War on terror – an action-reaction formula


    Pakistan continues to pay the price




    Amid the ongoing war against terrorism the country has been engaged in for over a decade, there has been an uplift in the terror attacks recently, especially in parts of Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, exposing the brittle nature of this war.

    According to Centre for Research and Security Studies (CRSS) report, 499 persons lost their lives and 388 were wounded in violence and counter-violence incidents in the country during the third quarter of this year.

    In October alone, there had been several incidents of terror, including the 5 Oct suicide bomb attack targeting a shrine in Jhal Magsi area of Balochistan, claiming 21 lives; an attack on a vehicle of the Frontier Corps in Razmak sub-division of North Waziristan Agency on 9 Oct where three soldiers were martyred, an IED blast in North Waziristan’s Miramshah claiming the lives of two security personnel and an explosion targeting a truck carrying police officials in the Sariab Mill area of Quetta on 18 Oct, killing eight people, followed by grenade attacks in Mastung and Gwadar on Thursday injuring some 35 people.

    In a retrospect, these attacks can be viewed in the aftermath of US President Donald Trump’s militarised Afghan policy, wanting to increase American troops presence in Afghanistan and asking Pakistan to ‘do more’, as usual. Pakistan, however, did not welcome Trump’s demand this time and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif conveyed his tough stance over this attitude, urging Trump to soften his tone towards Islamabad. The recent change in Washington’s tone was also an outcome of the intelligence-sharing between the two countries leading towards the recovery of a Canadian-American family from Taliban last week. This followed the US drone strikes in Afghanistan targeting Taliban and Haqqani Network, killing some top commanders, including APS mastermind and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar chief Umar Khalid Khorasani.

    Now many see the recent terror attacks in the country as a reaction to these targeted operations. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Operation Raddul Fasaad is also underway aiming at eliminating the “residual threat of terrorism”.

    “When we conduct military operations, they offer a reaction too and this reaction not only comes from within Pakistan but also from across the border. The recent drone attacks and the recovery of Canadian-American couple along with some high profile arrests within Pakistan have resulted in these attacks as there is definitely a reaction when the commanders of these militant organizations are killed,” said Minister of State for Interior Affairs Talal Chaudhry while talking to DNA.

    Talking about the brittle nature of the war, the minister said, “When there are such wars against terrorism, it takes time to put them to a conclusion. They can never be ended in days or months, it requires years. But if you compare the figures, the surveillance is getting better and the terror attacks have largely decreased. We have achieved a lot but there’s still more to do.”

    However, the main problem that remains is of extremism. Although the terrorists and their hideouts are targeted, their ideology is still not challenged. Moreover, the mainstreaming of militant outfits as political parties is also alarming as it was seen in the case of Milli Muslim League that appeared in the NA-120 by-election. Not to mention Captain Safdar’s recent outburst against the Ahmadi community showing extremist tendencies within the ruling party’s circle.

    “Although such attacks are made in a reaction to the targeting of terrorists, we cannot ignore the extremist elements within the society whose ideology needs to be challenged. This is a long war coupled with increased radicalism. A lot of militant groups have harnessed their support and following in the region while they are also being mainstreamed so they become a part of the society,” said security analyst Ayesha Siddiqa.

    Giving the example of blasphemy law, the analyst argued that religion has become a weapon, we have permitted the people to kill anyone on charges of blasphemy. “The problem of terrorism cannot be curbed until you challenge the ideology of terrorists,” she said, and added, “The state has failed to implement its writ. The state has to enforce law and provide protection to the citizens at all levels, only then can we see peace to this war.”

    Pakistan Army mainly bags the credit for the successes in the ongoing war on terror and its counterterrorism operations while the civilians are too busy securing their politics that they overlook the National Action Plan (NAP) and NACTA time and time again. Only a new terror attack reminds the government and opposition of these anti-extremism programmes.

    Talking about the implementation of NAP, the state minister said, “We have come a long way. Many things which were not implemented in Pakistan according to the National Action Plan are now being executed but until the western border is completely secured, we can expect such attacks.”

    When asked about the border management with Afghanistan, he said, “The working on a proposal on border management and security is underway and will be completed in several stages. It is a long border and one-sided border control cannot help. We are trying our best in fortifying the border.”

    Pakistan being at the centre stage has to face all the more loss due to someone else’s proxy war. The porous western border on one hand and the aggression from the eastern side on the other only worsens the security situation in Pakistan.

    Commenting on this, CRSS executive director and security analyst Imtiaz Gul said that Pakistan is facing the outcomes of America’s proxy war and an issue of cross-border terrorism. “It is connected to our relationship with India and Afghanistan. This process of tit for tat will continue until we don’t improve our relations with these neighbours.”

    “Extremism and terrorism are different, our issue at this time is mainly of proxy terrorism and it is not interlinked with extremism,” Gul added.

    In order to improve its security situation and better fight this war, Pakistan needs to establish better relations with its neighbours based on goodwill and a strategic narrative.

    “Afghanistan shows distrust over Pakistan that will only benefit the groups fighting against its government. Our forces and agencies are capable enough, Kabul will see that if they trust us, we will stand by them,” Chaudhry reaffirmed.

    No doubt, we have come a long way in this war and there has been a visible decline in terror incidents but there’s still a need to challenge the ideology of terrorists and extremists. A counter-narrative and psychological warfare efforts are required on the part of civilian and military leadership to achieve long lasting success in this war. Mere bombings cannot guarantee the elimination of terrorists, the military action will always be welcomed with a reaction and it’s the people of this country who have to pay the price of this reaction at the end.