Saturday, March 6, 2010

Fighting terrorism

As counterinsurgency operation in Swat draws to a close and a major South Waziristan operation is undertaken, terrorists as a reaction are stepping up their activity and demonstrating that they have the ability to strike at different places. NWFP of course is the worst affected but Punjab too is being frequently targeted, being the political power centre. Militants in desperation are also expanding the area of conflict. The ambush of a military convoy in North Waziristan and militant activity in some parts of tribal belt indicates that insurgents would like to open multiple fronts to diffuse military effort in South Waziristan. Recent attack in Rawalpindi on the KRL bus and an earlier one in Azad Kashmir also indicate that improved security is pushing terrorists towards using motorbikes instead of vehicles and choosing softer targets. It is surprising why the government failed to capitalise these incidents against the militants as both nuclear and Kashmir has a special place in the hearts of most Pakistanis.

Regrettably, sectarian violence has become an everyday occurrence in Kurram Agency and the government’s inability to stop the mayhem is disconcerting. In short, extremists are using every possible means to hold on to power and expand their influence where feasible.

It is unlikely that the threat of terrorism and insurgency will diminish in the short term and we have to be mentally and otherwise prepared in dealing with it. For this the nation and the military have to develop and sustain a strong will power to defeat a ruthless enemy that has nothing to lose. In addition the nation needs high level of motivation, training and leadership in the military as well as quality political stewardship. We are fortunate that General Kayani is at the helm and has the professional competence and integrity to lead the military ably and is taking measures to improve its counterinsurgency skills. Initially, the Swat operation was conducted more as a conventional conflict perhaps due to the basic orientation of our army to fight conventional wars. With increased emphasis on counterinsurgency training, equipment and doctrine competence level of our forces has enhanced and will prove valuable in South Waziristan. It is only by adopting strategies that are unconventional that we can win asymmetric and unconventional wars. The importance of intelligence too is foremost in unconventional wars. United States and NATO forces have the technology and resources to create intelligence dominance in Afghanistan. They also use the disgruntled elements within Taliban held territory and the Northern Alliance to supplement their technology based intelligence. In fact with all our human resources there is no reason why we should not have good intelligence on our side. CIA instead of targeting militants inside our territory should share surveillance equipment and real time information so that we can benefit from their capabilities.

Fortunately, with the induction of democratic government it has been possible to develop political ownership of the war against militants. The credit for this goes as much to the government as to the opposition, but to sustain it under trying conditions would be the greatest challenge. What we are facing today is an extraordinary situation where Pakistani Taliban have made it a passion to kill indiscriminately, are irrational, commit atrocities that one is hesitant to pen, leave aside show them on screen. They butchered their own comrades recently when they had to flee in haste during a military operation in Swat. In a recent TV interview a suicide bomber admitted having no qualms in killing anyone including his closest kith and kin if they would not follow his group’s agenda. For them persecuting opponents and enslaving women is a matter of routine.

Clearly, targeting the terrorist’s leadership, camps and logistic bases is crucial. Equally important is to neutralise the ideology and media machine of the militants. Some progress has been made as government’s FM radio is being heard instead of Mullah Fazalullah’s sermons, but more has to be done.

In order to fight terrorism effectively we have to counter extremism. How is it that proponents of such destructive and violent ideologies are able to attract donors and are able to easily recruit young people? People are asking is the government aware of the financial sources of Baithullah and Fazalullah and has it taken appropriate measures to block them? One additional source for militants is to project war on terror as crusade against Islam and use it as a means to generate funds for their global fight against West.

Recruiting sources of militants should also be identified and efforts made to prevent young people from joining their ranks. At the ideological level militant indoctrination has to be countered with progressive and positive message of Islam and by providing alternate sources of employment. Revival of tribal customs and setting of sound administrative structures is a prerequisite for reducing influence of militants.

Improvement in the security situation of Afghanistan and better Indo-Pakistan relations should have an overall positive impact. This will take away the ideological underpinning and be a disincentive for the extremist and terrorist. It is also true that US occupation of Afghanistan accentuates the Jihadi sentiment that is cleverly manipulated by the Taliban.

The most effective way of fighting terrorism is to develop a comprehensive approach where in addition to military action other non-military political, economic, administrative and informational strategies are adopted. Now that the military operation in Swat has been fairly successful it is important that ANP government establishes effective governance. Coordination between provincial and federal governments and military so far has been weak and needs attention. Moreover, the government should put in place programmes for the rehabilitation and reintegration in society of the large number of detainees, who were guilty of committing violence or were held on suspicion for terrorist offences. It is crucial to keep influencing the mind of the militant and that of his supporters by all possible means. For after all, it is a battle of hearts and minds!

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