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Pakistan: Terrorism in Perspective

By Zia Khan

According to the US CENTCOM estimates Musharraf’s catastrophic decision to facilitate the US invasion of Afghanistan cost our economy a loss of more than ten billion dollars in the first year alone and the haemorrhaging continues unabated. This does not include the cost of military deployment, provision of base facilities and other support.

Its detailed report published in 2002 reads in part, “Operation Enduring Freedom adversely affected the already fragile economy of Pakistan. Major losses were caused to the civil aviation, tourism, investment and shipping due to rise in the rates of insurance. Besides this, Pakistani exports also suffered adversely and foreign investments experienced a visible decline. According to a rough estimate, Pakistan’s economy suffered a loss of over US$ 10 billion since October 2001”:


The decision not only resulted in the loss of close to two hundred billion dollars so far but also gave rise to terrorism as we know it today. It is a misconception; in all probability deliberately created that terrorism somehow has its origins in religious fundamentalism. There have been religious extremists throughout history but they have rarely resorted to sustained campaigns of violence. Terrorists are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective to compel the occupying power to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland.

This is just as true for Pakistan as it is for Sri Lanka, Chechnya, Lebanon, Palestine, Kashmir, Corsica or Spain. Prior to Musharraf’s ill-considered and unjustified induction of troops in South Waziristan the only terrorist acts had been by some ineffectual Indian agents. What we witness today was born and fueled by the desire to avenge the death and destruction caused by the military incursion in FATA. Later, other soldiers of fortune joined the fray for all kinds of motives and reasons,

For terrorism to flourish it needs a few essentials like sympathy and support in the local community, a secure base for training, logistic support and operational planning; large amounts of cash to pay the mercenaries and their families, publicity, etc. and an assured supply of volunteers. They also need a fairly sophisticated command structure to gather intelligence, plan operations, control and organize troops, among other things. The sophistication evident in some of the terrorist acts in Pakistan had the hallmarks of professionalism that are far beyond the capabilities of an ex-chairlift operator like Mulla Fazlullah.

Mercifully, TTP and its affiliates have little popular local support outside FATA and must buy whatever else they might need. The amounts involved are quite substantial as are their logistical needs —- much more than what they can realistically hope to get from any private donations. Some of the weapons and equipment at their disposal are also not easily procured in the market.

It is a misconception that various groups that form TTP are ideologically motivated. Some of them may claim this but in reality it is money, coercion and the need to take revenge that goads them. If it had been religion, they would first target NATO troops, installations and supplies which they scrupulously avoid. In return the US and NATO have left them untouched except for people like Nek Mohammed who declared it unlawful for TTP to kill fellow Pakistanis and Muslims and Hakimullah Mehsud who tried to reach a settlement.

When viewed against this perspective the outlandish TTP conditions and for the negotiations make perfect sense. The powers that pull their strings are in no mood to come to an agreement. They want the talks to fail and the army to expand its operations further. There is no better way to destroy a country and its army than to make it fight a war against its own people that has no end.

In all probability almost all of the terrorists groups are compromised by now which makes dealing with them a difficult and delicate exercise. They do not have centralized command and control nor the same paymaster. It also means they cannot speak with one voice and are not free to negotiate. They can only say and do what each puppeteer desires. Nonetheless we have to sit at the table with them if for no other reason than to gauge their attitudes, arrange a truce and possibly exploit any divisions and rifts that are bound to exist.

The first line of defence for internal security has to be the police, IB and FIA that have local knowledge, intelligence and presence. The military is not equipped for dealing with terrorism as such. It is basically configured and trained to deal with external threats and not criminal activity. It can be called upon to help but by the very nature of the task it has to be primarily handled through the combined efforts of all the civilian agencies. Something is very wrong when so many trained and armed soldiers led presumably by competent officers are taken prisoner to be butchered by a rag tag band of Hill Billys. It needs to be investigated if there has been a professional  or institutional lapse.

Unfortunately, in their eagerness to please the US, Musharraf and his successors have made the situation far more complicated. They allowed foreign intelligence agencies to have a free run of the country, including access to offices and records of IB and FIA. Agents of nefarious outfits like Blackwater/Xe were allowed to run amok.

A revealing article in the Asia Times, of  4th October 2003 claimed, ‘The FBI cells have established direct control over the law enforcing agencies, such as the police, who take orders from FBI agents. In return, they are believed to be handsomely rewarded financially.’ General Aslam Beg states, ‘Musharraf agreed to pull-out ISI from the border areas and allowed the CIA and the Marines to monitor the entire border belt from Swat to Balochistan’. The civilian security and intelligence agencies need to be cleansed and if necessary reconstituted if there is to be a secure future for Pakistan.

 The media have a crucial role to play when times are difficult by rallying the people, giving them hope and raising their morale. In Pakistan they have done everything but this. Day after day pages of the press are blackened and television anchors cry themselves hoarse magnifying every little incident out of all proportion to prophecy nothing but doom and gloom. This is how Fifth Column operates.  A US diplomat in Islamabad summed them up in 2012:

Pakistani TV journalists are some of the easiest to buy or manipulate. ———- Their price is ridiculously small. A drink, a lunch with a second or first secretary in a place where they can be seen by their admirers, invitations to official receptions, or at most, a trip to the states, is all you need to buy their loyalty. ———– My dog is usually fussier.

A great deal of damage has been done. People are losing hope which is reflected in the social media. It has encouraged flight of both capital and talent that does more harm to the economy and the future than any amount of terrorism could ever do. It is in fact treason. We only have to look at the conduct of media in Britain when she faced terrorism by the IRA for more than twenty years to know this.

Every terrorist act entails some loss and tragedy but it is local and limited in terms of the larger context and by no means the end of the world as made out by our media. Again, to quote the British example, in all the years that she was subjected to terrorism the country functioned normally and her economy continued to prosper. In a similar vein, despite everything, it is true that in general Pakistan still offers more in terms of quality of life than any other country from Myanmar all the way to Morocco.

Things change and it never pays to lose hope. We have survived far more challenging times. The present is no exception. After the US withdrawal from Afghanistan whosoever gains control, especially in south and southeast Afghanistan, will need support from Pakistan to survive. It will not be in their interest to allow foreign inspired outfits operating under the TTP umbrella to use Afghan soil for their purposes. Terrorism came to Pakistan when Afghanistan was occupied by foreign powers. It will end only when the occupation ends. Wisdom demands we should wait for that time before embarking on yet another costly adventure. In the meantime, any respite afforded by the negotiations should not be scoffed at.

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