By Ikram Ullah Khan
Jan 29, 2014
The reality in Pakistan today is that increasing and unending extremist attacks are causing severe damage to the sovereignty and security of the country. Since the start of the year, over 19 major terrorists attacks have occurred, leaving over 99 dead and 129 injured. A significant portion of these casualties have been civilian. The people of Pakistan are afraid and a growing sense of insecurity is prevailing across the country. Recently, in light of the Government’s offer for a peace dialogue, there has been a considerable rise in the violent activities of extremist elements, including terrorist attacks in Bannu and Rawalpindi, in which TTP has targeted the security forces and killed several security personnel and injured several others. In this situation, pressure is mounting on the government to come up with alternate solutions to the problem, and deal with the emerging situation using all possible means, including military action.
This situation is the result of a general perception that prevails in the country which considers the current rise in extremist activities inside Pakistan as evidence that these violent elements have no real interest in peace talks. Analysts argue that the strength of the extremists’ power rests on a proclaimed ‘unflinching’ resolve and a belief system that asserts its ability to fight any mortal power. In this context, were the extremists to accept the government’s offer immediately after it is publicized, then that acceptance may be considered a sign of weakness within the ranks of its followers. This phenomenon acts as a major hindrance to any proposed peace process.
Secondly, a significant majority of violent extremists are young. Experts like Russell, C.A. and B.H. Miller in their research article “Profile of a Terrorist” argue that “the majority of terrorists are in their early twenties”. Most of these young people become part of such organizations in order to find an outlet for the perpetual, indoctrinated religious zealotry that has been thrust upon them for a long time, often through the single-minded aim of ‘enforcing Sharia’ in the country. Arguably the larger numbers and greater passion of novice followers may also be a factor impeding progress on peace talks, as these young ones are not only convinced of the legitimacy of their cause but also have complete faith in their ability to achieve their ends without any peace dialogue-like ‘compromise’. Other factors for delay in the peace dialogue include reports that the Government of Pakistan is not willing to accept the demand for the release of captured extremists, as well as the possible involvement of foreign elements.
The fact remains however that while extremists may have the will to follow a certain agenda indefinitely, they do not have unlimited or infinite resources. It is far more likely that in the future they will be unable to maintain the current momentum of attacks, and as a result, their leadership will gradually tilt towards the proposed peace process. In fact, it may well be that a rise in aggression in the face of prospective negotiations is a ‘show of power’ of sorts, used as a pressure tactic so as to be able to bargain from a position of strength or superiority.
Irrespective of the factors causing delay, the fact remains that the recent string of attacks had made the government of Pakistan appear powerless in enforcing its writ. Public perception appears to favor concrete action to restore peace and security inside Pakistan, and control over all parts of the country. There is mounting pressure to move beyond media statements, and the offer of a peace dialogue that is simply not being accepted.
Arguably, the government is only exercising patience as it is keen to find a peaceful resolution of the issue, with as little collateral damage as possible. In light of new developments however, especially after the recent attacks in Bannu and Rawalpindi, the matter becomes more difficult. Should the government choose to opt for military action at this point; the security situation will only become more complex. Despite political support and the potential to completely defeat extremist elements, the possible human cost and collateral damage render military option as the absolute last resort. The six million dollar question then becomes who will blink first? How long can the government hold back the military option, and when nd at what cost will the extremists finally be ready to become involved in a comprehensive peace process.
It is clear that the military option and peace cannot be established parallel to each other. If the establishment is waiting for the extremists to pick the path this process will go down, there is an urgent need for the Government to announce its official counter-terrorism policy/national security policy, for only then will the options available to extremist elements be clarified in an unchallengeable manner. The Government also needs to take a clear stand before the situation gets out of hand; either it wants to engage extremists in a peace process or it is ready to employ military action, and face any resultant consequences. If there is still faith in the peace dialogue, then the Government should first convince extremists that no party will attack the other; there should be a formal or informal ceasefire. Secondly, the government should clearly identify what its end objectives are, and what it hopes to achieve out of a possible peace process. The end goal either way is to ensure that no further terrorist attacks take place within the territory of Pakistan.
It must be remembered however, that several peace agreements have been made in the past but have proven ineffective in resolving the problem, and have been repeatedly violated by the extremists. What new additions could be made to any future agreement that will help guarantee its long-term sustainability? The majority of extremists are inhabitants of Pakistan, and even after a peace agreement this majority is not likely to give up their demands for imposing the type of Islamic Sharia which they consider correct. The Nawaz government should learn from the mistakes of the past (for e.g. Operation Sunrise – where the public fallout of the military was very high) and deal with the current situation on the basis of evolving developments, i.e. a potential TTP offer for dialogue – this offer should be deliberated upon its own merits, irrespective of outside pressures, while keeping military option as the absolute last resort. At the moment however, it would be more prudent for the government to continue with the policy of ‘deter, develop and prevent’.