Sunday, March 29, 2015

Daily Times Editorial March 30, 2015

COAS’s resolve Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif stands out in contrast to his predecessor, General Ashfaq Parvez Kiyani. Whereas the latter dragged his feet over clearing FATA, especially North Waziristan, of terrorists and their local and foreign affiliates, General Sharif has taken the bull by the horns. One of the triggers may have been the APS attack in Peshawar that led to the massacre of students and their teachers, but the COAS’s resolve to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan’s soil predated his elevation to overall command of the army. General Sharif is credited with being the conceptual and in practice leader of turning the military towards first understanding and then eliminating the existential threat to the country that entrenched terrorism represents, and which by now is received wisdom across the board. The COAS, even before he was elevated, is widely believed to be the counterinsurgency General of the army, having written the manual on the subject and trained troops for the task. Not for General Sharif the ambiguity and duality of long years of prevarication and spurious distinctions between good and bad Taliban that hamstrung any effective action against them in the wishful desire to project power in Afghanistan through armed proxies. Instead of achieving that outward aim, the country is now suffering from the ‘reverse osmosis’ of Pakistani Taliban based on Afghan soil mounting raids against the military and security forces on our side of the border. There is little doubt that Operation Zarb-e-Azb has rocked the terrorists, once considered difficult to winkle out of their redoubts in FATA, on to the back foot and triggered an exodus from areas in the path of the military’s operations. It therefore comes as no surprise when the COAS reiterated his and the army’s determination to go after the terrorists wherever they may be. His message while addressing the convocation of the CMH Lahore Medical College on Saturday was straight and unambiguous. He said the army was tackling the menace of terrorism head-on and would not rest till it had delivered to future generations a terror-free Pakistan. The task of cleansing Pakistan of terrorism promises to be a protracted one. After all, terrorists have proliferated and consolidated themselves for four decades and more on our soil as an unintended consequence of our long involvement with our neighbour Afghanistan. While endgame approaches in Afghanistan with foreign troops reduced to a virtually token presence and the Kabul government open to political negotiations with the Afghan Taliban to find a peaceful solution to the long running war, Pakistan has a big stake in such an outcome next door. Peace in Afghanistan would have the reverse effect of continuing war. The latter would open up the door to the risk that the Afghan Taliban may be tempted to go on supporting the Pakistani Taliban on their soil, to Pakistan’s security detriment. Peace on the other hand, would avoid such a spillover and may even make the existence of the Pakistani Taliban inside Afghanistan difficult if not impossible. On the domestic front, we now have the first report to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif under the National Action Plan (NAP). The report states that from December 24, 2014 to March 25, 2015, the law enforcement agencies have arrested 32,347 people on various charges in 28,826 operations conducted across the country since the start of the NAP. A province-wise breakdown shows that of these operations, 14,791 were conducted in Punjab, 5,517 in Sindh, 6,461 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), 84 in Balochistan, 405 in Islamabad, 1,394 in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), 83 in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and 91 in FATA. The breakdown of arrests reveals that of the total 32,347 people arrested, 2,798 were from Punjab, 6,467 from Sindh, 18,619 from KP, 3,483 from Balochistan, 762 from Islamabad, nine from AJK, 30 from GB and 179 from FATA. It may appear at first glance incongruous that there appears not to be a correlation between operations in a province and arrests made from that province, and this is especially glaring in the case of Punjab. But it is inherently very difficult to find such a correlation for the simple reason that such operations are intelligence-led which, like all human endeavour, is an imperfect science. The number of operations therefore cannot be expected in each and every instance to reap a similar crop of suspects. But it is nevertheless reassuring to see that Punjab leads the list of the number of operations in the context of first, the perception that the terrorists have treated Punjab as a safe haven in the past and therefore refrained from too many actions in the province, and second, the allegations and accusations in the air that the Punjab government tried to save the province from the unwanted attentions of the Taliban by appealing to them to spare Punjab. Whatever the truth of such past mistakes and illusions, the fact that the figures underline what the COAS said, that terrorists would be pursued no matter where they are in the country, is cause for satisfaction. However, the other side of the picture is that even after such intense operations in a relatively short time, terrorism is not completely scotched and that brings us back to our starting point: we are in a protracted war against terrorism, one we cannot afford to lose.

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