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Caught in Perpetual Fighting

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There are many reasons to believe that the people of Pakistan are undergoing their most wonderful age. They are convinced and they are confused, both at the same time. They can think of their country as heading toward ‘secure’ state – sort of – where peace prevails, where the monstrous scale of terrorism ultimately goes down and where we all are safe. But there are reasons to fear: we have an adversary on our borders with massive conventional military buildup and with nuclear weapons at her disposal. But the irony is that the enemy on the border is not the most threatening one: it lives among us and is faceless, borderless and appears not an enemy as (in the words of Marcus Cicero) ‘he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments’.

Envisioning perpetual peace, on February 22 , Pakistan Army launched ‘Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad’ across the country to effectively combat the threat of terrorism and consolidate the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. But, why an operation to be always followed by another operation? Here is the logic we got:

The recent wave of terrorist incidents and consequent human toll shows that latent strains of terrorism pose the gravest challenge. Though troops and intelligence agencies were already undertaking efforts to eliminate terrorists’ sleeping cells, yet complete knocking on the head remained missing as such random efforts cannot be deemed as an antidote to the surmounting monster. What needs to be seen is a well-directed, coordinated and sustained effort to consolidate, enforce and augment security and build upon the successes of Zarb-e-Azb.

The rationale holds ground. Shadowy elements are no more sleeping: they are resurfacing and reinvigorating. Surely, they will rebuild their networks and seek new recruitments and forge new alliances. The rallying cry for their warfare is still there. Given a moment of indifference and complacency, splinter cells of terrorists will reunite to emerge as a formidable force and will compel us to face mounting costs. The centripetal nature of their narratives and the powerful appeal that they wield faithfully confirm this.

Deaths are again visible and losses surmounting. The recent spate of violence in Lahore, Quetta, Sehwan and other parts of the country shows that the terrorists possess capability to exploit our ‘vulnerabilities’ and attack on targets that we value most. Lacking themselves obvious vulnerabilities and things of value, terrorists seem determined to continue this long, drawn-out fight.

Believe it or not, the greatest problem with the world in combating terrorism is not linked to terrorists’ capabilities; it’s linked to our policies and to our approach: the world has hardly entered into anti-terrorism fight to end terrorism.

The war on terror, which started in Afghanistan, soon fell victim to states’ interests and devastated many countries across Central Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The order that it sought to establish lay in ruins. The buildup of anti-terrorism momentum, for some countries, was an opportunity to suppress struggle for legitimate freedom. Some other countries – the repressive ones – manipulated the language of counterterrorism to enact severe restrictions on their peoples’ freedoms and rights, only to strengthen their control.

The enemy that is borderless and faceless needs a combating strategy that transcends borders but here we are, building walls and fences and becoming more and more opaque. While terrorism thrives in a state of lawlessness and chaos, the countries around the world are providing that space by firing countless bullets and mobilizing thousands of troops.

The 1980s warfare utilized violent non-state actors under the label of ‘proxies’ as defence and foreign policy tools to counter strategic threats. The trend shifted with 9/11 when the momentum was built to eliminate these violent non-state actors. Whether it’s 1980s or the post-9/11 globe, for states, their interests always remain supreme.

The problem with states’ interests is that they do not always coincide with their peoples’ interests. Though all states pledge to protect their individuals; however, individual security does not constitute the core of states’ efforts toward managing security. For individuals, security means ‘freedom from want'; from issues like poverty, unemployment, social justice, etc. which are very often undermined by ‘freedom of fear’ approach commonly followed by states to managing security against fears of armed aggression by other states or non-state actors.

In our case, we are responding to the threat of terrorism by military operations which cannot be an alternate to a grand strategy involving inter-agency decision-making.

Our parameters of peace and security are military-based and our ‘preparing for war to end war’ strategy is compromising protection of individual’s rights, an area in which, otherwise, we need to excel. Military operations may succeed, but only partially, in capping terrorists’ physical infrastructure but the lack of development-centred agenda will continue to perpetuate the causes of terrorism and violence.

It is not to suggest that Pakistan should ignore continued importance of military capabilities, rather the emphasis is to avoid putting military in lead on so many complex political and public issues. Our failures to develop an effective civilian law enforcement setup, and our tendency to continue employing military on so many fronts will result in militarized solutions for our borders, polity and society.

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About M. Mudassir Saeed

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The writer can be contacted at;  ms.khan2315@gmail.com 

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