Terrorism is undoubtedly a global phenomenon and a common threat to entire humanity worldwide.
The latest definition of terrorism given by the UN through its resolution 1566 in 2004 says: “Terrorism is criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organisation to do or to abstain from doing any act.”
‘Terrorism comes in the category of low intensity conflicts (LIC) covering all armed conflicts above peaceful coexistence and below the threshold of war.’ The TTP movement against the sovereign state of Pakistan is a classic example of terrorist activities.
While commenting on the performance of external forces, who tried in the past to supress great nations as proud as the Afghans and Vietnamese, Henry Kissinger made these remarks: “The conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.”
Pakistan’s location on the globe definitely gives it certain geostrategic and geopolitical advantages. However, it cannot be denied that our country’s internal and external vulnerabilities have also increased, especially when we have a hawkish RSS government with its Hindutva philosophy of supporting state terrorism on our east, and a mostly ungoverned Afghanistan providing an ideal environment for terrorist nests and anti-Pakistan activities on our west.
Pakistan, therefore, needs a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy. However, carving out a realistic strategy would surely demand sound comprehension of certain factors, which promote terrorism. These include: political frustrations, economic disparities, fragile national unity, blatant violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, weak governance resulting into unemployment inflation and domestic unrest, uneven distribution of wealth and poor telecommunication infrastructure and ground/air connectivity. Besides, readily available external political, financial, intelligence and kinetic support are also key factors to promote terrorism.
Based on the lessons learnt from past history of various international terrorist movements, and especially from our first-hand experience in the recent ‘war on terror’, the cardinal points of our counterterrorism strategy must have the following essential ingredients:
First, we must correctly identify the grassroots realities which include our strengths and vulnerabilities in the field of socio-economic inequalities, deprivations in education and health fields and flawed justice and accountability system. Second, our determined diplomatic endeavours must strive to earn international goodwill by expanding the list of our friends and reducing the number of enemies.
Third, to thwart any terrorism-based threat, we need to promote much-needed national unity and coherence. Fourth, since the media plays a very decisive role in making or breaking the image of a state, we need to have a fool-proof strategy for perception management. Fifth, we need to isolate terrorists internally by earning the goodwill of the community of their breeding areas and externally, by destroying their terrorist nests even across our borders through well-planned covert operations.
Sixth, sever their communication network, deny both internal and external financial support and cut any foreign aid in terms of lethal weapons and technology. Seventh, do not unleash the regular army against the terrorist without giving specialised training to our soldiers to fight an invisible enemy hiding in our own localities.
Lastly, it may be remembered that politico-diplomatic and socio-economic measures have always proved more lethal to fight terrorist activities, rather than using kinetic means, which may only be needed to create conducive environments for the above referred strategy which aims at winning the hearts and minds of people who have taken up arms against their own state.
The Pakistan Army has undoubtedly made tremendous contributions to eliminate terrorist nests. However, unfortunately our civilian authorities are lacking far behind in introducing socio-economic reforms in the affected areas to capitalise on this opportunity which only became possible after tremendous sacrifices.
The writer is former chairman Senate Standing Committee on Defence