The two-pronged strategy having failed, there is need for changing course
The terrorist attack on Kamra Air Force Base is a poignant reminder of the presence of the network of extremists in our midst. After assaults on the GHQ and the Mehran Naval Base, the attack on this premier air base not only reflects the vulnerability of the security establishment in the face of the continuing terrorist incursions, it also underlines the need to revisit the strategy that has been followed in dealing with this criminal network.Add to this the sectarian holocausts being enacted on a daily basis and you have the picture of a state that is fast liquidating. The butchering of twenty-five Shias who were dragged out of a bus headed for Gilgit, identified and executed in cold-blood is a gruesome reminder of the ethnic divisions in our society.Of the many theories prevalent in Pakistan for tackling the terrorist phenomenon, one is based on the flawed premise of sifting the ‘good’ terrorists from the ‘bad’ terrorists. In addition to this being naive and counter-productive, it is simply an excuse for harboring and protecting the evil among us as there are no good or bad brands of terrorism. They are all the same who can be aptly described as a species that indulge in killing the innocent and the hapless people to cater to their blood-lust and their indiscriminate indoctrinations in hate.Policies formulated in this mould have landed the country in an unadulterated mess both internally, in dealing with this marauding band of criminals that does not distinguish a friend from a foe and, externally, for being perceived as espousing the culture of extremism and protecting some outfits that promote bloodshed locally and throughout the world. This has been the core reason for Pakistan’s dismal failure in eliminating the curse of extremism from its midst and its growing alienation at the international level. Will this massive humiliating assault on Kamra impact the policies that Pakistan has followed in its elusive hope of finding a solution to the debilitating phenomenon?There have been reports in the media that Pakistan has ‘agreed’ to launch an operation in North Waziristan in collaboration with the US principally to target the Haqqani network that it has been incessantly accused of protecting as its ‘extended arm’. If that were to happen, Pakistan will have to brace for an extended battle field and bloodshed with possible frustrating results. In the short run, the operation would provoke a bloody counter-assault mostly in the shape of terrorist attacks inside its territory targeting innocent civilians and, in the long run, particularly in the event that this operation does not move to swift and clinical results, further exposing its vulnerability in the face of an enemy that, besides its indoctrination in hate, has many a protecting hand. So, what are the best options that Pakistan has in the current environment to both safeguard its own interests and also to cater to the growing international demand for action in eliminating the terrorist bases along its border with Afghanistan?Let’s first eliminate what Pakistan cannot afford to do any longer. It cannot continue the current policy with regard to dealing with the terrorist phenomenon both because the strategy has failed to achieve the desired results and because it has led to alienation at the international level which has now started impacting its economic programs. The World Bank and Asian Development Bank’s insistence on prior permission from India for providing finances for the construction of Bhasha Dam is only the tip of the iceberg. Much more is in the offing if Pakistan persists in its refusal to move against the perceived terrorist outfit/s.That conclusively limits the palette of options that Pakistan has before it. In the past, it has also tried to link its operation against the Haqqani network with an increased role in the post-US Afghanistan which has not quite worked primarily because of the trust-deficit between the two countries. Reduced to a position of weakness over a period of time, particularly after its seven-month suspension of relations in the aftermath of the Salala attack, it would be extremely difficult for Pakistan to win any outlandish concessions from the US as the core strategy of withdrawal has already been finalised and the pawns that are going to play a role put in place. India has been assigned the responsibility of spearheading an Afghanistan that will not have the benefit of the US and, later, the NATO forces to protect it from the combined attacks of the Taliban and other outfits that have remained opposed to the US and the Karzai regime. There will have to be a very powerful rationale to convince the Americans to alter this policy. That brings us to another critical question: whether or not the US may want India to play a role after its withdrawal from Afghanistan, would the latter get embroiled in this dirty game knowing full well that once it gets sucked in, it would be difficult to pull out?That provides a window of opportunity for the Pakistani strategists. They should play on the Indian vulnerability in the prospect of operating in a mostly hostile environment. India is on the brink of taking off as a world power and a setback at this stage, economic or military, will put it back by years. India should be made to see the impossibility of the challenge before it and the likelihood of negative fallout and its horrific aftermath.Notwithstanding any pressure or otherwise, Pakistan should seriously contemplate an operation in the restive tribal areas for its own security. Continuing with the ‘fight-some-protect-some’ strategy will further damage Pakistan as it would deplete its internal security options and increase its alienation at the international front, thus bedeviling its economic woes. These terrorists have not been Pakistan’s friends in the past and they never will be in the future. To top it, Pakistan doesn’t have the wherewithal to survive in isolation.
The writer is a political analyst and a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org