While rendering enormous sacrifices and suffering extensive collateral damage, Pakistans war against terrorism cannot shrug off the damaging international perception of not being fully committed and dragging our feet about eliminating Al-Qaeda safe havens involving both counter-insurgency (COIN) and counter-terrorism (CT). While COIN operations have been quite successful, our CT operations have almost totally failed because these are largely ad-hoc and have not been conducted by a requisite CT force. While we must separate militancy from terrorism we must also conduct COIN separate from countering terrorism even though there are strong linkages. Our intelligence agencies should have coordinated their initiatives to ensure they are not at cross-purposes in intention or commitment about pursuing national objectives.
Deficiencies in the political and military fields have been compounded by gross dereliction in failing to pursue practical economic initiatives. Earlier we had undermined the tribal system and frayed the fabric that gave tribals the strength to deal with the militants. We have never tackled the poverty and injustice particularly manifest in the border areas of Pakistan adjoining Afghanistan; this has led to enduring frustration, meticulously exploited by religious extremists to foment violence in furtherance of their own vicious agenda. While staggering economic development in the Middle East gave employment to hundreds of thousands of Pathan tribals whose sweat went into pouring the concrete in the buildings and the streets, this tapered off during the 80s. The same workforce that flooded to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, etc now got gainful employment as gunmen in their own area, whether it was for the Army, the para-military entities, the tribal militias, drug smugglers, religious militant outfits, etc.
Without being rooted out completely terrorists will continue to gather momentum. It will take some doing to wipe out extremism but it can be done. The danger is militarism can also appear in forms other than religious extremism. Countering of terrorism can never be successful without non-violent initiatives, viz (1) dispensing of equitable justice (2) maintaining absolute credibility (3) providing sound education and (4) curbing religious militancy. Preceding all this must be an immediate and adequate relief to those affected by the fighting. For some time the people will believe what you want them to hear, the backlash will come when they find out the truth, the militants will exploit this lack of credibility, it is grist for those who have chosen the path of militancy. Unfortunately the political compulsions of the elected representatives force them to (a) deny acknowledging the obvious (b) shift all the blame for the terrorism on the warped ideology of its perpetrators instead of coping with the root causes and (3) passing on the buck on circumstantial evidence.
It is counter-productive to keep the Army engaged over a long time, viz (1) the local population starts to react to what the militants propagate as Army excesses and (2) there is a debilitating and corrosive influence on the efficiency, morale and motivation of Army personnel. Our professionals are needlessly detracted from their primary mission for personal and/or political objectives as was done in Musharrafs regime.
Far more worrying is that success in the battlefield leads to over-confidence and that can breed arrogance, the signs of it are already noticeable. This is more pervasive among those who have not seen battle, but can talk about it and revel in the publicity of its success while others down the line shed their blood. Where have all our flowers gone? Unfortunately even though terrorism must be the domain of civilian Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), presently it is beyond their capacity to combat, the Army therefore tends to face another debilitating exercise in aid of civil power.
What we need is a fully equipped independent force mandated to fight terrorism within the country, this Counter-Terrorism Force (CTF) must have its own personnel, equipment, mobility and intelligence potential drawn from the Armed Forces, LEAs, customs, para-military forces, etc. The US could help us train and equip the proposed CTF. The CTF must be officered by the Army and developed on the pattern of the tremendously successful Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) that almost eliminated poppy cultivation and drug smuggling. In fact the nucleus of the ANFs existing administrative, operational and intelligence structure can be converted into the CTF. Presently the Afghans can only boast less than half of coalition casualties, which is 10% of Pakistans security forces. The US could help us to contain and eliminate terrorism within our borders by giving us the tools and the training to do the job, foremost being troop-carrying helicopters, nightvision devices and electronic means to detect movement, whether human or vehicular. Unfortunately there is vested and motivated interest among our rulers not to have a CT force, they are afraid of what the CT force will uncover and bring to book.
A multi-pronged, multi-dimensional strategy must include dialogue as well as continuing military operations and economic initiatives. Drone strikes against terrorists on Pakistani soil must be under Pakistani control, this must be selective and coordinated with actionable intelligence. Putting Pakistan under pressure unnecessarily, the US risks alienating the will of a people already confused and apprehensive about their future. A Pakistani CT force will cost much less than the US $ 10-20 billion annually being spent on the Afghan National Army (ANA) and other Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). Since the force will comprise wholly Pakistani personnel, the anti-American feeling presently prevailing because of use of US Forces will be avoided. The prime consideration must be the possible destabilization in the region that could occur if the Pakistan Army is put at odds with its own people. At the same time, much as we cannot accept one-sided and motivated information from India as evidence, we cannot also allow our territory to be used as a platform for adventurism of the terrorist kind.
During the Af-Pak Review in late 2009, the US President tasked the Planners to viz (1) eliminate Al-Qaeda and (2) disrupt and degrade the Taliban. Al-Qaeda is almost non-existent in Afghanistan and even though it has suffered enormously in the mountainous border area of Pakistan due to Pakistan Army COIN operations, it is alive and well in the heartland of Pakistan, ludicrous therefore that all the effort is being applied in Afghanistan when the real counter-terrorism (CT) effort should be in Pakistan.
This is a war that has to be won, it can be won if the US realizes that it will take time as well as compromise. The primary effort in Afghanistan should be putting its civilian governance in order while containing the Taliban by disrupting and degrading, as per the US Presidents mandate in end 2009. Addressing the inadequacies in countering terrorism within Pakistan, there is dire need for across-the-board economic bolstering of the country, particularly in the tribal areas. How long can the intelligentsia and the masses keep on absorbing this tragic collateral damage (in both urban areas and battle zone) as a price to be paid to be rid of the evil incarnate?
For Pakistan there is no choice, we must be willing participants against the nemesis of terrorism that clouds our future, not only as a civilised society but as an independent and responsible State in the comity of nations.