By Imran Malik
Indeed, the tide is turning. In one multidimensional election season, the Pakistani nation has matured beyond belief. Undeterred by the threats spewed forth by the Taliban, it voted in droves as never before. And in doing so, it crossed a very important psychological Rubicon.
It looked the Taliban threat in the eye and stared it down. It courageously prevailed over the militants, who threatened to defeat and discredit, nay destroy, this electoral exercise and prove the superiority of the system of governance that they espouse, over it. A myth was clearly busted here.
This is a priceless moral victory over the Taliban with far-reaching strategic ramifications. Most importantly, it demonstrates to us and the world the limits of their power and strategic reach. They are clearly not invincible.
It should mark the beginning of the end of the scourge of terrorism. It could also be the starting point for the next Government of Pakistan’s efforts to tackle terrorism.
Pakistan’s terrorism problem has very strong regional linkages. It is also related to the safe egress of the US/Nato/Isaf from the region and the resultant power vacuum in Afghanistan. It gains even further importance when seen in the light of its spread astride the Durand Line and mischief mongering by a regional troublemaker like India. Thus, any national security policy that Pakistan makes will not only have to cater for the domestic imperatives, but also consider the regional linkages.
In a comprehensive manner, the issue of terrorism must be dealt with concurrently at the domestic levels by Afghanistan and Pakistan individually and at the sub-regional (AfPak) level collectively; with its concomitant ripple effects being felt at the regional (South Central Asian Region – SCAR) and the global levels.
At all levels, of necessity, the US will have to be intimately involved and play the roles of a “real and honest” broker, the lead partner and a facilitator. Iran and the SCO (China, Russia) will have to be brought in at some stage to consummate a comprehensive regional solution that not only circumscribes the activities of the terrorists, but also helps pacify them and the region.
While staying within the regional context Pakistan has two basic options. It could opt for a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy and base it heavily on destructive military operations. The aim would be to achieve a decisive military victory and moral superiority over the Taliban.
Alternatively, it could opt for counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. These operations would essentially be area and people based, predicated on social development and overall improvement in the quality of life of the people, while engaging the Taliban in negotiations under a controlled strategic environment.
Pakistan will have to formulate a clear policy. It will need to enunciate its desired end state, determine the ways to achieve it (CT or COIN) and provide the means to the armed forces and the LEAs to achieve the given policy objectives.
It will require very courageous national leadership and farsighted, dynamic decision making.If it adopts the CT strategy, then it will have a number of options. It could seek a comprehensive military victory over the Taliban, disperse and dissipate them in the frontier badlands astride the Durand Line, and then seek to destroy them piecemeal in a regional or local military effort.
Further, it could literally dictate terms to them from an unassailable position of strength. Or it could carry out military (combined – ?) operations against them, weaken them sufficiently and then negotiate with them from a position of relative strength. Or it could seek negotiations, as it is doing at the moment. However, there will be scant chances of success when neither antagonist has a clear-cut imposing leverage or advantage over the other.
Finally, a weak and indecisive new Pakistani government could opt for the status quo. That would be patently self-destructive.If it opts for the COIN strategy, then it would entail military operations against the Taliban concurrently with efforts to wean the population away from their influence. It would entail solving the basic problems of the people (in Fata, in particular).
They need to be given self-governance, (Elections 2013 -?). Special efforts and funds need to be made available for rapid and focused development of the affected regions. Schools, colleges, hospitals, roads, water supply and sewerage schemes, employment opportunities, et al have to be provided to the local people, who must be encouraged to have irrevocable stakes in the revived economies too.
The people must be reassured and given solid leadership, hope, peace, law and order, social justice, equal opportunities, et al. The Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) must be scratched post-haste.
Of the two options, the COIN strategy appears to have the better chances of success. It not only allows negotiations with the militants under controlled strategic environments, but also brings relief to the locals.Under a comprehensive approach, the international community led by the US, EU, China, Russia, Japan, Australia, South Korea, the Arab States, etc could help launch massive development programmes astride the Durand Line.
Not only should the infrastructure be developed, but employment opportunities must also be created for the locals. Education, health, water supply and sewerage, agriculture, and small and medium enterprises (ROZs – ?) must be given the priorities they deserve.
Necessary funds should be made available to the youth to start off their own businesses and not fall victim to the guiles of the terrorists. Of paramount importance would be the immediate cessation of further drone attacks.
That would stop the biggest recruitment drive for the Taliban and dry up volunteers for their cause. And most importantly, the Afghan elections must throw up a true and just democratic dispensation with the majority Pashtuns getting their due share of power.
A wider regional approach predicated on negotiations from a position of actual rather than contrived strength can bring peace to this region. It is up to the three protagonists to achieve that with the latent support of other regional players like Iran, China and Russia.
The loop, as one has been constantly asserting, must be conclusively and responsibly closed much before December 2014.
The writer is a retired brigadier and a former defence attaché to Australia and New Zealand. Currently, he is on the faculty of NUST (NIPCONS).