Friday, January 1, 2016

Daily Times Editorial Jan 2, 2016

Brave new world? As the world rang in the New Year and tolled out the old one, the global landscape betrayed the mixed bag of anxieties and hopes that characterise today’s situation. In many western and Asian cities, the celebrations were dampened by fear or actual threats of terrorism, leading many capitals to cancel the traditional fireworks and large gatherings. In other, less stressed countries, the celebrations and pyrotechnics went ahead undeterred. In the backdrop lurked the realisation of Islamic State’s (IS’s) open and declared intent to bring the ‘war’ to its enemies’ homelands (witness the Paris massacre). At home, Pakistanis, particularly youth frustrated with the lack of options for entertainment, once again took over the roads in cities and ‘celebrated’ in their usual ‘yahoo’ style. The authorities tried to cope but were unable to do much to dent one-wheelies, loud music and massive traffic jams. If only we could find some healthier ways for our young to enjoy themselves on such occasions without making a nuisance of themselves. Meanwhile the IS presence in Pakistan has reasserted itself in debate after families in Lahore (including women and children) were discovered after the event of having travelled surreptitiously to Syria to join the IS campaign of setting up a ‘caliphate’ enjoying a hold over vast territory. Recent developments on the battlefield in Iraq and Syria however offer hope that their governments, with the support, open and honest or tacit and hesitant, of the world powers, may be on the verge of turning the tide on IS and other terrorist outfits. The problem, whether on the battle fronts or on the planned negotiations for a political settlement in Syria, is the definition of who can be described as a terrorist. Lack of agreement on this fundamental definition is the biggest roadblock in the creation of a critically required global anti-terrorist architecture to bring to bear the will and resources of the world against the threat. Back home, the authorities have finally to get their head out of the sand in denying any presence of IS in Pakistan and get down to the more important task of ensuring IS does not get traction here through the agency of older existing terrorist groups on our soil. No doubt the interior ministry can point to quite impressive statistics of its actions against terrorism during 2015, including killing 637 terrorists in 1,113 incidents and arresting another 710. To some, these may appear relatively puny numbers, but they reflect the nature of the enemy and the fight against him. Inherently, as far as both counterinsurgency (Operation Zarb-e-Azb) and counterterrorism (the National Action Plan or NAP) are concerned, it is less likely that we will see spectacular numbers in one go of the enemy eliminated but rather a slow, steady accumulation of the blows struck and the results obtained. An enemy operating in small groups, whether as guerrillas in FATA and elsewhere or as cells in the cities, requires patient intelligence-driven operations to degrade, disassemble and eliminate the threat. An interesting aspect of the fight and the difficulties that attend it is the report that a perusal by the authorities of around 200 seminaries’ bank accounts has yielded so little as to be described as a molehill rather than a mountain. After this fruitless exercise (which some informed observers could have pointed to long before it even started), attention is now being diverted to non-banking, informal channels of financing the seminaries such as hundi and hawala or other means to finance the activities of these madrassas. In the first place, identifying and then cutting off funds being employed to facilitate terrorism is a complex, multi-layered task. In the second place, any madrassa involved in suspicious activities is hardly likely to ‘advertise’ the source of its funding through the banks. Back to the drawing board on this one then. There is little doubt that casting an eye on the trajectory of the struggle against terrorism from say 2008 to 2015 indicates the distance travelled along the road of progress. Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched in June 2014 in response to the terrorist attack on Karachi airport at the very moment the government, with the all parties consensus behind it, was attempting to negotiate with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). It is the TTP that disabused everyone of the notion of talking them out of their dastardly course and woke up the hitherto sleeping giant of the military to take the terrorists head on in North Waziristan (the reference is to the procrastination of past military top brass in grasping this nettle firmly). The expected terrorist retaliation by the TTP and other terrorist groups for their loss of long standing safe havens and bases in FATA did not arrive immediately, which may have induced some complacency. However, the terrorists sent a rude reminder by massacring children and teachers in the APS incident in December 2014, finally stirring the authorities to formulate the NAP. Discontents with the long delays in implementing all the 20 points of NAP notwithstanding, there can be no gainsaying the fact that 2015 proved a turning point in mobilising opinion across the board against the terrorists and silencing their vocal and hidden sympathisers. Looking back, that will stand out as the greatest gain of the year past.

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