South Asia | What’s behind Pakistan’s failure in tackling terror?

What’s behind Pakistan’s failure in tackling terror?

The chances of the latest operation being successful are low. For a start, it’s not even clear that either the military or the civilian government are serious about reining in militants

Peshawar, March 26, 2017 6:00 AM (UTC+8)
A policeman stands guard at a market in Mingora, in Swat Valley, Pakistan, on December 7, 2016. Photo: Reuters / Hazrat Ali
A policeman stands guard at a market in Mingora, in Swat Valley, Pakistan, on December 7, 2016. Photo: Reuters / Hazrat Ali

Since February 22, when Operation Radd-Ul-Fasaad (“elimination of discord”) was launched, the Pakistani army has killed 50 terrorists. The cost, according to updates from the Inter Service Public Relations (ISPR) unit, has been the deaths of 10 officers from the Army, Frontier Corps and Frontier Constabulary.

The operation was kicked off following a string of suicide attacks in Pakistan starting from the turn of the year. In one six-week spell spanning January and February, over 174 fatalities and several hundred injuries were reported from 25 incidents of suicide attacks across the country. Those figures take the number killed in extremist attacks in the last 15 months alone to over 550.

Prior to that, there had prevailed an uneasy calm on the terror front amid the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azab (“sharp strike”). As militant activities in Pakistan fell to a bare minimum, people heaved a sigh of relief, hoping that the long curse of savagery was at an end. But they were disappointed, and 2017 in particular has come with a renewed lease of bloodletting.

The army’s reaction came as a surprise to many, however. After it killed over 100 militants within 24 hours of a blast at the

Lal Shahbaz Shrine, in Sehwan Shari, in which 103 perished, political observers were at a loss to understand how those militants had been located within such a short time. The widespread suspicion was that they had known their whereabouts all along but sat on their hands, thereby allowing the attack to happen.

Blowback

Some military analysts claim that the recent escalation in terrorism is in fact a consequence of Operation Zarb-e-Azab, which they say stirred up hostility in the tribal areas along Pakistan’s porous border with Afghanistan.

A military incursion against various jihadi groups, it was launched on June 15, 2014, in North Waziristan. On its completion, two years later, the ISPR unit claimed 3,500 terrorists had been killed, against the loss of 4,900 soldiers, including 17 officers.

The crucial point here is that despite these losses, and the roughly US$3 billion spent on the operation, the army could not wipe out the sanctuaries and support for militants. And the failure of security agencies in this regard may well be attributable to the lack of backing and support from the civilian government, whose National Action Plan was only halfheartedly pursued.

Hatemongers were allowed to continue influencing and inciting people to violence; financial audits and monitoring of Madrasa (religious schools) did not materialize and clergy were allowed to influence planning.

In this context, the army’s jubilation in achieving its military aims by striking a blow against the militants proved a stark self-deception. The menace of terror soon re-surfaced with a renewed vigour.

The perception of military-civilian relations took on a new slant, however, after Dawn, an English language newspaper, ran a story on October 6, 2016, that leaked proceedings at a high-profile security meeting held at the prime minister’s house in Islamabad.

Newspapers reported that the civilian government had taken the army to task for waging a lopsided offensive against extremist elements.

It was suggested that the army, rather than the civilian government, had sheltered banned extremist groups – a suspicion that was, in fact, nothing new, with media having been highlighting the military’s doctrine of “good” and “bad” terror groups for some time.

Indeed, its support for the likes of the Haqqani network (an Afghan guerilla group), Jaish-e-Muhammad (a jihadist outfit in Kashmir) and its leader Masood Azhar, and the Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Righteous) and its leader Hafiz Saeed, was already an open secret.

The tragedy for Pakistan is that it will remain isolated until the militants of all hues are earnestly reined in.

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