YET another bloodbath seems to have pushed the government to call an all-parties conference. The proposed conclave which has been postponed — once again — is meant to discuss the security challenges faced by the country in the wake of a renewed wave of terrorism.
It’s a pity that it took the death of over 100 people for the government to wake up to the need for a national response to the terrorist threat. And while the Peshawar mosque bombing may have shaken the nation, even this tragedy has not bridged the political divide.
The grief over the ghastly massacre may be universal but there is no clear national narrative on how to deal with those responsible for this heinous crime. Trapped in its own inertia, the fledgling dispensation is still not able to develop a concrete action plan. The state’s response is not what the situation would demand.
Consultation with political parties and other stakeholders on a critical national security issue is one thing, but the abdication of responsibility is something else. One wonders how disparate political groups can make a counterterrorism policy.
With little likelihood of the main opposition party, the PTI, attending, the proposed APC seems to be a non-starter.
Notwithstanding the PTI’s own reservations, the government itself doesn’t appear too keen to get the opposition party on board. It is politics that matters more for our political leadership than national interests. It makes the whole exercise of calling the APC questionable. Even the growing threat to our national security by militants has not eased the ongoing political confrontation.
There is no clear national narrative on how to deal with those responsible for terrorism.
There is certainly a need for a coherent strategy to combat the resurgent forces of terror, but policies are not made at multiparty meetings. Such a gathering can only be useful to developing a national consensus when the state comes up with its own concrete plan of action.
A comprehensive counterterrorism policy is long overdue but it has yet to take shape, despite the continuing terrorist attacks that are taking a heavy toll on lives.
There is not much hope that political parties with such diverse views on the very meaning of militancy and violent extremism can come up with a comprehensive plan of action. This ambiguity has harmed our national security more than anything else, and once again, turned the country into a killing field for terrorists.
A chapter of the same group with which the state was engaged in peace talks until a few months ago has claimed responsibility for the slaughtering of the worshippers at the Peshawar mosque. The group has claimed responsibility for other major terrorist strikes in recent months.
Despite the surge in terrorist attacks, the state allowed thousands of armed militants to return to their homes in various districts of KP. Incidents like the Police Lines bombing have been the consequence of our policy of appeasement. There is still no indication that the state has a clear plan for course correction.
It will be extremely difficult now to drive out the militants as we have allowed them to regain their lost space. It is apparent that the gains achieved in the battle against the insurgents in the former tribal areas have been reversed, with the state virtually surrendering to the globally declared terrorist group.
There are questions about the will as well as capacity to fight violent extremism comprehensively. The state’s actions against militant and extremist outfits have so far remained patchy and lacking in conviction.
There is now talk about renewing military operations against the militants in the affected districts. Indeed, the military has a critical role in internal security, but it requires more than kinetic actions to effectively combat terrorism whose tentacles are spreading.
A major flaw in our counterterrorism policy is that military operations in the past were not accompanied by the measures required to root out violent extremism in all its aspects.
Although the National Action Plan, formulated at a multiparty conference following the Peshawar Army Public School tragedy in December 2014, can hardly be described as a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, even then just a handful of its 20 points have been implemented, and that too partially. The major responsibility for this lacklustre approach lies with successive governments.
Almost a decade on, there is still no mechanism in place to implement the measures agreed upon by all stakeholders. Police and other civilian law-enforcement agencies, which are supposed to be on the frontlines of the battle against violent militancy, lack resources and capacity. The recent terrorist attacks in KP have exposed the vulnerability of an ill-equipped police force.
The National Counter-Terrorism Authority has remained dormant, resulting in the complete breakdown of coordination among various intelligence and law-enforcement agencies which is critical to monitoring the activities of extremist groups operating in different regions. Many of the terrorist attacks could have been prevented had Nacta been activated.
There is also a need to broaden the fight against violent extremism and take the battle to the source. That includes choking terror financing, madressah reforms and intensifying action against sectarian outfits. These are the issues that have to be addressed as part of a comprehensive strategy in order to win the battle against violent militancy.
There is an urgent need to move beyond the military operations. There is also the question of having the commitment to take tough measures. While both the civilian and military leadership have pledged to fight militants of all hues, it is now time for actual action.
The Peshawar massacre could certainly become a turning point in the country’s struggle against militancy and terrorism — but only if our civil and military leaders sincerely adhere to their pledges.
The nation has paid a huge cost for the state policy of appeasement and the lacklustre approach adopted by successive governments towards an existential threat.
There is certainly a need for a national narrative, but more importantly, the civil and military leadership must have a clear action plan. One hopes that this newfound resolve doesn’t dissipate with the passage of time as we have seen it happen on so many previous occasions.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2023
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