Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Daily Times Editorial April 30, 2014

The anti-terrorist struggle A high-powered meeting of the political and military leadership chaired by Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif has once again taken stock of the dialogue and security process. From reports trickling out of the meeting, it appears that patience with the stalling tactics and failure to extend the ceasefire by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is running out. The PM is believed to have emphasised to the meeting that dialogue and violence cannot go hand in hand and that talks while terrorist violence continues cannot succeed. Briefings on the talks and security situation were delivered in the meeting by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar and the ISI chief respectively. Reports also speak of the PM lavishing high praise on the ISI’s role in protecting the country and its security. The need for such praise has to be placed in the context of the controversies that have swirled around the ISI in recent days. Whether the PM’s sentiments were heartfelt or an exercise in fence mending does not matter in the ultimate order of things. What is important is that the government is sending out a message of support to the military and its intelligence arm in the middle of the latter’s sensitivity regarding the perception that they are being unnecessarily put in the dock and unfairly criticised. What might help the process of ‘reconciliation’ that appears to be underway is the report that in the coming financial year, the armed forces’ budget will see an increase of 20 percent. While there is justification for such a hefty increase, taking both inflation and the tasks regarding internal security that the armed forces are being called upon to perform, questions remain where the extra money will come from and which sectors are likely to suffer ‘cuts’ to provide the increased allocation. Nevertheless, the government and military seem agreed that the talks process cannot be left as an open-ended project but must instead be pursued with a concise agenda, well defined parameters and definite timelines and targets to be achieved. Although reports speak of the PM once again emphasising that the economic gains the government has made or wants or to make are critically dependent on an improvement in national security, he still hoped against hope that the talks will yield positive results. Well, we hope the PM’s optimism is well placed and not simply the triumph of hope over reality. Only time will tell. The portents do not support his optimism. The military is continuing attacks against the Taliban under its mandate to retaliate against any attacks. Thus the armed forces pounded the Bobar area between South and North Waziristan the other day in retaliation for the bomb blasts in the area that killed three security personnel including an army officer a day earlier and also blasted another security forces vehicle carrying eight personnel. So far there have been no reports of casualties in the latter incident, but both taken together point to the threat that still lurks in and around the area, believed to be a stronghold of the two rival Mehsud factions of the TTP, the Shehryar and Sajna groups, and even to house training camps of the Uzbek Taliban. In fact reports of a looming offensive in the theatre have persuaded the Pakistani Taliban and foreign militants to relocate nearer or across the Afghan border to escape the impending wrath of the military. Since the government is still wedded to a dual track strategy of dialogue and action (the latter so far purely retaliatory and not proactive), the present confused impasse is likely to linger for some time. But the window of opportunity to tackle the homegrown Taliban threat will not remain open indefinitely. This year’s end will see the withdrawal of the bulk of the US/NATO forces from Afghanistan, arguably tempting the Taliban to go for a big push on Kabul. That fighting across the border will not only have the potential to spill over to our side, it could also provide the Pakistani (and foreign) Taliban the opportunity to relocate across the border, out of reach of the Pakistani forces, from where they could operate against us. Before that disadvantageous turn is reached, the government must set itself a timeline to give the TTP so long to come good on a ceasefire and cessation of violence as an earnest of their sincerity vis-à-vis a peaceful solution, beyond which the velvet glove should come off and the mailed fist be brought into play.

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