Is terrorism back to haunt us?

Updated 21 Dec, 2018 12:41pm
Illustration by Marium Ali
Illustration by Marium Ali

Is terrorism back to haunt us? This is the question many are contemplating in the wake of the recent terror attacks in Orakzai tribal region and at the Chinese Consulate in Karachi.

The sanguine answer to the question is to see these attacks as aberrations made possible by one-off intelligence failures. This is the view most states, including ours, would like to take after such incidents. You can bet that the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus is in overdrive right now, tracing the origins of the attacks, going after those responsible and plugging the gaps to avoid repeat attacks in the future.

For those of us in the peace-building profession, however, ‘absence of violence’ is a wholly unsatisfactory concept. Peace-builders like to talk of ‘negative’ versus ‘positive’ peace. The former denotes a mere absence of violence, implying that countries in conflict have managed to subdue active and frequent acts of violence. Most countries that claim to have ended terrorism achieve this state. But data shows that this is not enough. In many cases, negative peace reverts to violence.

Positive peace is a far more ambitious benchmark to achieve. It implies that the deeper causes that make populations vulnerable to terrorism have to be tackled by addressing virtually everything encompassing ‘good governance’, that is improving service delivery; ending political alienation among segments of the population; reversing extreme ideologies; and strengthening rule of law. It also implies an effort to reduce the incentives for domestic terrorists or external actors looking to destabilise a country, or even better, incentivise them to support stability instead.

Most states that have reached negative peace in the modern era do so by overpowering the insurgent/terrorist opposition through a combination of kinetic force and economic buyouts. The deeper, more difficult, aspects of positive peace are almost always pursued in a piecemeal fashion after negative peace is achieved.

Pakistan fits the model perfectly.

We followed a force-heavy model to tame Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan and its affiliates. We made the right noise by talking about and ultimately conceiving the National Internal Security Policy and National Action Plan (NAP) — both documents that recognise the need to do things beyond just fighting terrorists.

Unfortunately, it has been more talk than action. Ideas for ideological reform have remained just that — ideas. Despite significant resource allocation and the state’s efforts, the disenfranchisement of many, especially youth, in the conflict-hit northwest of Pakistan remains a serious issue. Of course, the state did itself no favours by delaying the integration of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) into the political, judicial and administrative mainstream. Further, critical factors that facilitate terrorists, such as their ability to raise money locally or internationally, are still intact.

Add to these internal dynamics the fact that Pakistan is now decidedly caught up in a geostrategic milieu where the intersection of great power competition and Pakistan’s tensions with three of its four neighbours leave it vulnerable to the proxy battles that are sure to ramp up in the times ahead.

What should we do?

Domestically, the state already has the right initiatives and plans in place. It simply needs to implement what it has promised. The NAP and the completion of Fata’s integration process ought to be top priorities to address counterterrorism and political alienation of the population most affected by conflict.

Domestic efforts must combine with a concerted effort to alter the regional dynamics affecting Pakistan by creating positive incentives for the states sceptical of or threatened by the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) to support it. International private businesses should be encouraged to invest to create global stakes in the initiative. More broadly, a vision that seeks to tie the CPEC’s north-south route with east-west connectivity in South Asia – thereby forcing China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan in a positive economic relationship – is the most obvious way to transform scepticism into opportunity.

This takes us back to where we started from: is terrorism back to haunt us?

In as much as the state has honed its kinetic and intelligence capacities needed for negative peace, we are not about to return to the mayhem of the past. And yet, the threat of terrorism is not over – it never was – and may, in fact, increase modestly over time if Pakistan fails to implement holistic domestic measures aimed at attaining positive peace and its external relations remain as fraught as they are today.

Moeed Yusuf is the associate vice president of Asia Programs at the United States Institute of Peace. He is also the author of 'Brokering Peace in Nuclear Environments: U.S. Crisis Management in South Asia' (Stanford University Press, 2018).

This article was published in the Herald's December 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.