Living in the shadow of terror
As reports about military action against militants holed up in N Waziristan are proliferating, the threat perception from the Taliban has exponentially increased. The pre-Eid suspension of cellular service throughout Pakistan and post-Eid threat to block pre-paid SIMs is a manifestation of the nervousness of our rulers.
According to some media reports, the militants in the badlands have started abandoning their bases. They have relocated themselves to other areas including safe houses in major cities of the country.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik, the self-professed architect of disruption of mobile services, has boasted that the terrorist designs of playing havoc on Eid day have been thwarted as a result of his preemptive moves. His declared plan, however, to block prepaid SIMs understandably has been met with stiff resistance from the cellular companies.
By some estimates, mobile phone penetration in the country is the highest in South Asia with a vast majority of consumers using prepaid SIMs. This is a clear dampener for an industry that contributes 118 billion to the exchequer in the form of direct and indirect taxes.
The move on Chand Raat (Eid eve) apart from resulting in an immense loss of revenue for the cellular companies was a major source of inconvenience for the consumers.
The reliance on mobile phones for wishing Eid through text messaging has virtually replaced the erstwhile ubiquitous Eid Card. This is a fact of life that eluded Rehman Malik who was perhaps successful in convincing his bosses in the name of security to block the airwaves on the festive occasion.
Instead of employing the traditional methods of combating and thwarting terrorism, the interior minister decided to deal with the menace through unorthodox methods. Malik sahib in a self-congratulatory manner has claimed victory post-Eid and has now moved to ban prepaid SIMs altogether.
Following the “throwing the baby with the bath water” methodology, Mr Malik’s next move could perhaps be to crack down on other important elements of infrastructure. For example, the terrorists could use the motorway for traveling; why not block it? Even better, why not ban the motor vehicle altogether?
In the US post 9/11, the UK post 7/7 or for that matter after the attack on a train in Spain, terrorism has been successfully thwarted through superior and meticulous intelligence methods, rather than putting the citizens to inconvenience by tinkering with the infrastructure.
People have accepted restrictions on their movements in the form of numerous nakas (roadblocks) manned by security agencies, and sometimes seemingly unnecessary security checks at airports in good grace. But ill thought out moves, like blocking SIMs, apart from being grossly unpopular, will impinge upon the already sluggish economic activity.
In the wake of recent high profile terrorist incidents including the audacious attack on Kamra air base and ethnic cleansing of the Shias and Hazara community, to claim that terrorism is under some sort of control is a mockery of the truth.
Citizens of Lahore, Islamabad and Multan can heave a sigh of relief that no significant terrorist incident has taken place in these major cities for some time. However the same cannot be said about the rest of the country, which continues to be infested with acts of terrorism and targeted killings.
The situation in Karachi – the major hub of business and finance of the country – has gone from bad to worse. Hardly a day passes without the slaying of scores of citizens in the metropolis. Similarly, Balochistan and KP are no better.
In the wake of this, a report that militants in the tribal areas are abandoning bases to escape an imminent offensive is hardly reassuring. The Army Chief General Ashfaq Kayani clarified after the Kamra incident that there will be no foreign boots on the ground. However, he did not rule out the possibility of the Pakistani military launching an offensive in N Waziristan.
The way events are moving, there will hardly be any element of surprise if and when such an offensive takes place. If the militants scatter themselves in different parts of Pakistan and the Haqqani group flees to Afghanistan, such a military operation could at best only achieve mixed results.
Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ishan has warned of stiff resistance if the proposed military action takes place. He has claimed that, “the (Pakistani) armed forces will be welcomed in N Waziristan by suicide bombers”.
Judging by the past record of the TTP, it is hardly an empty threat. And in order to lower the morale of the people, preemptive moves by terrorists across the country seem to be on the cards.
Pakistani military has been resisting launching a putsch in N Waziristan not for any strategic reasons but on the pretext that the terrorists holed up there would relocate them in the rest of the country as a result of such an offensive.
The army has also claimed it is already spread thin manning the eastern and western borders and maintaining internal security. Hence, it will not be possible to spare manpower to launch an offensive in Waziristan.
What has changed now? Is it pressure from the US or exigencies of our own security that the Taliban now consider a military offensive in N Waziristan as inevitable.
Perhaps, the military by not ruling out such an offensive wants the terrorists of different hue and color to escape to Afghanistan and deal with the Pakistani Taliban with full might? There are credible reports that Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban are in the process of relocating to Syria and parts of Africa.
Whatever the exigencies of the government and the military establishment, the days ahead would increase the sense of insecurity of the citizens in the wake of an upsurge in terrorist activities.
Pakistan has protested to the US for the umpteenth time on drone attacks on its territory. But the Obama administration is not quite ready to give up its most potent weapon against the militants.
The Pakistani establishment is between the devil and the deep blue sea. It wants to stick to its flawed strategic paradigm but at the same time is not willing to let go of the US as its mentor. It keeps mulling over an offensive in N Waziristan. In the meanwhile, the Pakistani nation confronts a situation that will get worse before it ever gets better!
The writer is Editor, Pakistan Today