09pm

suggestions in the article are a long way off the actual policy corridor . It will require a U turn, which the deep state is not wiling to do it . the genie of terrorism is out of the bottle only time will tell how it is closed again

FRISAL KASHMIR Feb 28, 2017 04:04pm

Praise worthy words.

Ali Vazir - Congo Feb 28, 2017 11:25pm

How impressive and sensible article, making us proud of not only lot of scholars, but the newspaper that performs the medium for that. This country cannot be defeated until we have so much saner elements.

Ash2000 Mar 01, 2017 01:00am

This is one of the best article on the subject. Congrats to the writer and hope authorities listen to it.

Alba Mar 01, 2017 01:40am

@brr .... Ask any man, woman or child you select on any street of any city in Pakistan one single question. Do you feel safe?