The right response

Courtesy:- Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The holocaust enacted at the Army Public School in Peshawar was arguably an act of ultimate bestiality that has grievously hurt the soul and body of the entire nation. This outrageous act has not only been condemned by the entire Pakistani nation but also the world community. While some retaliatory acts by TTP were expected in the wake of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, and they have been hitting different targets since then, nobody in their wildest dreams could have expected the kind of barbarity perpetrated on the innocent children in Peshawar. 

Such was the impact of this ghastly enactment that it was condemned by the Afghan Taliban. Even Jamaatul Ahraar, which is known as the most influential and ferocious splinter group of the TTP, thought it appropriate to distance itself from the incident and endorsed the statement of the Afghan Taliban. 

They say the true character of a nation is seen at times of adversity. The Pakistani nation has indeed shown its character by forging rare solidarity, unity and unswerving determination to take the fight against terrorism to its logical conclusion. While at a time when the nation and the government were trying to come to terms with this unprecedented mayhem and in the process of figuring out an appropriate response to this tragedy, it was regrettable to note that some sections of the media still found it appropriate to denigrate and belittle the efforts of the government and intelligence agencies in fighting terrorism, with one commentator even saying that counterterrorism remained last on the priorities of the present government.

It was rather harsh on the part of these commentators to say such things – in complete denial of the efforts that the intelligence and the government have made in fighting terrorism. These people conveniently neglected the fact that the intelligence agencies have also thwarted and pre-empted innumerable terrorist acts. We are fighting an invisible enemy which does not subscribe to human values. Even countries with the best intelligence paraphernalia and state of the art technologies to counter acts of terrorism have not been able to prevent attacks like 9/11 and many other horrendous acts of terrorism around the world, despite spending trillions of dollars. 

Our intelligence agencies have made laudable contribution in tackling terrorism, notwithstanding their limited resources and outreach. Our forces have shown unfaltering commitment to eliminate terrorism and spared no sacrifice in pursuing this objective. The government has undoubtedly provided the necessary financial resources to defray the expenses on Operation Zarb-e-Azb and in fact the operation was launched with the blessings of the government, particularly the prime minister. 

The prime minister has kept the military leadership in the loop regarding important decisions to deal with terrorism and other security issues. The continued interaction and consultation between the military and civilian leaderships is a positive new culture introduced by the present government which made it possible to launch military action in North Waziristan. 

Terrorism in Pakistan has both internal and external dimensions. It was therefore imperative to evolve a new narrative to deal with the terrorists, which necessitated recalibration of relations with Afghanistan and the US to enlist their support in this regard. Prime Minister Nawaz Shairf was the architect of this vision of regional connectivity for a shared economic prosperity. He convinced the military leadership to support the new vision. The consensus thus evolved between the civilian and military leadership has produced tangible and positive results. 

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan have improved and both countries have resolved to cooperate with each other in fighting terrorism and expanding trade and military relations in addition to working together for building regional linkages. The recent visit of our COAS to the US has also given a new dimension to relations between the military establishments of the two countries which was necessary to deal with terrorism and security related issues in the wake of US and Nato exit from Afghanistan. 

It was as a consequence of these efforts that in the wake of the Peshawar tragedy, when the Prime Minister Nawaz Nawaz Sharif called the Afghan president and the COAS dashed to Kabul with the evidence that the operation was directed from Afghan soil and had meetings with the Afghan president and Isaf’s commander, they condemned the incident, expressed solidarity with Pakistan and vowed not to allow Afghan soil to be used against Pakistan. This would have been impossible during previous regimes. 

The response to the Peshawar attack has also been prompt and adequate. The prime minister and the COAS rushed to Peshawar to supervise and direct the operation against the terrorists and take stock of the situation. The COAS was sent over to Kabul to bring the facts to the notice of the Afghan president and the Isaf commander. The PM took a prudent decision to convene a meeting of all political parties represented in parliament and enlisted their unqualified support for decisive action against the TTP. 

Even parties that have been sympathetic to the TTP and opposed a military campaign against it have put their weight behind the government and expressed support for Zarb-e-Azb. A committee was also constituted to draw up an action plan against the terrorists. The objective of this initiative is to forge national ownership of the strategy and steps that are proposed to be taken against the terrorists – an element that has been missing in the past and prevented the government and military to go for the kill. The decision by the prime minister to lift the moratorium on death penalty for convicted terrorists is also a step in the right direction. 

The entire nation is supportive of the narrative of zero tolerance for terrorists and decisive military action against them. Operation Zarb-e-Azb has been expanded to other areas of the country and the working group of the parliamentary committee has already started deliberating on the specific steps and strategies to deal with the challenge of terrorism. The civil and military leadership is in a continuous huddle to devise fool-proof strategies to counter and eliminate terrorism. It is hard to take issue with the objectives of this new narrative. But there is need for unruffled circumspection to make sure that the responses and strategies evolved through this process of deliberations are not rooted in revenge but reflective of the commitment to ensure justice.

Apart from tackling terrorism through legal, administrative and military measures there is also a need to evolve a counter narrative on the ideological front and to change mindset as reflected in the statement of the imam of Lal Masjid. This will be a long-drawn-out initiative which could achieve its objectives through the unstinted and responsible support of the media, ulema and civil society, more so the latter, by being more vigilant against any suspicious activity and reporting it to the army.

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