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EDITORIAL: The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has formally called off its ceasefire citing the ongoing military operation in Lakki Marwat and Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) as the reason. In May this year, the Afghan Taliban brokered a deal between Pakistan and the TTP; however, this ceasefire agreement, like previous ones, was violated by TTP.

In October this year massive spontaneous protests by the residents of Swat’s Charbagh tehsil, Shangla’s Alpuri and in the entire tribal belt erupted against terrorists who had emigrated back into the areas bordering Afghanistan, including Malakand Division, demanding the State restore peace in the region and halt clampdown on the terrorists.

In November KPK was subjected to seven terror attacks with eight attacks in October this year. While the TTP has not claimed responsibility for all the attacks (with Balochistan Liberation Army claiming responsibility for some) yet in a statement it did claim responsibility for the 16 November attack in Lakki Marwat that killed 6 policemen in an ambush, adding that its attackers have made it back to safe havens defined as sanctuaries available to the TTP in Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of this attack Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted that “let us make no mistake. Terrorism continues to be one of Pakistan’s foremost problems. Our armed forces and police have valiantly fought the scourge.

No words are enough to condemn terrorists attack on a police van in Lakki Marwat.” Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari called for an in-camera session dedicated to revisiting Pakistan’s internal security policy. Hina Rabbani Khar on her day-long visit to Kabul is expected to have discussed cross-border terrorism/TTP issues as agenda items.

While the TTP’s demand for release of their members from Pakistani custody is negotiable yet their other demands are simply not tenable including (i) their call for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws as defined by them, an interpretation challenged by Pakistani Islamic scholars as well as the constitution, therefore such a call cannot possibly be entertained by any Pakistani administration; and (ii) a reduced Pakistani military presence in tribal-dominated areas.

There is an urgent need to deal with this problem before it becomes unmanageable as it did in 2014 when the army was forced to launch Zarb-e-Azb on 15 June (that took nearly two years to succeed) but which displaced nearly a million residents requiring financial support, relief goods and food packages.

On 22 February 2017, Operation Rudd-ul-Fasaad was launched with the objective of eliminating the threat of terrorism, securing Pakistan’s borders and consolidating the gains of Zarb-e-Azb. The recent attacks on Pakistan soil must be promptly dealt with and if required a follow-up operation must be launched.

Terrorism on our soil has had many negative economic repercussions – from the large number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) estimated at around a million in 2014 (with many relocating with families in more settled areas but with many requiring government assistance) to the disruption of all economic activity in those areas targeted by the terrorists to the considerable cost of military operations on the treasury. And of course terror activity in a country, even if localised as it is so far, is also the cause of a prospective foreign investor simply opting for another country where there is no such threat.

Pakistan today is at an economic crossroads for not only external reasons notably the Ukraine-Russian war and the devastating floods, but also because of sustained flawed economic policies that have by now become simply untenable as reflected by the refusal of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to entertain Pakistan’s repeated requests to allow for a phasing out of extremely harsh upfront conditions; and at this juncture Pakistan cannot withstand the possibility of withdrawal of pledged foreign direct investment by a friendly country, particularly China, under the umbrella of China Pakistan Economic Corridor, and setting up refineries by Saudi Arabia.

It is, therefore, critical for the government to secure our borders as soon as possible even if it requires a massive operation to clear the threat posed by terrorists.

Pakistan has considerable leverage with the Afghan Taliban as one of a handful of countries willing to continue to engage with its leadership, we are still home to hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, and we provide a vital route for trade. It is about time the government exercised that leverage because the time for negotiations that have failed time and again is over.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022


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