Battle against terrorism is brutal and tough
A multipronged strategy is needed to counter terrorism and bring Pakistan back to normal
They haven't gone yet! People mourning the death of more than a dozen people after the February 13 suicide bomb attack in Lahore evidenced that despite a push to stamp out militancy, Pakistan is still facing challenges to curb terrorism. Normalcy was returning. The country welcomed the return of Davis Cup matches in Islamabad after a hiatus of 12 years. It was also about to host Pakistan Super League (PSL) final in Lahore in March, seven years after international cricket came to a standstill after a terrorist attack on Sri Lankan team bus. But now, the foreign players are refusing to be a part of the event, and the fate of the gala is in doubt.
Having suffered massive human and economic losses for a decade, Pakistan started a military-led crackdown on militancy in June 2014. Security in the country has improved in recent years with terrorist attacks seeing a significant decline in 2016. Yet militants carried out attacks killing 908 people in 2016.
Militant groups still pose a potent threat to national stability, the annual report of Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies' (PIPS) said. The Islamabad-based think tank said many militant groups were widening the scope of their activities, narrowing their ideologies and evolving within new spaces, and sectarian militancy blending with the militant landscape. These threats, the report said, would linger on for a long time unless the state adopted new approaches.
Security forces carried out as many as 95 operational strikes and raids, and apprehended 1,418 suspected terrorists and members of violent groups in 315 search operations. "Yet, an over-emphasis on hard component or the use of force, alone, cannot completely root out the problem," the report said suggesting making functional soft counterterrorism approaches as well, including those espoused in the National Action Plan, by the state and law enforcement institutions to curb terrorism and extremism in the country.
Policymakers need to go for a multipronged strategy. They should examine the reasons terrorism continues to evolve in new and more virulent forms and ideologies threatening peace and security. They also need to address the underlying causes that create terror recruits, and so, erode the appeal of the narratives of hate and hostility that terrorism is built on. The authorities should redress the political, social and economic alienation in different regions that contributes to recruitment opportunities for militant groups. They need to reform and expand the public school network by removing intolerant discourse and distorted narratives glorifying violence from the classroom; and also initiate education reform with financial assistance to help poor families afford to send their children to school.
Development programmes should focus on poor regions of the country in consultation with communities; and establish and implement requirements to hire a significant proportion of local labour for such programmes providing it training. The government should respond to the political alienation by strengthening local government structures and giving them political and financial powers.
The government should prevent circulation of hate literature and enforce laws against hate speech at all forums and follow through on all cases against hard-liners accused of violating them.
The government should repeal all legislation that discriminates on the basis of religion, sect and gender and refrain from backtracking on progressive legislation. It should protect religious minorities and human rights defenders against faith-based and reprisal attacks by acting through the legal system on reports of intimidation and abuse. The National Assembly has passed a key bill aimed at strengthening the criminal justice system and curbing sectarianism and persecution of minorities. It is a step in the right direction. More steps on these lines need to be taken to turn the society into one that supports diversity and pluralism.
Counterterrorism efforts should focus on reforming and strengthening the criminal justice system, with a properly resourced, authorised and accountable provincial police force at its heart, so as to moderate reliance on lethal force.
They should be gone now! The battle against terrorism and terrorists is long and tough. It needs both long and short-term measures to be taken sincerely to win it. The country's normalcy depends on peace, culture, sports, and investment, et al. All in all, the country is yearning for a life without fear.
Waqar Mustafa is a print, online and broadcast journalist and commentator based in Pakistan