Rampant and violent terrorism has long become the hallmark of Pakistan, however, the massacre of innocent children in Pakistan;s Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16 wrote a new leaf of brutality in the violent history of terror in Pakistan. The cold-blooded murder of 140 children shocked the nation and the pain was felt across the globe.
Probably this was not the last time that the media savvy terrorists grabbed the headlines at the pile of helpless victims and successfully transmitted the fear of terror far and beyond the intended target. However, it was the first time that an act of terror opened the eyes of apologists and confused policy makers to the brutality of terror. The unmatched cruelty infused an equally unprecedented unity among the politicians, armed forces and common people to call enough is enough. Within a few hours after the massacre, political leadership and armed forces unequivocally vowed a swift and decisive action to defeat terrorism in all forms and manifestations. After a consensus of decisive action, a moratorium on capital punishment for terrorists was revoked and the main culprit in attacks on GHQ and former general were executed in a first phase. The operation in Waziristan also intensified where Pakistani Air Force pounded the hideouts of militant’s organization and key terror suspects were reportedly killed.
It took policy makers 20 long years, 50 thousand precious lives and $50 billion to identify the real enemy and realize that the biggest threat is ticking within, rather than across the boundaries of Pakistan. In the meanwhile, the seeds of terror sowed by the Zia regime and pruned by Musharaf in both the good and bad, to ensure strategic depth, have sucked sufficient blood out of the nation to become a sprawling thorny tree. Therefore, the physical existence of Taliban in our file and ranks after enjoying impunity for years is the tip of iceberg.
The real challenge for the state to wipe-out terrorism and restore writ is to address the ideology of Talibanization that has been spreading at the fuel of poverty, injustice, lack of transparency and self denial.
Upon this backdrop the question is: Can force alone address the problem of terrorism in Pakistan. To address this issue, I hope the policy makers will not wait for thousands more to lay down their lives or billions of dollars to perish, nor will they count on another U-turn.
Past experience is evidence that just challenging the terrorists has not served Pakistan well. Pakistan needs a multi-pronged counterterrorism policy to decapitate the mass killing ability of terrorists as a top priority. Following are a few important factors that need to be addressed if Pakistan wants to win the war on terror and reverse the process of extremism once and for all.
Economic Factors: Poverty and unemployment are the two important parameters of socio-economic status of a country. In Pakistan, 40 percent of the population lives on less than a dollar a day and 25 percent of the youth are unemployed. The unofficial poverty and unemployment rate goes up to 50 and 40 percent respectively in the federally administered tribal belt, the epicenter of terrorism in Pakistan.
Enhancing the economic status of socially excluded and vulnerable groups can break the vicious circle of both, terrorism and under-development in Pakistan. Otherwise the socially and economically aggrieved are more likely to engage in terrorism and live to or die for a purpose, though extremely grotesque it may be. Therefore, it is
the responsibility of the state to provide job opportunities and self-respect to the unemployed and poor segment of the society before deprivation push them to extremism.
Social Amenities: Education and health are the most neglected sectors in Pakistan. Pakistan would have been one of the most innovative countries in the world if it spent 10 percent of GDP on education in 1990’s and 2.1 percent on defense. But, unfortunately, the reality is the other way around. Currently Pakistan is spending just 2.1 percent of GDP on education and less than 1 percent on health sector. These figures are not adjusted for the widespread corruption prevailing in the two sectors. Unequal opportunities of health and education increase the sense of deprivation that severely damage the bonds of social cohesion and pave the way for hatred.
Lack of Speedy Justice and Law & Order: The justice System in Pakistan is a trap that exhausts the petitioners before they cab find a safe exit. Due to the slow moving judicial system and increasing demand for justice, terror organizations run a tilted, but parallel speedy judicial system that helps them establish their authority at the cost of the writ of the government. Furthermore,this is all due to the corruption and negligence that the marginalizes the needy, while the wealthy are bequeathed, the deprived are deserted and the affluent prosper. A system where elites are not accountable to law and the rich can buy favor, this undermines the basis of any possible social contract and paves the way to widespread resentment among the masses. Similarly, the political appointments of police and using police as personal force by politicians erodes the credibility of the very custodians of the law and order. In a civil and just society the police should be accountable to the public and they should serve the public, rather than trample on them on behalf of their political masters.
Madrassahs and Foreign Hand: Madrassahs has been remaining a part and parcel of our society, but Madrassahs built and financed during the first Afghan crisis are fanning fundamentalism. The state’s inability to provide decent education opportunities across the board pushes youth from humble backgrounds in to Madrassahs (seminaries) for education-cum-meals. The majority of Madrassahs in Pakistan are financed from abroad and thus less accountable to the state of Pakistan. They pursue their sponsor’s interest. Their curriculum is outdated and hardly imparts the much needed values in the students to compete in modern society. Some Madrassahs brainwash the youth and propagate their parochial ideologies as the true representation of Islam. Bringing Madrassahs under the government realm and introducing up-to-date curriculum with the help of respected religious scholars within the country and across the world would deprive terrorists of a breeding ground and safe sanctuaries in the long run.
Transparency in Defense: The apologists could have been deprived of a good excuse if consensus was developed before joining the allied forces in the on going war on terror in 2001. A decision by a few living in fortified complexes at the cost of the public exchequer never considered the interests of their subjects in the game of give and take. The flawed concept of strategic depth and the imposition of blur policies on 180 million people from GHQ needs to be stopped if the government is serious in the war on terror. 50 thousand people have died and not a single inventor and guardian of ‘strategic depth’ has been exposed. 25 percent of budget was allocated to defense, but terrorist have been running a parallel state under the nose of armed forces. Pakistan also needs to reconsider that the dubious policy of targeting one and befriending others among the terror groups is not going to serve the country locally nor help her win the trust of friends internationally. Some key terrorist were captured and literally sold to other countries, while others were kept in secret facilities without completing the due legal process or informing the people about their fate. The process of dumping bullet-ridden bodies has to stop before convincing others to play fair.
Political Structure and Institutions: Our political structure serves the elite. The monopolization of politics creates a vacuum of bold leaders and efficient policy makers. The political class is interested to amass illegal wealth and secure personal gains at the cost of national interest. This class is callously indifferent to the suffering of people within the country and more loyal to their foreign mentors. The political elite behave as if the country is their personal property and they can sell it to anyone at any cost as they wish. The lack of accountability and complete authority of elites has corrupted the national institutions beyond remedy. Out of 146 countries, Pakistan occupies the 126th position in corruption and 127 in democratic accountability. Pakistan is ranked 130th in terms of overall quality of institutions out of 146. The inefficient institutions reflects the weakness of governance that could provide a loophole to the extremists to promote their cause.
Finally, a comprehensive policy as an antidote to the venom of terror include addressing the grievances of marginalized groups, rule of law instead the rule of a few crooks, encouraging religious tolerance, provision of objective liberal education, employment and much needed justice to the people along with disengagement
and realignment of brain washed individuals. Otherwise wining the war on terror just by force will be a momentary success.