Thursday, July 17, 2014

Daily Times Editorial July 18, 2014

Anti-terrorism strategy Nothing underlines the critical need for a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy better than Thursday’s encounter with terrorists in Raiwind, Lahore, close to Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif’s residence. The encounter is not without a touch of irony, given the PM’s instructions to COAS General Raheel Sharif and Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali on Wednesday that the militants should be hunted down all over the country. From reports, it appears the militants were conducting surveillance of the PM’s residence for months from a rented house in the vicinity guarded by armed men and whose inhabitants kept themselves aloof from the surrounding community. One terrorist was killed and one critically wounded in the raid, for the loss of one police officer. Explosives and other weapons were discovered at the house, some of which were destroyed on the spot. In a parallel vein, nothing underlines the critical need for a comprehensive counter-insurgency strategy better than the trajectory of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan Agency (NWA) since its launch about a month ago. Between the lines, a tacit admission by the military can be read by informed observers that its cordon around North Waziristan may have been too little too late, allowing terrorist guerrillas to move away before the start of the offensive into adjoining tribal Agencies or even into Afghanistan. Whether the attack from across the border on a check post in Bajaur Agency the other day was the work of the militants from Swat under Mulla Fazlullah who had earlier taken refuge across the border or of the later fighters of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) to have escaped across the border does not matter as much as the fact that Pakistan now faces hostile guerrilla forces just across its western border that seem bent upon mounting cross-border raids every so often. To deal with terrorist fighters who may have escaped from NWA to Bajaur and stop any repetition of the recent cross-border raid that cost the lives of an army captain and two soldiers, the military was poised to start an offensive in Bajaur Agency. However, the offensive has now been postponed on the request of a local jirga that has set up a peace lashkar (militia) to defend the area against cross-border incursions and suppress any terrorist presence or support network of the militants within the Agency. In this regard, the tribal elders and tribesmen have reverted to their traditional role of the first line of defence of the western border. However, given the dire fate of similar tribal lashkars set up in the past in this and other Agencies, appropriate steps are necessary to provide support and backing to the lashkar in the fight against the enemy. The contemplated, now postponed military foray into Bajaur Agency serves to highlight the necessity to treat the FATA theatre as a whole if the terrorist threat is to be eliminated. Nothing underlines the critical necessity of the coordination of both the comprehensive counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency strategies better than the timely success of the intelligence-led encounter with the terrorists spying on the PM’s residence. The success was underwritten by better coordination amongst all the intelligence agencies and law enforcement forces. Ideally, a central command and control mechanism should have been created to coordinate the various strands of the anti-terrorist struggle. NACTA was considered for such a role, but, toothless as NACTA is, and given the tug of war over its command being under the (present) PM’s Secretariat or the interior ministry, it no longer provides a credible template for a centralised command and control with a common data base that is still critical for the anti-terrorist campaign in both its counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency facets. A long struggle lies ahead against a determined and elusive enemy capable of melting away in the face of overwhelming force or other danger and living to fight another day. For asymmetrical warriors, survival in the face of a superior force itself is a victory. For the state, nothing short of annihilation of the terrorist threat, now that the die has finally been cast, will do.

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