The Nawaz Sharif Government has shown scant determination, resolve or any real intent in dealing with the issue of terrorism in a wholesome and proactive manner. Its approach is conspicuous by its apparent lack of understanding of the issue and a most worrying shortage of demonstrated courage in dealing with it. It still has no worthwhile National Security Policy (NSP), nor an ensuing Counter Terrorism (CT) /Counter Insurgency (COIN) Strategy or even appropriate legislation and thus flounders about merrily in thin air unsure of its self and the direction it must take.
This is an untenable and unsustainable state of affairs. It needs to be remedied post haste.
The contours of the Government’s strategy to conduct “negotiations” - its preferred mode of dealing with the terrorists - are yet unknown. Policies of weak-kneed appeasement and “negotiating” from positions of weakness have generally failed in similar circumstances. Nations have historically dealt with terrorists and renegades from an unassailable position of strength and with single-minded determination. (The Sri Lankan and Indian Governments dealt with the Tamil Tigers and the Sikh Khalistan Movement, respectively - both ruthlessly and remorselessly. National interests reigned supreme.) Pakistan must study these operations and draw relevant lessons.
This Government is also blissfully unaware of the looming cross-Durand-Line disaster. The inability of the US and Afghanistan to achieve closure on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) and the review of the Afghan strategic environment in the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) for 2013 point to a less than peaceful and prosperous future for Afghanistan. It is most likely to gravitate into a lengthy and bloody civil war in the wake of the US/NATO/ISAF Combine’s egress from the Af-Pak Region (APR). Its fallout on Pakistan is expected to be multifarious and colossal. And Pakistan’s mainstay, its Army is already inextricably engaged with the terrorists. Beyond December 2014, it is likely to face even more daunting challenges. The Nawaz Sharif Government must deal with the primary menace now in order to be ready for the much bigger one to come! Forewarned is forearmed!
However it continues to hedge its bets on negotiations with the TTP. What does it expect to achieve even if the TTP were amenable to “negotiate” with it? First, these negotiations would be on the TTPs terms rather than the Government’s and second, it would be negotiating from a clearly weaker position. Third, the Government has precious little leverages to use. Fourth, what inducements can it possibly offer? Total amnesty and immunity from prosecution, money, jobs, power, administrative control, rehabilitation, cede territory to them, accept their interpretation and imposition of Shariah? Where will it all end up? And will the TTP then accept the Constitution of Pakistan and the writ of its Government? Will they forsake their “bloody struggle for an Islamic Emirate and universal Caliphate”, lay down their arms and become good law abiding citizens overnight? Will all the foreign fighters in the TTP and its affiliates turn in their weapons and take the highways back to their respective countries? Mission accomplished! Will the TTP hand over all its stockpiles of weapons, ammunitions, equipment, explosives et al to the Government?
Will we not be legalizing sedition and setting a precedent for the future? Its impact in Balochistan could be staggering.
The TTP is clearly an asset of the RAW-NDS Combine. The (s)election of Mullah Fazalullah of Swat, Kunar and Nuristan fame as the Chief of the TTP and the Latifullah Mehsud episode say it all. Will these hostile foreign intelligence agencies (and their respective Governments) allow their assets to be neutralized so easily without extracting their proverbial pound of flesh and more? Will they ever allow these negotiations to take place successfully?
The Nawaz Sharif Government, PTI, JI, JUI(F) and others of their ilk are in dire need of a genuine reality check.
The Nawaz Sharif Government must realize that it cannot negotiate out of fear. It fears countrywide retaliation by the TTP in case it tasks the Armed Forces to carry out mission oriented military operations against it and its cohorts. It fears that the TTP will also target its main leaders and their families especially. It must take the necessary precautions, make the relevant security plans and then take action. It must act sagaciously and boldly.
It should understand the very subtle yet perceptible difference between petty domestic politics and statecraft!
The military operation in Mir Ali reflects the Army’s resolve not to tolerate any attacks on its soldiers and positions. It could be a harbinger of larger scale operations to come in the NWA. This could also be interpreted as a preliminary operation to shaping the strategic environment prior to the withdrawal of the US/NATO/ISAF Combine from the APR. This might yet become the most critical turning point in this stage of the GWOT!
This terrorist problem has global, regional and domestic roots and dimensions. It must be dealt with accordingly. At the international level efforts must be made to interdict all forms of financial transactions to these organizations. Their logistic chains and recruitments abroad must be checked and blocked. At the regional level all cross border movements must be strictly controlled and all safe havens eliminated. At the domestic level the Government must come up with a practical NSP, the consequent CT and COIN strategies and the appropriate legislation to support them. A multipronged approach comprising military, political, diplomatic, economic, intelligence, informational, administrative and so on dimensions must be adopted. The Government must create (with international collaboration) multiple “centers of pressure” at the global, regional and domestic levels. Then it must seek to exert unbearable pressures through these centers simultaneously with the intent to overwhelm, severely circumscribe and defeat the terrorists’ ability to respond in a cohesive manner.
Once a position of unassailable strength has been achieved, then alone should the government hold another APC, garner full support of the nation and force the TTP on to the negotiating table; failing which other more tangible options be exercised.
The Government should take heart. At times the biggest liars are one’s fears!
The author is a retired Brigadier, a former Defense Attache’ to Australia and New Zealand and is currently on the faculty of NIPCONS (NUST).