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A pale sun greeted a troubled Pakistan on the first day of the new year. Traditional greetings wishing friends and family a Happy New Year sounded like the aspired for triumph of hope over reality, given the plethora of crises gripping the state and society.

Amongst these, a short list necessarily would have to include the political impasse, struggling economy, flood relief and rehabilitation, and the hydra of terrorism raising its head again.

Of all these, it is terrorism that poses an increasingly serious threat to peace. The tendency to relax and go to sleep amongst our state institutions after partial successes is what has led to the resurgence of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Forced to relocate to Afghan soil under the irresistible pressure of the military operations in the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), the TTP left behind sleeper cells awaiting just the present turn.

The coming into power of their Afghan brothers last year opened the floodgates to infiltration back into Pakistan and attacks on the security forces, assassinations of tribal elders who are opposed to the TTP, and the emergence of alarm at these developments amongst the population of the whole of KP, whose memories of past suffering at the hands of these terrorists are still fresh.

While wrestling with the other crises afflicting Pakistan, Prime Minister (PM) Shehbaz Sharif pledged to crush terrorism. The National Security Committee (NSC) is meeting as these lines are being written to chalk out the strategy, tactics and measures required to scotch the terrorist snake.

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)-led Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) coalition government blames Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government for the uptick in TTP terrorism inside the country.

The latter’s mistake was not to have learnt anything from the experience of negotiating with the religiously-inspired fanatics, which since 2004 resulted in every agreement being broken by the terrorists.

Imran Khan still bleats on about military means ‘never’ being a solution, without admitting his responsibility for relying on our Afghan Taliban ‘friends’ (now in power in Kabul) to bring about a rapprochement with the TTP.

No ceasefire, negotiations or any means other than military force can budge the TTP from its unacceptable demands, one of which is the restoration of FATA so they can once again enjoy their original base area in the merged tribal districts.

It may be jumping the gun to anticipate what the NSC will decide, but a few pointers, gleaned from experience, may be useful. First and foremost, counterinsurgency is not simply a military effort. That effort needs to be coordinated with on ground intelligence. And that intelligence, its gathering and analysis requires a degree of the missing coordination between all the intelligence and security agencies of the state, especially between the military and civilian wings of our intelligence and security structure.

That was the missing element throughout our history, and even after the 2014 military operations were launched in the wake of the Army Public School, Peshawar, massacre of children and teachers by the TTP.

The National Action Plan formulated to bolster those military operations by coordinating all the data of the intelligence agencies never took off, and the much touted National Counter-Terrorism Coordination Authority (NACTA) remains a dead letter to this day. Perhaps the NSC can now help fill that void.

The Bannu detention centre incident, in which TTP prisoners were able to seize weapons from their guards, take over the centre and only be winkled out after a serious assault on their positions, offers lessons. Vigilance, vigilance, vigilance. Our guard cannot be lowered at any time or place where the struggle against terrorism is concerned.

The uptick in terrorism, including a suicide blast in Islamabad, persuaded many foreign embassies in the federal capital to issue advisories to their officials and citizens to restrict their movements for fear of terrorist attacks.

The major bombing of the Islamabad Marriot Hotel came back to haunt the foreign diplomats and evoked an advisory to avoid visiting the popular hotel.

All hotels in Islamabad have reportedly beefed up their security, as have the security agencies through increased road checks, etc. The suicide bomber in Islamabad reportedly travelled from KP, pointing to the need to strengthen checks at the entrances to Islamabad.

In the reporting of the mainstream media, the series of attacks by nationalist guerrillas in Balochistan, which too have experienced an uptick of late, is being lumped as usual in the ‘terrorist’ basket, including the allegation that Baloch insurgent groups have forged a nexus with TTP.

This lack of nuance or ‘one size fits all’ approach negates any possibility of finding a political solution to an entirely different problem – a nationalist insurgency fuelled by the sense of injustice and oppression since Independence common amongst the people of Balochistan.

If, as is the riposte of the military establishment every time this more nuanced approach is suggested, it is indeed true that India is supporting the Baloch guerrilla struggle, does it not make sense to douse the fire in our house by accommodating Baloch grievances within the four corners of the Constitution so as to deny any hostile power the opportunity to fish in troubled waters? Food for thought.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

Rashed Rahman

[email protected] , rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

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