RECENT acts of terrorism in Mardan, Hangu, Islamabad, Peshawar, Kohat, Faisalabad and parts of Balochistan have visited more unspeakable horrors on this hapless nation.
There is every possibility that by the time these lines appear in print, news of more violence would have made sad headlines.
This spate, spasmodic for some months, has acquired a familiar pattern: wanton aggression against citizens and precision targeting for spectacular impact is the strategy of choice the terrorists have adopted. Four streams have caused this new torrent of terror.
The first stream is that of the premature declaration of victory against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan by the political and military establishment. Anxious to prove to the world the efficacy of a homegrown counter-terrorism strategy, Pakistan’s rulers have taken their eyes off the long-term aspects of domestic terrorism.
The government has tirelessly claimed credit for defeating terrorists. The army too has got busy putting up posters of victory all around. A dangerous complacency has crept into handling simmering currents in the vast lands of Fata, the Frontier Regions and the adjoining districts.
Instead of following a comprehensive and sustained campaign to build on the Malakand success, small and limited kinetic operations with the short-term aim to disrupt and dismantle local terrorist networks have been pursued.
Call it battle fatigue, paucity of resources, troops’ shortage or incomplete planning, the momentum generated by the clean sweep against Fazlullah’s men in Swat has been allowed to peter out. Local militias around Malakand, and elsewhere, who at one point were on run, are now re-energised and playing the game of death.
The second stream flows out of the first. This relates to the inadequate closure of military operations in the Fata region. North Waziristan is where the Taliban are concentrated. Here they rule with impunity. South Waziristan is stable but still precarious.
There is no satisfactory explanation available as to what happened to South Waziristan’s militants. If they are not all killed, and if they are not in de-radicalisation centres, learning to live as law-abiding citizens, where exactly have they gone? And if they are around, then the battle is far from over.
In the Orakzai, Kurram, Bajaur, Khyber and Mohmand agencies and the Frontier Regions work is still in progress. Nowhere are closure dates marked on the calendar. Leadership, local and regional including Mullah Fazlullah from Swat, is still at large.
Small cadres of militants continue to exhibit the capacity to wreak local-level havoc. They have guns, grenades, suicide bombers, IED experts, and they are resolved to fight on.
This toxic situation has left open in the public mind the possibility of the return of the Taliban. It has made local leaders, who sided with the army and the FC against the militants, suspicious of the seriousness of these operations. Worse, local instability has provided fertile ground for crime and terrorism to be grafted on to each other and grow as a deadly hybrid. A frightening formation has emerged of kidnappers, killers, drug pushers, sectarian outfits, former jihadis, Sharia enforcers and foreign elements. They are marching on the country.
The third stream causing the new wave of terror is the civilian leadership’s clumsiness in discharging its responsibility. The army’s hard hits against Taliban sanctuaries have dispersed the militants. Most of them have moved out to urban areas in small platoons connecting with their brothers and sisters in arms in large urban centres.
This has produced what can be termed the urban terrorists’ facebook. They know each other’s activities and get inspiration from what the other is doing. Sometimes they facilitate each other with useful advice and even active support. This is a sophisticated challenge.
Unfortunately, there has been zero planning to deal with the militants’ diaspora. Precious little preparation has been done to secure urban centres. No police reform of any consequence has been carried out. No resources have been positioned. No institutional decision-making process has been initiated.
Forums like the National Counter-Terrorism Authority have become dead-beat institutions, a far cry from taking the lead in dealing with terrorism. Immersed in the politics of survival, right from the president down to the minister of interior, the civilian leadership has been least prepared to take any initiative to prevent the network of urban terrorism from gaining ground. For them, dealing with the judges is far more important than fighting the killers.
Muddying the waters further has been the fourth stream of vicious sparring between the PPP and the PML-N in Punjab — the largest playing field for terrorists. Alternating between comedy and tragedy, Punjab’s political scene is the biggest barrier in the way of devising a long-term national strategy to combat terrorism.
A perpetual war of words is on about everything under the sun — from the sharing of timely information on the movement of terrorists to the supply of resources to collective planning. Joining the fray, the Muslim League of the Chaudhries has been just as frivolous in its approach towards terrorism.
No less benighted and nasty is politics in Sindh, whose epicentre Karachi has quietly slipped into its dozen-body-bags-a-day past. Karachi’s violence is multifaceted. More have died in Karachi than in acts of terrorism in the entire country in the last six months. This violence that is city-specific has hijacked the debate on terrorism on the national scale. Side by side political opportunism is reigning supreme.
The provincial PPP-led strike in Sindh against the Supreme Court’s decision to remove the National Accountability Bureau head is one example. It is bizarre to see the ruling party act like a mindless opposition party, vitiating the environment, spreading fear.
This fractured, disunited and warring leadership has provided an enabling environment that all criminal elements wish for.
The terrorists relish it even more: they hunt best in chaos and confusion.
The writer is a senior journalist at DawnNews.