Saturday, January 30, 2016

Daily Times Editorial Jan 31, 2016

Terror-free Pakistan Presiding over a high powered meeting of the top leadership of the ruling PML-N, Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif underlined his government’s top priority as being a terror-free Pakistan. The killers of innocent children in educational institutions would be brought to justice and the Karachi operation would continue until its logical end, the PM emphasised. The war against terrorism, he vowed, would continue until the elimination of the last terrorist on Pakistani soil. He went on to claim that economic stability and the successes against the militants had created hope and optimism among the people. He repeated the assertion that Operation Zarb-e-Azb had broken the back of the terrorists and now they were focusing on soft targets in their frustration. While there is no denying that the military and security forces have made strides against the terrorist affliction, such resounding statements of success may have the inadvertent effect of lulling us into complacency, which has proved fatal, as the attack on the Bacha Khan University (BKU) after the Army Public School (APS) massacre shows. Other than that, the assertions and claims of the PM need to be assessed critically to get an accurate picture of the struggle against terrorism. The PM’s desire for a terror-free Pakistan is shared by all. However, the assertion that the war would continue until the elimination of the last terrorist implies physical elimination, which is not only difficult to assess but also ignores the equally if not more important task of the ideological elimination of the malign influence of the terrorist narrative, particularly on young and impressionable minds. Otherwise, with the narrative unscotched and no alternative to replace it in the minds of the people, it could remain a reproducible disease. This still remains the weakest, if not wholly absent, aspect of the drive against terrorism. The PM’s claim of economic stability can also be questioned on the touchstone of the unremitting energy crisis, unemployment running at 8.5 percent according to an independent think tank, capital flight and lack of investment, domestic and foreign. The economy’s inability to offer the young employment leaves them desperate and vulnerable to the message of criminals and terrorists. As to the ‘broken back’ of the terrorists, is it the case or is it that we have simply pushed the problem across the Afghan border beyond our reach? If the latter, we had better gird up our loins for a long struggle. As to attacking soft targets in desperation, with due respect to the PM, this has always been on the radar of the terrorist asymmetrical warriors. A report on the first year of the National Action Plan (NAP) reveals some telling facts. Seminaries numbering 182 have been sealed for fanning extremism. While this is long overdue and therefore welcome, the thousands of seminaries still untouched present the potential of a conveyor belt of extremism and terrorism. The sooner this task is completed, the better. Bank accounts and cash of proscribed militant groups amounting to some Rs 1.5 billion have been seized. The names of 8,159 people have been put in the Fourth Schedule, 188 hardcore militants’ names have been put on the Exit Control List and the movements of 2,052 terrorists have been restricted. Cases against terrorists registered so far total 1,026 while 230 terror suspects have been arrested. Pakistan has banned 64 organisations while the UN has a black list of 74. Why this discrepancy? Literature and publications spewing out hatred, intolerance, extremism, sectarianism and advocating decapitation of those who do not agree with them have been confiscated and 73 shops purveying such stuff sealed. Books and other such material seized number 1,500. While these are impressive statistics, they merely serve to remind us of the mountain of effort that still awaits before a ‘terror-free Pakistan’ can be envisaged. The attacks on the APS and BKU have created a security headache for educational institutions’ administrators and parents. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) laid down in NAP include raising the height of boundary walls, installing CCTV, ensuring one entry and one exit point manned by security guards, barriers before entrances, etc. Many public sector educational institutions are complaining their headmasters are being harassed and humiliated, particularly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa but also elsewhere, for not following the SOPs to the letter, after which FIRs are being lodged against them. They complain the education authorities have not released funds to allow them to carry out the instructions. The result of this confusion is that many institutions have had to be closed. This is hardly desirable since this is presumably the exact outcome the terrorists want. The abiding and overarching problem remains the lack of a coordinated strategy against terrorism that brings together all civilian and military intelligence, security and other forces to combat the terrorists with centralised intelligence-led operations and the development of the missing counter-terrorism narrative.

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