A call for bloodshed

Published November 30, 2022

FINALLY, there is clarity about the resurgence of militancy. And it has come not from the state, but from the banned TTP. In a menacing statement on Monday that signalled the end of its tenuous ceasefire with the state, the umbrella group ordered its fighters to carry out attacks across the country “wherever and whenever”.

It placed the blame for this development on “unabated” operations by the security forces against militants in parts of KP and called on TTP combatants to take revenge. For a nation that has experienced years of wanton violence by religious extremists who did not even spare women and children, and left parks, bazaars, schools, mosques, churches, etc awash with blood, there can scarcely be a more chilling message.

Given this backdrop, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar’s visit yesterday to Afghanistan — where the TTP have found safe haven — assumes even more importance.

Over the last few months, however, the state has been dishing out spin rather than facts to an increasingly uneasy public. As recently as September, the authorities were insisting that the threat of a militancy redux was an “exaggeration”.

Such claims flew in the face of evidence — including sporadic attacks, extortion demands and kidnappings — that the extremists were reasserting themselves in Swat and the tribal districts. Infuriated by the state’s prevarication, residents of these areas, who have suffered the most from the militants’ depredations, gave vent to their anger in several massive protests demanding action against them. Such action, possibly even another kinetic operation, is now imperative.

However, far more needs to be done and some bitter truths confronted. It is quite apparent the approach taken to defeat an existential threat to the country has gone seriously awry and must be recalibrated.

The truth is, the state has wasted precious time by not consolidating its success in militarily pushing TTP out of its strongholds in the north.

For one, it has been over four years since Fata was merged with KP, but the expectations of a turnaround in its woefully underserved status have not been fulfilled in the absence of funding from the federal government.

Second, the state has refused to engage with a peaceful civilian movement that has the potential of being a bulwark against militancy, instead casting it as inimical to Pakistan’s national interests. This approach must change.

Third, a clear-sighted policy to deal with violent extremists, rather than one veering between force and appeasement, is needed. For groups like the TTP, ‘negotiations’ are a means to buy space and time to regroup.

But most importantly, the state needs to realise that where we are now is the result of decades of flawed, security-centric policies, particularly the notion of ‘strategic depth’ that, with the second coming of the Afghan Taliban, has boomeranged — and raised the spectre of a nightmare revisited.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2022

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