The unceasing political chaos and the absence of a national consensus regarding the existential threat that stares Pakistan in the face are deteriorating the already fragile state of affairs. Political instability and economic meltdown not only compounds the system of governance but also create a fertile breeding ground for terrorism.
Terrorists are masters of the mind. They kill a few people but manage to intimidate the whole society. This certainly is not true in the case of Pakistan where destruction instead of intimidation is the end result. The recent spike in terrorist incidents is a sad Deja Vu of the apocalypse that had displaced millions and killed thousands in the past. The resurgence of terrorism, especially in the KP province, can be attributed to the coming of the Taliban in the neighborhood.
According to a report published by Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), there were more than 273 terror incidents in Pakistan since the Taliban became the de facto rulers of Afghanistan. The victory gained by the Taliban actually provided the stimuli to the TTP. The fragmented TTP was reorganized by their incumbent Amir, Noor Wali Mehsud who ascended the throne after the former head, Mullah Fazlullah, was killed in a drone strike in 2018. What is more menacing and at the same time precarious for the national security of the country is the critical nexus between the Taliban and the TTP which claims or is blamed for the terrorist incidents in Pakistan. Ostensibly, this nexus might seem to be a wall of sand but the tenuous hold of Pakistani paramilitary forces on the western border makes it an existential threat.
Political chaos worsening situation
It has been said many times yet it needs to be said again that a myriad of factors is responsible for the resurgence of terrorism and the failure to counter this menace. The unceasing political chaos and the absence of a national consensus regarding the existential threat that stares Pakistan in the face are deteriorating the already fragile state of affairs. Political instability and economic meltdown not only compounds the system of governance but also create a fertile breeding ground for terrorism. This predicament is worsened by the policy failure in the shape of an ill-devised negotiation in 2022. These negotiations allowed the banned outfits to regain their lost sanctuaries and become active again. Despite long demonstrations in the parts of KP against the resurgence of terrorism, no stern measures were taken to nip the evil in the bud. It is also concerning to note that terrorists have started to target high-security sites and are trying to enter critical places as their new strategy might have been formulated with the agenda to bring destruction on a large scale. The attack on the police line in Peshawar and the killing of a suicide bomber in Islamabad is a stark depiction of the change strategy on the part of TTP.
The absence of a sustained neutralization of the threat and the lack of coordination among the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) put the issue on the back burner. Kinetic measures are adopted to thwart the threat which only contributes to adding to the woes of civilians. The initiation of another military operation that was decided in the national security meeting headed by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif is yet another step in the direction that has failed drastically in the past. Ironically, this announcement came to the limelight at a time when the Supreme Court ruling declared the elections in Punjab to be held in the month of May. The coalition government, according to Zahid Hussain, a renowned analyst, will use this operation as a pretext to avoid elections to be held next month. It is pertinent to mention here that without revisiting this kind of myopic policy, the unresolved issue of terrorism and extremism will continue to haunt Pakistan.
Despite having National Action Plan that was unanimously adopted by all the stakeholders, designed to root out terrorism and empower the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), Pakistan continues to suffer from terrorism. Malpractices within NACTA, lack of coordination among the LEAs, inadequate training of the soldiers, the inordinate concentration of power in a few hands, and the debilitated state of weaponry also add to the woes of paramilitary forces who are tasked with the eradication of terrorism. The frequent change of the counter-terrorism strategy by every successive government has actually provided the impetus for the terrorists to carry out their nefarious designs.
Time for stern measures
Time certainly is set to take stern measures in order to eradicate the menace of terrorism. Both kinetic and non-kinetic measures need to be carried out. Formulating and implementing a long-term proactive strategy to counter terrorism is the need of the hour. This strategy should contain a series of options that should be implemented wisely. Revamping the role of NACTA is pertinent as it will enable the LEAs to eliminate the threat through a systematic plan that was part of the National Action Plan. Increasing coordination among the LEAs, providing modern weaponry to paramilitary forces, a strong national consensus, and a consistent counter-terrorism strategy are some of the prophylactic measures that can prove influential in eliminating the threat. This all is possible only if political stability and economic meltdown are dealt with.
Apart from these kinetic measures, a series of non-kinetic measures are also equally important to be taken. These kinetic measures should include countering of the narrative that TTP and other terrorist outfits propagate. The emotional resonance that the supporters of TTP and terrorist outfits manage to generate has its roots in the subsequent historical events. A strong mechanism that is capable of countering this narrative is an imminent task to be carried out on an immediate basis. This task should be handed over to political leaders, religious leaders, and the higher institutes so that a meaningful and all-seasoned solution is fathomed out.
Another profound task in this regard should be addressing the resentments of the local people which actually arose as a result of the military operation and the promises that were made to them. Until the indigenous solution is not found, kinetic measures would prove unsuccessful in thwarting the threat of terrorism. It is high time that the authorities responsible should decide to drain the swamp that breeds terrorists. None of us is safe until all of us are safe.
(The authors are graduate students of Quaid e Azam University, Islamabad. Views are personal. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)