The Prime Minister of Pakistan was unfairly blasted by the opposition leader for his views on terrorist groups using Pakistani soil, on the eve of his recent visit to Iran. The Pakistani PM was assuring Iranian President Hassan Rouhani about Pakistan taking decisive actions against any militant groups that were responsible for harming the cordial relations between the two countries. These sensible gestures should have been welcomed as there is no denying the fact that the issue of cross-border terrorism has been creating misunderstanding between the two nations. In the same communiqué, peace in Afghanistan was stated to be beneficial for Pakistan and Iran. Prime Minister Imran Khan, more or less, expressed the same views recently in a rally at Tharparkar by publicly pledging that his government would not let any armed groups function in the country amid intensifying crackdown on Islamist groups and their leaders. One can disagree with many of his other policy measures, but not the bitter truth he has so clearly expressed.
Unfortunately, both the major opposition parties — the Pakistan Muslim League and the Pakistan Peoples Party — as well as other groups, exhibiting the opportunistic legacy of Pakistani politics, in a chorus termed the announcement against the national security of Pakistan and tried to dub him a security risk. Playing the religion card, whipping up religious sentiments and exploiting threat to national security for point scoring against each other, castigating others as a security risk, traitor and infidel while sidelining the main issue of violent extremism, radicalisation and terrorism is the bane of Pakistani politics. Two wrongs do not make a right. The bombardment of allegations criticising the PM as inept in diplomacy was so lethal that he and his ministers rather taking a bold stance were forced to retreat, apologetically issuing a clarification that the PM’s statement had been taken out of context.
Pakistan, in general, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) in particular, have been experiencing horrors of terrorism in all possible forms for quite some time. Terrorism is one such problem which is not only taking a heavy toll of socio-political life but also denting our economy in a big way.
The daredevil attacks on office buildings of law-enforcement agencies and murders of numerous senior officers had not only shaken common citizens but has also harmed an already-fragile economy. Horrors of terrorism, coupled with insurgencies in Swat, parts of Peshawar, and whole of the tribal areas earned us the perception of ‘ungoverned spaces’, ‘most dangerous place on earth” and “Pakistan a hard country”.
No wonder we are finding our economic growth slipping away and foreign direct investment drying up. It appears that by pursuing focus on a mere security paradigm, we have missed the long-term economic growth bus. Amidst those gigantic challenges and pessimism, leaders with courage of conviction convert challenges into opportunities by providing amends for the past mistakes and adopting a cautious approach for the future.
We need to be candid in accepting that during the Afghan jihad in the 1980s of this radicalisation, tribal areas saw the climax where Jihadi elements from all over the world descended. In that era, Jihadi groups played an important role in furthering the government’s influence in the international community. However, while bringing short-term dividends, the long-term consequences of this Afghan policy proved catastrophic as not only Kalashnikovs and heroin culture gained currency in K-P with the uncontrolled influx of Afghan refugees, but the Jihadi discourse also turned the tribal areas and K-P into breeding grounds for extremism and terrorism.
As the strategic outlook, towards international Jihadism, of the US and Europe changed into a post-9/11 one, our own strategic priorities got disarrayed and we failed to readjust to the changed realities of the new world terrorism. At this point, we began noticing a clear schism developing at the societal level. Due to earlier policies, the extremist elements in society had seized the opportunity and became more organised and powerful. The state’s control of these Jihadi organisations began to weaken as they derived their ideological inspiration from the Taliban head, Mullah Omar. While Jihadi outfits were getting strengthened with every passing day, Pakistan had no coherent policy at the state level. Having lost the writ and suffering enormously while the militants were on the rampage looking down the plains of Swabi and Islamabad across the Indus, the state realised the gravity of the situation and launched operations in Malakand rolling back the militants. Despite rollback of insurgencies over there, the graph of terrorism did not decline culminating in the gory and bloody attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar and a Karachi airbase.
Those incidents necessitated unfolding of the National Action Plan, thus accepting the reality of home-grown terrorism. Kinetic action of the state has of course brought some salutary effects upon incidence of terrorism, but the core problem persists. The upshot of the discussion is that we need to develop a comprehensive strategy that addresses both short-term actions that are needed to cure the existing situation and long-term actions that are needed to prevent occurrence of the problem. This requires accepting the bitter truth without mincing words and putting our own house in order which will make us tall among the community of nations.