Pakistan terror toll fails to stir
offensive By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI - As shock and outrage over the
Taliban's shooting of young female activist Malala
Yousafzai subsides, a new question has begun to
make its rounds among political commentators in
Pakistan: whether the government should launch an
offensive against militants along the country's
border with Afghanistan.
United States' special envoy for Afghanistan and
Pakistan, failed to make his position on the issue
clear on his recent visit to Pakistan. Though he
pressed for Pakistan to "do more" to control
militants from the tribal area of North Waziristan
(NW) currently fighting US troops stationed in
Afghanistan, Grossman seemed to suggest a change
of heart in Washington
now that full troop
withdrawal is close.
"On the particular
question of a North Waziristan [offensive]… that
is [a] decision solely for the government of
Pakistan," he said on a talk show aired by the
state-run Pakistan Television last month.
Since the beginning of 2012, Pakistan has
witnessed a spate of attacks on security forces
and politicians, systematic bombing of schools (96
schools were attacked this year alone), killing of
civilians, and attacks on military bases - all
allegedly by armed groups including the Taliban,
al-Qaeda, and their affiliates.
government as well as the army is cognizant of the
threat posed by the militants, both have been
reluctant to launch an all-out offensive for
"There exists a certain
paranoia within the [Pakistan] military about
India's increasing role in Afghanistan, and
therefore it is reluctant to turn against its
partners, like the Haqqani Network," Imtiaz Gul, a
defence expert from Islamabad, explained to IPS.
"Once the foreign forces withdraw, who knows how
useful these ties could turn out to be for
However, there is rising
pressure on the government, mainly from civil
society, to stem the religious extremism and
terrorism that has gripped the country.
For years, the government has attempted to
foster the image that it is not "doing the
bidding" of the US. Now, a vicious attack on
Yousafzai - a young advocate of girls' right to
education - has provided it with the perfect
excuse to carry out a military offensive without
running the risk of losing popular support,
"The time is right [to] flush
out the militancy," Kamal Siddiqi, editor of the
English daily 'Express Tribune', told IPS. "The
militants are based in NW and need to be routed
Defence expert Ikram Sehgal
agrees that "something needs to be done" about
religious extremism and militancy but believes it
will be foolhardy to jump into the hornet's nest
by launching an army offensive. "The army does not
have the manpower, or the material resources, to
fight the militants in a terrain that is extremely
difficult to traverse," he told IPS.
solution, he believes, lies in forging a
civilian-led counter-terrorism force. "That would
break the nexus between corruption, organised
crime and terrorism since the former two provide
the latter with the logistical support needed to
plan terrorist attacks," he said.
Unfortunately, said Sehgal, the
politicians sitting in the parliament would never
allow such a force to develop, as it would mean
losing the support of religious groups. With
national elections, scheduled for March 2013, this
would not be a politically expedient move.
Mirza Shahzad Akbar, a human rights lawyer
who represents victims of drone strikes, is also
against an outright military offensive. Instead,
he told IPS, there is a need to move towards an
honest national reconciliation.
"Reconciliation does not in any way mean
that we accept unreasonable demands of terrorists,
but we do need to address the issue of discontent
in society. In this process, if the [need] for
surgical military intervention [arises], that can
be carried out with consensus but within
constitutional bounds. If we are fighting a war
which is fully ours, the nation will bear the
consequences no matter what they are, but so far
we are facing consequences of someone else's war,"
Akbar said, referring to the US' role in the
region's conflicts since 2001.
"As long as the United States is in Afghanistan, I
do not see this process of reconciliation being
According to Lahore-based
political analyst Hassan Askari Rizvi, the attack
on 14-year-old Yousafzai on October 9 seems to
have produced a "discourse that is challenging the
Islamist view that [has] prevailed for far too
long". Rizvi considers the opening up of this new
discourse in the Urdu media an "important and
positive outcome of the tragedy".
does not see any army offensive in the near future
as inevitable, especially in the face of a weak
"With the national
elections just around the corner, the right-wing
parties will never go against the Taliban, not
even the main opposition party, the Pakistan
Muslim League-N," he said.
Chairman of the
PML-N, Chaudhry Nisar, told journalists in
Islamabad on October 17 that a "smell of
conspiracy" was in the air, adding that a military
operation in NW would "destabilise the country".
On the other hand, the Sunni Ittehad
Council, a religious organisation made up of Sunni
groups, announced its support of the government,
should the latter choose to launch an offensive
against the militants in NW.
"We want an
immediate operation against the Taliban and will
completely support the government," said the
council's chairman, Shaibzada Fazle Karim.
"Crush the Taliban and 180 million people
will be standing behind you," leader of the
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Altaf Hussain,
said during a telephone address from London, at a
recent rally organised by his party members in
But President Asif Ali Zardari
warned of a "blowback" in the face of an army
operation that did not have the support of the
majority of the country. "The idea of using force
against a mindset that is widespread across
various sections of society would be emotional and
naive," he told journalists at a South Asia Free
Media Association conference in Islamabad last
Gul, who also heads the independent
Islamabad-based Centre for Research and Security
Studies, said it was incorrect to assume that the
"panacea" for terrorism lay in NW. He called for a
policy of "serious strategic" re-thinking.
This would include, according to Gul, the
government's "categorical divorce" from terrorist
outfits including Lashkar-e-Taiba, Mullah Omar's
Taliban, even the Haqqani Network, which is
allegedly harbouring runaway militants, even if
not directly involved in attacking Pakistan.
As a solution and a starting point, said
Gul, "We must also acknowledge the real enemy lies
within, not on the borders.
government should bring about effective
legislation on terrorism that protects all
stakeholders, have a strong witness and judge
protection programme, [introduce[ legislation that
[prosecutes practitioners of[ hate speech and
intolerance, control mis-governance and bring
about training of security personnel in forensics,
law and human rights."