The massacre of about four dozen men and women belonging to Ismaili community in Karachi on the fateful morning of May 13 is yet another reminder; if at all any other reminder was needed, of gravity of the problem of homegrown terrorism. This is the second most gruesome act of terrorism after the carnage at Peshawar’s Army Public School on December 16, 2014. The recent attack on the Isamilis’ bus is all the more deplorable given the fact that the attackers chose the softest of targets and killed the peaceful and peace-loving people of a community whose services to the country’s socioeconomic uplift are highly laudable.
There are a number of similarities between Peshawar and Karachi incidents the symbolism of which should not be lost on anyone. While it may be alright to say that such terror acts reflect outright desperation among terrorists — thanks to the ongoing military operations in FATA, KP and elsewhere — the fact of the matter is that our militancy problem is far from being over. Through intermittent acts of mass killings, terrorists are making bold statements regarding their penetration in society and presence of network for providing them with funding, arms and ideology.
In both incidents of mass killings, terrorists have tried to spread fear and panic in the society by dealing a devastating psychological blow aimed at demoralising the masses. The second message sent across loud and clear is that members of any community, sect, creed, colour and race are ‘legitimate’ targets of terrorists. Hence, from taking down the state symbols to butchering the innocent people including schoolchildren, the ‘war of terrorism’ launched by terrorists against the state of Pakistan has come full circle.
Although Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been highly effective in thwarting the advance of terrorists, and in eliminating their command and control structure in FATA, yet there are limits to what the military operation can achieve in absolute terms — eliminating terrorism in its entirety. It is to be kept in mind that whom we are battling is a nameless, faceless and region-less enemy whose footprints are present everywhere in cities, towns and villages. So, in order to fight this faceless enemy, a comprehensive strategy that is not only premised on removing the symptoms of the disease but is also capable of eradicating the sources of terrorism, is urgently required. The dynamics of urban warfare are totally different and require a befittingly innovative strategy to root out militancy and organized crime.
Pakistan’s terrorism problem is mainly informed by sectarianism and a warped understanding of religion. The sectarian narrative thrives on promoting hatred, violence against the non-Muslims and the Muslims alike who do not subscribe to the bigoted thinking. All the brutes involved in killing of innocent schoolchildren of APS Peshawar and members of Ismaili community in Karachi were indoctrinated to the core.
The fight against terrorism will not achieve the desired results without streamlining the intelligence gathering and sharing of information between the military and civil agencies.
It is this bigoted and misguided mindset that approves of the killings of humans on religious grounds, which is at the heart of terrorism in the country. As long as nurseries of hatred and indoctrination of minds with bigotry remain operative, threats of terrorism of the scale witnessed during Peshawar and Karachi attacks will remain alive. Militancy does not exist and grow in a vacuum; there has to be a support system which continues to sustain it through continuous provision of recruits, weapons and funds. The war that Pakistan is fighting is of ideas where radicalized, perverted and exclusivist idea is seeking to topple and replace the ideas of moderation, pluralism, tolerance and inclusiveness.
It needs to be recognized that terrorism is like a hydra — a monster in Greek mythology with nine heads; when struck off each head was replaced by two new ones. While terrorist outfits may pledge an allegiance to bigger terror machines such as Al-Qaeda, TTP and now IS, they have loose organizational structures where they are motivated and trained to carry out attacks in an effort to disseminate fear and chaos.
The National Action Plan (NAP), approved in the aftermath of gruesome Peshawar carnage, indicated the acknowledgement of the need to address the root causes of terrorism but very little seems to have been done on this count. Unless extremism is recognized as the fundamental problem due to its role in breeding terrorism, we might win a battle against militancy but are susceptible to losing a long-drawn-out war.
At the policymaking level, there is an immediate need to rise above the political expediency and to calling a spade a spade. Fighting a battle of hearts and minds represents a protracted struggle where evil ideas which spew venom, perpetrate violence and disseminate hatred, must be killed by superior ideas which advocate peace, champion pluralism, and profess tolerance. It is high time we reverted to much-celebrated NAP and implemented it in letter and spirit in order to dilute extremism. Confronted with numerous narratives that are challenging its legitimacy and even very existence, the state needs to put its foot down by drawing up a national narrative. The power to define national objectives should stay with the state and no non-state actor should be allowed a space to offer an alternative.
The fight against terrorism will not achieve the desired results without streamlining the intelligence gathering and sharing of information between military and civil agencies. It calls for close and effective coordination among all stakeholders. At the same time, police and other civil law-enforcement agencies need to be de-politicised and the capacity of its personnel built to enable them to cope with the unique set of challenges.
The nation has rendered many sacrifices in the fight against terrorism. Our people deserve to be rid of this menace now at all costs. We cannot — and should not — leave the future of our next generations at the mercy of the beasts that are out to shed blood and spread mayhem.
National unity and political will is what sees the nations through at the time of crises.