Sunday, February 23, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Feb 24, 2014

Containment or elimination? The security scenario is getting so muddied and complicated that ordinary citizens may be forgiven for scratching their heads in mounting confusion. Perhaps what is needed is to sift what is clear from what is uncertain or obfuscated. It is clear, for example, that the government and military agreed to launch targeted precision strikes by the air force the other day in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency, and with helicopter gunships in Hangu on Saturday. The latter action killed nine terrorists, including a local Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) commander. The hits seem to have had a salutary effect on the TTP and its sympathisers in the committee negotiating on their behalf. Now increasingly the TTP seems to be emphasising and asking for a ceasefire and resumption of the peace talks by the government. The government on the other hand is demanding a ceasefire by the TTP before talks can resume. The deadlock has also produced ‘desperate’ appeals by Maulana Samiul Haq and Professor Ibrahim for sparing the terrorists the unwanted attentions of the military, even going to the extent of conceding that the constitution is not anti-Islam, implying there could be talks within its confines. This is however in sharp contrast with the TTP spokesman Shahidullah Shahid’s reiteration of the TTP view that the constitution has nothing Islamic in it. This ‘discordance’ between the TTP and its negotiating committee spells more trouble in pinning down exactly what parameters the negotiations will be conducted within, if and when they restart. Although the government and the military have refrained from spelling out whether they intend to follow up the aerial bombardments with a full scale military offensive, fear has induced an exodus by people from North Waziristan in anticipation of an operation. In the past few days after the aerial bombardments, apart from minor terrorist incidents in remote areas of FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there has been nothing on the scale of the 13 policemen killed in Karachi or the slaughter of the 23 FC personnel, both of which fed into the decision to ‘teach the terrorists a lesson’. Nevertheless, there is clearly no room for complacency as the TTP can return to its mayhem and murder any time, anywhere. Interestingly, most political parties, especially those that previously were seen as pro-Taliban, are shifting their positions in the light of the unfolding events. The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf has guardedly supported the air strikes. The PPP, ANP and MQM were in the lead of condemning the terrorists and even calling the talks futile. The MQM held a rally in Karachi on Sunday against the Taliban. The JUI-F of Maulana Fazlur Rehman too has ‘distanced’ itself from the Taliban. Only the recalcitrant Jamaat-e-Islami continues to insist on no military operations and a continuation of the talks even if they fail a hundred times! The Jamaat lives in its own cloud cuckooland for which there is so far no known cure. Tomorrow, February 25, the federal cabinet will assemble to discuss the draft of the National Security Policy that has been in gestation for nine months. Media reports have leaked parts of the policy paper. The leaked reports speak of an analysis in the report of how much Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorism, outstripping such well known trouble spots as Iraq and Afghanistan. It also discusses the law enforcement and intelligence forces at the government’s command in relation to the challenges posed by the current situation. While we wish the cabinet Godspeed in its long delayed appraisal of the proposed policy’s analysis and recommendations, there remains a worrying question about the approach of the government. The retaliatory strikes by the military were just that: retaliatory. They were also limited in scope and intensity so as to avoid not only collateral damage but perhaps also a widening of the military action beyond the immediate area struck. Limited retaliation by the military smacks of a ‘containment’ strategy rather than ‘elimination’. That is another added factor in the confusion that has the country in its grip. What after all, does the government hope to achieve through ‘containment’ of the terrorist threat, described in the media reports on the policy paper as an existential threat? Coexistence with the terrorists? The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. In this case though, the government may willy nilly be ‘rescued’ from its illusions about minimum damage to be inflicted on the terrorists in the vain hope that their retaliation too would be limited. More likely than not, it is the terrorists who will soon force the government’s hand and nudge it towards the logic of hitting the terrorists hard.

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