Just as the massacre of children at Peshawar’s Army Public School had added a new dimension to Pakistan’s fight against terrorism, the series of terrorist attacks during February 2017, especially the mega blasts in Lahore and Sehwan, have given a new twist to this campaign. Security forces have shelled militants’ camps in Afghanistan and launched a vastly intensified drive to ferret out terrorists and their accomplices.
Authorities have also been informing the public of the number of operations conducted against terrorists and the losses caused to them. The idea, clearly, is to convince the people that the state has not failed in its duty to protect them. The fact, however, is that terrorists have succeeded in regrouping and have demonstrated their capacity to strike at will, almost anywhere in Pakistan.
Surprisingly, little reference has been made to the various non-violent steps proposed in the National Action Plan (NAP), nor have the minds of terrorists been properly probed.
Let us take a look at the terrorists’ targets and see if a better understanding of their pattern of violence is possible.
Attacks on armed forces and the police are easily understandable as attempts to blunt the state’s instruments of offence and to demonstrate the acquired power to harass the state. The targeting of large civilian gatherings is obviously designed to increase the pressure on the state to change its course. However, two significant targets of terrorist attacks, courts and shrines, demand special attention.
According to media reports, there have been at least 11 attacks on courts of law since 2007, in which about 170 people have been killed, including at least 62 lawyers and three judges. Eight of these attacks took place in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two in Quetta and one in Islamabad.
The terrorists could be angry with the courts for punishing their comrades, but their focus on the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa courts suggests rejection of Pakistan’s justice system on religious grounds. The official narrative and the NAP are silent on this point. The ulema who condemn terrorist excesses for the killing of innocent people, do not denounce attacks on the judicial system.
The terrorists’ attempt to acquire a religious cover for their orgies of bloodshed is more clearly visible in attacks on shrines.
During 2005-2017, seven major shrines – Bari Imam, Baba Farid, Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Data Ganj Bakhsh, Sakhi Sarwar, Shah Noorani and Shahbaz Qalandar – have been attacked. The number of people killed in these attacks is at least 269. Again, the killing of a large number of people might have been the aim but a religious motive cannot be ruled out. That the extremists operating in Muslim lands, from Afghanistan to Syria and Iraq, consider destruction of statues (of Buddha, for instance), mausoleums (including that of Prophet Yunus), and shrines (of Sufis who patronised music) as one of their priority missions is no secret.
It is necessary to include an adequate rebuttal of the terrorists’ religious argument in a counter-narrative but this idea seems to have been dropped. It is absolutely essential to convince the entire Muslim population of Pakistan that terrorists enjoy no religious sanction for their bloody enterprise.
This is all the more necessary because the new phase of the anti-terrorism campaign envisages eliminating terrorism with the use of superior violence, except for the proposals to extend the tenure of military courts and to bring the tribal areas into the constitutional mainstream.
In both areas, the state is on a sticky pitch; military courts might not persuade extremists to respect the country’s justice system, and the reform process in the tribal areas could be adversely affected by the fallout of the military offensive against the terrorists.
To convince the public that this indeed is the case, some method of judicial oversight must be evolved.
The need to rethink the narrative cannot be denied. However strong the reasons for attacks on terrorist camps in Afghanistan, they should preferably be carried out as part of a joint Pak-Afghan strategy. Otherwise, any further estrangement of the Afghan government, and even more importantly of the Afghan people, will not advance Pakistan’s cause.
Similarly, the crackdown on Pakistani facilitators needs to be conducted with due regard for the principles of justification for use of force and proportionality, so that no innocent person is harmed. To convince the public that this indeed is the case, some method of judicial oversight must be evolved.
Finally, while implementing Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, some provision must be made to purge the people’s mindset of the fasaad, chaos, the state has directly and indirectly nurtured over the past many decades.
This article was originally published in the Herald's March 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.