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A Herculean task

Published Mar 21, 2017 06:38am

IN our fight against terrorism, the Pakistan Army has been the most proactive institution. But now, to compensate for a dithering civil government and match expectations built by the last army chief, it may be biting off more than it can chew.

Since 2002, when Musharraf first ventured into Fata, the army has launched at least 11 operations in Fata and Swat. While earlier operations were for a specific area — Al-Mizan in Waziristan in 2002, Rah-i-Haq for Swat and Shangla in 2007, Sherdil for Bajaur in 2008, etc — Raddul Fasaad, the 12th operation, is different in that its scope extends across the whole country.

Raddul Fasaad is an effort to address the rise of terrorism across the country — a situation that has, rather than being contained, escalated. But the army’s effort seems like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it, the hole being the civil governments that have shied away from confrontations with the extremists.

Raddul Fasaad is the army’s polite way of saying ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to the reluctance of the Punjab government to act firmly in southern Punjab, and the PPP government to do so in interior Sindh. In both provinces, the Rangers (the implementation arm of the military) have been denied a free hand.


Is another army operation a sustainable solution?


But is an army operation a sustainable solution to the problem? It’s more like a surgeon removing a cancerous tumour, and being satisfied with his work, without having fixed the patient’s collapsing immune system. The operation buys the patient a little time but, ultimately, he is doomed.

The civilian government’s considered strategy seems to be that fighting extremism is the task of the uniformed forces. Their task is only to address those needs of the people that will win them the next election. It is a win-win strategy for the politicians, since it protects them from the extremists’ enmity and wins them the votes of beneficiaries of their latest infrastructure project. What will happen 10 or 20 years down the road does not seem to concern them.

The stated objectives of Raddul Fasaad are to ‘eliminate residual threat of terrorism, consolidate gains of earlier operations and ensure security of borders’. It entails a broad-spectrum counterterrorism operation, including de-weaponisation, pursuance of the National Action Plan (NAP) and more effective border control, in that order.

As army chief, the now retired Gen Kayani was reluctant to go into North Waziristan, but his successor Raheel Sharif dared to do so and gained popularity as a result. With the bar having been raised by his hawkish predecessor, COAS Gen Bajwa cannot afford to be a dove. So, while the earlier 11 operations were geographically limited, the new operation spans the entire country.

While the civilian government again seems to be taking a back seat on terrorism, the army may have committed to too much by taking on the challenge of ‘eliminating residual threats and consolidating gains of previous operations’ throughout the country. Considering that the civilian government is not interested in making hard decisions to implement NAP, if complete success is not achieved (a likely scenario), the blame for non-achievement will fall on the army, giving civilian rulers a convenient scapegoat.

Twenty points are underscored by NAP that require immediate attention; adding de-weaponisation, included in Raddul Fasaad, ups the list to 21 points.

The need to include point 13 (zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab) in NAP arose because the committee formulating NAP perceived that some militant groups were being overlooked in Punjab. Similarly, point 16 (dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists) was included because it was felt that some provinces were not taking sectarian terrorism seriously on the premise that it is neither a new problem, nor is the state the target (another sect is). But have we seen real action on these points?

Similarly, for point five (checking financing for terrorists and terrorist organisations), point six (ensuring against re-emergence of banned groups) and point eight (registration and regulation of seminaries), no meaningful action has been taken for fear of backlash. Banned groups continue to operate with different names, and madressahs refuse to allow in government inspectors unlike normal schools. An FIA official, during a briefing in a think tank I am member of, openly admitted that, with the present laws, not even a single financial transaction of a terrorist can be prevented or punished.

So unless the army makes certain grades of action under Raddul Fasaad contingent upon the civil government making quantifiable achievements in NAP’s implementation, it will cut a sorry figure and offer itself up as a scapegoat — to the delight of the civilian rulers, who have already declared the army command transient while they remain permanent.

The writer is a former federal secretary.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017