Inside the Red Zone: Clarity, consensus and kinetics

Fahd Husain
Monday, Feb 06, 2023

Here once again is a chance for the entire national leadership to unite for the cause of fighting the scourge of terrorism, and here once again we appear to be missing the opportunity.

The horrendous Peshawar carnage that led to the martyrdom of 88 people has reignited fears that terrorism is resurging in Pakistan. The tragically high casualty figure of the Peshawar attack jolted the nation out of its self-inflicted stupor and spurred calls for immediate and decisive action against terrorist organizations. However, this bombing is the latest in a series of terrorist attacks that have gradually been increasing ever since the Taliban gained control of Afghanistan. The provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan have been the worst-affected and a tabulation of the attacks presents a vivid picture of escalation over the previous year. And yet, amid the deafening noise of polarized politics, the threat of terrorism could not figure in the national discourse.

A course correction is now underway. At the meeting of the Apex Committee in Peshawar chaired by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Friday, it was evident that a consensus for decisive action already exists among an overwhelming majority of the national leadership. The PM has also convened an All Parties Conference APC in Islamabad this coming week to build a complete consensus among all political parties on the way forward. Unfortunately, PTI Chairman Imran Khan has said his party will not participate. Is this a setback that Pakistan cannot afford at this moment?

The answer is a bit more complicated.

In order to navigate through the maze of such complications, it may be prudent to recognize a few realities:

First, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has gained renewed strength from dual factors: (a) the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan – TTA – victory has provided the TTP a solid centre of gravity on Afghan soil; and (b) Pakistan’s peace negotiations with the TTP under the PTI government’s watch, and the facilitation of a large number of TTP terrorists’ return to Pakistan, has provided TTP the time and space to regroup, reorganize and rearm itself for the fresh offensive against Pakistan.

Second, the TTP is now strengthened by two sets of factors: (a) It has a fresh supply of recruits from Afghanistan because a large number of fighters who were engaged in combat against the US and Nato forces now find themselves without a job and without a cause and are available for outfits like the TTP; and (b) the TTP is now armed with the latest sophisticated weapons that were left behind by the withdrawing US forces.

Third, the TTP has no fear of reprisals from the current interim government in Kabul as opposed to the times when the previous government was in power. The TTA has made it abundantly clear that the TTP is an ally and in the rich tradition of mehmaan nawazi (hospitality) the TTA will never take any adverse action against the TTP regardless of what Pakistan says

or does. This provides the TTP the safety

to keep using Afghan soil as its base

while freely launching attacks against Pakistan. They have reversed the concept of strategic depth.

These realities place Pakistan in a challenging position and require the leadership to take tough decisions. There will be a time to debate why we slacked off and allowed the situation to drift; and there will be a time to discuss how we allowed politicking to blind us to the resurgence of terrorism – but that time is not now. Now is the time for clarity, consensus and, surely not the least, kinetics.

Do we have clarity? Once upon a time, many years ago, we did not. Then the APS tragedy jolted our state and society out of its confusion. What followed was exactly what is needed today: clarity, consensus and effective kinetics. In a short period of a few years, Pakistan became a rare example of a country that succeeded in breaking the back of terrorism and ejecting the TTP from our soil. But it all started from clarity. Today the leadership of our law-enforcement agencies is clear about its clarity and ready to do what is required.

The political and religious leadership now needs to re-emphasize its clarity. And this needs to happen without delay. The TTP attack in Peshawar not only desecrated a mosque but also hundreds of copies of the Holy Quran. The ulema will need to step up and declare the heinousness of this outrage as vociferously as they do when Western crazies desecrate our Holy Book.

Do we have consensus? The APC is a step in the right direction but the onus is on the PTI. This onus refers not just to the party becoming a stakeholder in the national decision-making that will emerge from the APC, but also to the fact that Mr Khan has for years been soft on the TTP, and remains so if his recent statements are reflective of his current thinking. His softness is possibly a combination of misplaced ideology and confused thinking. This is evident from his frequent comparison between the TTA’s fight against the US forces and the TTP’s war against Pakistan.

Mr Khan refuses to acknowledge that the stark difference is that while the TTA were fighting an occupying state, the TTP has unleashed violence against a legitimate state and its innocent citizens. Mr Khan will have to state emphatically that he has evolved from this dangerously infantile thinking and now unambiguously believes that the TTP is an enemy of Pakistan. If he insists on hanging on to his regressive views, regardless of whether he airs them at the APC or at any other forum, then we may not have the political consensus that we want. Far worse, we will have him once again sowing the seeds of confusion in the minds of his supporters.

Do we have effective kinetics? The answer to this one is an emphatic yes. The armed forces of Pakistan have proved once that once given the go-ahead they can break the back of terrorist organisations.

They now have the added advantage of experience. The police and other law-enforcement agencies have been frontline warriors in this righteous war and exemplified courage, resilience and determination to win. The political leadership has acknowledged that Counter Terrorism Departments require upgrading and better resources and the National Counter Terrorism Agency (Nacta) also needs to be made effective. As these decisions translate into action, the ability of the state to unleash deadly kinetics against terrorists will enhance significantly.

In the coming weeks therefore Pakistan will once again be embarking on a mission to eradicate terrorism from our land once and for all. It is a mission fraught with dangers, uncertainties and, yes, many pitfalls. But it is a mission that cannot – must not – be delayed any longer. Leaders like Imran Khan better realize that if they dither at this moment; that if they vacillate on the basis of misplaced beliefs and misinformed advice; and that if they hesitate to join the growing consensus by allowing themselves to be held hostage by their petty political interests – then they run the risk of placing themselves on the wrong side of history.

Pakistanis will remember that when it really mattered, and when the nation really called, Imran Khan and his party refused to stand up and be counted among those

who value Pakistan more than they value their politics.

The writer is the special assistant to the prime minister on public policy and strategic communication.

He tweets @fahdhusain