Feb 19, 2009

Sources of terror

TERROR in Pakistan continues unabated despite countless attempts by the world in general and Pakistan in particular to keep it in check. The more the world tries, the more it spins out of control. Several sources of terror have been identified in the country. First and foremost, terrorism is attributed to Pakistan’s alliance with the US in its various wars, beginning with the one against the former Soviet Union and now the war on terror. Another oft-cited source is the economic underdevelopment in the country which results in a steady supply of disgruntled men to terror outfits. In the larger scheme of things, there are the unresolved issues of Kashmir and Palestine. The list is not exhaustive. For as long as the sources are not analysed fully and other relevant factors identified, anti-terror attempts will continue to be shots in the dark. Nevertheless, to say that terror is the result of Pakistan’s alliance with the US in the 1980s is merely a hypothesis. There is a need to rule out hypotheses claiming that this commenced much earlier. Even if terrorism began after the 1980s, we need to determine the extent to which this phenomenon was a result of poor human resource management. The volunteer fighters of that time ought to have been absorbed in the formal forces — their unbridled energies led to their being up for sale, establishing their own ventures or joining domestic terror outfits. During the Zia era, sectarian violence increased manifold. Lashkars and sipahs sprang up to thwart rival thinkers. This violence later saw the kidnappings and killings of foreigners and this worsened over time. However, none of this can be linked to the long festering issues of Kashmir and Palestine, which have been highlighted to the point that Kashmir even found its way into one of Obama’s campaign speeches. Also, the nature of today’s violence is hardly a direct consequence of the war against the former Soviet Union or the dearth of economic opportunities in the country. But it is terror all the same, emanating from factors independent of the three oft-cited ones. Questions abound regarding the situation in recent years. When Maulana Fazlullah started his hate campaign in Swat, why was this activity not nipped in the bud? Campaigns against women’s education and women NGO workers in remote areas preceded actual bombings of schools and NGO offices. Why were these not blocked in good time? Apathy or disguised complicity brought the situation to such a pass that even the secular ANP conceded to the demand for tribal style Sharia in Swat. We also need to now how and why weapons were allowed to be amassed in Lal Masjid. In fact, it is inaction or delayed action that triggers the kind of crisis we face today. Inaction either emanates from indifference or tacit support for so-called fighters or from a lack of administrative and management capability. Perhaps, it is a sad combination of all three. If it is apathy or a lack of administrative capability, clearly the government is responsible and should be held accountable for its inability to take decisive action. However, when it does decide to act, it shows results as it did by averting the Taliban threat to Peshawar last year. Effective action needs to be replicated elsewhere too to keep militants out of our cities and to eliminate them in the tribal areas. For this, indifference must give way to action before the entire country is taken over by militants and extremist thought. One way of doing so would be to use the religion factor effectively. This would mean emphasising to the general public, perhaps backing assertions with the edicts of religious scholars, that there is no room for extremist thought in religion. Since this is not done on a wide scale, a large chunk of even the silent majority tends to either support terror or vacillates in its views. Opinion mobilisation against terror is required on a vast scale and only then will it be possible to sell it to civilian and military personnel. Unless they own the fight against terror, few strategies will work. The number of militants killed is no gauge of performance unless the threat is eliminated. While there are goals, there is no sense of mission as the people and so-called implementers of policy are unclear on what the fight is about. Policy and strategy require unified intent for successful execution. Since strategic intent is not widely diffused, we lack a broad-based sense of commitment to uproot it. It translates into action without visible results. Unless the extremist image of religion is countered with an equally forceful campaign to demonstrate that terror is repugnant to it, lack of resolve will continue as militancy grows in the country. By Dr Mahnaz Fatima

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