Time for action
JUST a few days after losing Bashir Bilour, Pakistan has moved on to the next news story — something the country now tends to do after every tragedy it suffers at the hands of violent extremism. But the danger in moving on so rapidly, without doing anything about such a serious threat, is that the threat only gets bigger. The last 10 days alone have brought us face to face with the outcome of repeatedly brushing this problem under the carpet: an outbreak of attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, including against military installations, and the assassinations of Mr Bilour and polio workers. Karachi’s sectarian violence, which has taken several lives and nearly brought the city to a standstill, may be a local phenomenon, but that too seems to have links to the militancy based in the tribal areas.
What this means for the country has been eloquently laid out by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister and the head of the ANP over the last couple of days as they mourned the loss of their colleague, and they have called for immediate
decision-making by the civilian and military leadership about how to tackle the threat. The key here is urgency; if militants are not willing to renounce violence, there needs to be decisive military action against them, and soon. As importantly, the ANP leaders spoke out against misleading arguments that are routinely used, including by the leaders of some mainstream parties: claiming things will improve as soon as Western forces leave Afghanistan; making distinctions between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban; and focusing on drone strikes when attacks by Pakistan-based militants, both foreign and Pakistani, are violating the country’s sovereignty just as much as drones are.
Their comments got to the crux of the issue — what is needed now is speed and clarity. First, clarity on what specific steps will be taken next. And if decisive military action is not possible at the moment, a clear and public explanation for why it is not possible. Ideally this would be done with the input of all major political parties, but there is no time for absolute consensus. Once there is broad agreement within parliament on Pakistan’s stand on extremism, it is the responsibility of the government and military to take specific decisions and actions. This is turning out to be one of the most delicate moments in Pakistan’s nearly decade-long struggle against militancy, with the list of targets expanding and the attackers demonstrating that they have recovered from any setbacks they may have suffered at the hands of earlier military campaigns. Our leaders ignore it at the country’s peril.