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Other war fronts

21 August, 2015

By Kamila Hyat


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It is unusual for our country to receive praise. Over the years we have become accustomed to highly negative opinions on Pakistan, labelled varyingly as a ‘failed state’, the most dangerous place on earth or generally a country with little hope.

Against this backdrop, the reports that have come in from at least three different global publications, suggesting that Pakistan may yet make a turnaround, obviously offer hope. The forecasts are based on economic indicators and the ongoing efforts against terror. As was the case with Colombia’s struggle against crime and drugs, winning against terror is identified as the central factor in creating a brighter future for Pakistan.

Of course we do not need analytic experts to point this out to us. In times of growing darkness, when it has been hard to find light, we have known that combating militancy and hatred holds the key to saving our society. It is crucial in order to repair a shattered economy and restore harmony in a time when it has been torn apart. It is clear that unless peace can be restored in the country, projects such as the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which could offer real change, will remain in jeopardy.

This is one reason why the military establishment, and the civilian government, has recently made such a big effort to show the restoration of calm in the troubled province of Balochistan, through which a very large portion of the corridor is to run. The elaborate display put on during Independence Day when 400 militants who were said to have surrendered laid down arms and in exchange accepted flowers and national flags from children as a part of this effort. We can only hope it goes beyond the cosmetic, and reaches below the surface in a province wracked by painful turmoil.

The truth however as far as the wider war on terror goes is complex. It is not an easy battle to fight. In the first place, there are many different elements involved in it. The bombing which killed Punjab Interior Minister Shujah Khanzada, two days after August 14, in all probability as ‘revenge’ for the killing of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi founder Malik Ishaq in a police encounter near Muzzafargarh at the end of July, indicates just how dangerous these elements are. For days after Ishaq and his two sons were shot down, along with ten others, the prime minister and chief minister of the Punjab had both taken extraordinary safety measures. A strike back was obviously expected. It hit Khanzada, who had spoken out openly against terrorism and vowed to combat it at all costs. He paid with his life.

We can expect other such deaths. We have seen some already, in the attacks on military personnel, civilian leaders, and others. The questions to be asked are whether these are sacrifices on the way to victory. In other words, are we winning the war we are fighting?

There has in recent months been much projection of all that is being done, chiefly by the military. But shadows lurk. We need to understand precisely how much truth lies in the assertions by Kabul that Pakistan continues to harbour terrorists who stage operations within Afghanistan and give them shelter.

We also need to know why after Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011 following the raid by US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, yet another internationally wanted terrorist leader, the reclusive Mullah Omar, has been reported to have hidden out on Pakistani soil since 2001, before dying at a Karachi hospital most likely in 2013. The mysteries of the war, and precisely who plays a part in it, need to be known.

But there is more to this than just the fighting; or the killing of key leaders. We need also to open up other fronts if we are to truly win the battle. These fronts do not necessarily consist of military operations or manoeuvres involving guns and grenades. Instead, we need to understand how extremism has developed such deep roots in our soil and spawned so many different groups which have ravaged it in different ways. Minority communities have been victims; so have anti-Taliban politicians, members of the military establishment and activists who stood for human rights.

To create these separate fronts and squeeze the militants into a smaller space, we must study the factors which lead to them gaining so much strength in the first place. One of these factors is the funding they receive. The sources of this, whether they originate inside or outside the country, must be cut off and blocked.

The still bigger effort needs to come in changing thinking. This is almost invariably the hardest task of all. Intolerance and extremist ideas were generated, beginning in the 1980s, by altering school curricula, encouraging a tilt towards the Middle East, allowing religious organisations with roots outside the country to move in, promoting the growth of madressahs run by these hardliners and by using the media to portray a particular line of thought.

All this will need to be reversed. Yes, getting rid of key militants and breaking up the organisations they have created is important. But equally important is the need to remove the support these outfits receive from too many quarters. It is astonishing how many seemingly rational people believe that minority sects or religious groups are in some ways less patriotic or less worthy than the majority. We need to use every weapon we have, including public sector schools, mosques, radio channels and the rest of the media to change this.

These aspects of the battle ahead will perhaps be the most difficult ones. But they need to be attempted if things are to truly change. Unless the change happens, we can of course not dream of the better times ahead forecast for us from far away. It is good to think that there is a new belief in Pakistan; this belief has also been carried forward by social media with some positive images of Pakistan generating new outlooks on the country.

But we need also to realise that this can only happen if the war is fought on multiple grounds. Different strategies need to be deployed all together. All this must also happen as quickly as possible, with an attempt to recreate the kind of drastic change we saw in the 1980s, the time when the country truly changed into a different place. The backlash from the war is already being seen. But it is important that we do more.

The darkness that has hung over Pakistan for too long needs to be lifted. Steps towards this change need to keep coming from different directions. We need to take the militants by surprise and be truly certain that we are in every way committed to getting rid of them and returning to a more civilised base for our existence, with diverse groups able to live together.

This was once the case in our country; it can be made the case again, but only through a massive effort which will indeed need sacrifice, resolve and a willingness to stand up to the extremist forces that have been left unchallenged for too long and unable to gain a tremendous degree of strength. They will need to be defeated on more than one front.

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