Saturday, January 21, 2017

Business Recorder Editorial Jan 18, 2017

Raheel at Davos Former COAS General Raheel Sharif, addressing a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos titled “Terrorism in the Digital Age” on January 17, said that there had been a significant decrease in terrorism in Pakistan. Whereas previously there were 150 incidents per month, within three years the Pakistan army had brought the figure down to a single digit. Soon, he hoped, we would see the first year free of such incidents. However, he warned, terrorists today can act quickly due to the existence of digital platforms. The world needs to join hands and learn to react quickly too. Terrorists, he added, were thriving on glorification and this needs collective tackling. General Sharif emphasised the importance of intelligence sharing as a very important component of the strategy to combat terrorism, which was a global issue requiring the global community to unite to defeat it. Turning to the Pakistan army’s successes against terrorism, General Sharif informed his audience that they had cleared an area of 8,000 square kilometres after recapture from militant control. Tens of thousands of people had been rehabilitated in the area. Terrorism, the General said, was a gangrene for the world. Nowadays, terrorists attack in a well planned manner. Although Pakistan suffered tragedies like the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar massacre of 135 people, mostly students, we could not retaliate in the manner of the terrorists’ atrocities. The reference was to the demand by some of the mothers of the slain students to publicly hang the perpetrators. Raheel said unusual times require unusual arrangements, and went on to praise the role of military courts in the struggle against terrorism. He said free speech and human rights are difficult to handle when dealing with hardcore terrorists. Answering a question about dealing with terrorists prepared to die, General Sharif said a whole-nation approach had proved successful. Turning to other aspects of the anti-terrorist struggle, he argued that states should take a leaf out of the terrorists’ book and effectively use a counter-narrative to meet the challenge of tech-savvy terrorists. He underlined the need for a resolution of the Kashmir and Palestine issues to ensure peace in the world. In answer to a question regarding the role of Taliban sympathisers, Raheel equated them with the terrorists but pointed out Pakistan’s challenges in the shape of three million Afghan refugees on its soil, a porous 2,400 kilometre long border, and tribal linkages. In reverse, he said, some terrorists from Pakistan had found refuge in Afghanistan, necessitating stability in that country if the threat was to be neutralised. He pointed to the possibility that the west could face cyber terrorism in the future and urged the international community to sit together and develop a counter-narrative system. While most of what General Raheel Sharif said in Davos rings true, particularly after the successes of the Pakistan army under his command, there are some areas that require further reflection. First and foremost, the rehabilitation of refugees and internally displaced persons in the areas of military operations is crucial if the gains from the anti-terrorist drive are not to be frittered away. Here, the military naturally is playing the leading role in a disturbed situation where their presence far outweighs that of a decimated civilian administration. However, the latter must be steadily restored to handle tasks either beyond the scope of the military or likely to tie it down when its main task remains security. Second, it is possible to disagree with the General regarding the efficacy of military courts, judging by their performance and mode of functioning over the last two years. In any case, the consensus on military courts in the aftermath of the APS massacre has by now evaporated, not the least because of their summary, non-transparent and falling short of due process mode of functioning. If anything, the experience has once more proved that military justice is a non sequitur. As to free speech and human rights, without getting into a long philosophical argument about ends and means, it is essential, as the General himself conceded in his remarks, that the state not mimic the horrendous methods of the terrorists if it is to retain legitimacy and the high moral ground. The more judiciously and credibly the bringing to justice of terrorists is conducted, the more the necessary counter-narrative (conspicuous so far by its absence) would grip the imagination of the masses and help turn the tide against the purveyors of hate and violence.

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