Community Ownership of War on Terror


While terrorists continue to kill innocent people through their indiscriminate attacks, they now seem to have shifted their focus on silencing the ‘propagandist and apostate’ media for its vilification campaign and failure to accurately project the ‘Jihadi’ activities.

Two heroic sacrifices of Karachi police cop Aslam Chaudhry, and Aitzaz Hassan a teenager form a remote Hangu village dominated the news with glowing tributes pouring in from all sides including the top political and military leadership of the country. This was the explicit acknowledgement of their willingness to sacrifice their lives, knowing well what they were up to and what might be the consequences of their actions.

The real importance of their heroic feat, however, lies in the symbolism of the choices they made. At a time when vast majority of the Pakistanis have been browbeaten and country’s political leadership seems between a rock and a hard place regarding the extremist forces, such valiant acts highlight the ideals to which people look up to during the times of crises.

With a policy to create panic among people and intimidate the state, the terrorists have been on the killing spree, attacking bazaars, places of worship, markets and targeting state institutions and security forces. The terrorists want to give the impression that the state is unable to take care of its people in the face of an intense onslaught from terrorists. This is the psychological warfare on part of the terrorists to get a strategic upper hand.

The way Chaudhry Aslam and young Aitzaz took on the terrorists actually challenged their might and exposed the myth of Taliban’s invincibility in ways more than one. Their sacrifice demonstrated that confronting the terrorists is not an uphill task, and that if there is clarity in policy direction at the top, our security forces have the will, courage and determination to rout this homegrown terrorism.

The act of the Hangu teenager must have sent a panic in the ranks of the Taliban. His sacrifice showed that despite enormous intimidation and indiscriminate killing by the terrorists, the common folks cannot be browbeaten into submission.

This brings us to a larger subject of community participation and ownership of war against terrorism and homegrown insurgency. The enemy Pakistan has been dealing with for well over a decade now has often used community as a means of shelter and resource base for recruitment. They have been melting into the urban areas in the wake of offensive by the security forces, for there is nothing that can distinguish them from the common folks.

COMMUNITY OWNERSHIP OF WAR ON TERROR 1Unless community is motivated to act and fight back, hunting down this seemingly invisible enemy seems impossible. History of global insurgencies shows that community engagement has been the principal component of counter-insurgency strategies. It is by strengthening the bond between the state and the society that the governments could spreadeagle such elements.

In our case, though people resent and despise the terrorists’ activities, there has been a lack of manifestly-pronounced disapproval of and popular rage against terrorism simply due to fear and lack of leadership. People have shied away from taking on the terrorists directly because of distrust regarding the ability of the state to protect them. A general view of our anti-terror experience suggests that our approach has been ‘military-centric’ rather than ‘people-centric’ as little structured efforts seem to have been made to woo people in this fight. This approach has made the intelligence gathering, operations and investigations difficult as people felt less motivated to speak out openly against their oppressors.

More importantly, in the absence of strategic communication between the state and its citizenry, the terrorists and their sympathisers have tried to cast the narrative as the American-driven enterprise. The idea is to sow doubts in the minds of the masses so that they do not end up owning the war.

However, the recent incident has clearly shown that people no more feel threatened by the terrorists. It is now on the state and its institutions to turn the table on the terrorists by involving people and establishing strategic communication with them. The state needs to turn this weakness of the terrorists—lack of popular support base — into strength for itself by reaching out and engaging with the community.

Our communication strategy should be informed by greater sensitization of the people regarding the reality of counterinsurgency and exposing the ‘propaganda web’ woven around it. The state needs to inform people that we are fighting this war for our own survival and not at someone else’s behest. The sacrifices such as those rendered by Aitzaz and Ch Aslam are inspired by the feeling that our future, our existence, and our way of life is at stake, and it is we who have to rise against all kinds of threats to our existence. We need to remember that this country was achieved after too many sacrifices and we cannot allow this to be taken over by a handful of bigots. Being the sons of the soil, it is our duty to safeguard its territorial and ideological sanctity.

This is where media’s role gets immense importance. The media needs to highlight the valour and sacrifices of the people in their struggle to defend their motherland against terrorism. Lines from the movie ‘Enemy at the Gates’ are instructive: “We must tell magnificent stories, stories that extol sacrifice, bravery and courage. We must give them hope, pride and a desire to fight. We must make them believe in the victory. Yes, we need to make examples, yes, but examples to follow. What we need are heroes.”

(The writer can be reached at

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