THE recent terrorist attacks have shaken the foundations of Pakistani society and alarmed public on the vulnerability of security establishment to handle this menace. A series of attacks started after Afghan based Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA) announced its Operation Ghazi. Most recently a session court in Charsadda was attacked by multiple suicide bombers, after Sehwan Shareef bomb blast a few days back which killed at least 90people. Its important to remember that after operation Rah-i-Rast in Swat the proscribed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Mullah Fazlullah, who escaped from Pakistan, is still believed to be in Afghanistan. The JuA had, in the announcement, also hinted at unification of TTP splinter groups. The JuA is one of the banned terror outfits which also claimed responsibility for the February 13 suicide bombing in Lahore and the February 15 suicide attack on the headquarters of Mohmand Agency’s political administration. It should be recalled that Pakistani pleadings for TTP chief arrest and handover have remained unanswered by the Afghan government.
Pakistan has been battling insurgency since shortly after it decided to ally with the US following its invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, and a terror-stricken Pakistan came out of fear in 2015when National Action Plan (NAP) was announced by the Government of Pakistan to crack down on terrorism. A close coordination and cooperation between armed forces and civilian leadership made Zarb-i-Azb a great success, destroying footholds of the most feared terrorists entrenched in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency. It was also a year of great reckoning when Pakistan was able to offer its assistance to France to counter-terror threat there following the massacre in Paris. Though violence declined in recent years and NAP became a reference point for everything but the remnants of militant groups are still able to carry out periodic bloody attacks.
Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policy sometimes is seen reactive in nature: it only acts in response to the incident/event rather than adopting a pro-active approach to deal with the issue of terrorism. Though it has devised counter-terrorism strategies and conducted a series of military offensives but there is so much left to achieve. Following the recent attacks, Pakistan has sealed its border with Afghanistan. The authorities have also issued shoot-at-sight orders for those found trying to cross over. The gate at Torkham border is closed and all kinds of trade and commercial activities are suspended. Moreover, Pakistan Army is targeting militant hideouts close to the Pak-Afghan border. It has also asked the Afghan government to take action against 76 Pakistani terrorists operating from Afghan territory or hand them over to Pakistan so that they could be tried for their involvement in terror-related activities.
It’s important to mention that enhanced security measures taken along the Pak-Afghan border are to fight the common enemy, which include terrorists of all hues and colour. After loss of so many lives over past two decades, Pakistan has no choice but to take firm action against the killers. Beside the loss of lives, this such enemy terrorists have succeeded in stagnating economic progress of the country. Therefore, a firm resolve is needed to stop the terrorism activities once for all. Firstly, it is time to review and abandon any and all backing of militant/jihadi groups/networks. Pakistan has to make a clean break on this issue. Secondly, any and all sanctuaries for militant groups needs to be destroyed and dismantled along Pak-Afghan border.
General Bajwa, Pakistan Army Chief, has vowed to eliminate all kinds of terrorist, and to seek co-operation of all neighbours in doing so. One can foresee now that Pakistan is heading in the right direction. Instead of Afghanistan blaming Pakistan and Pakistan blaming Afghanistan, both deciding to join hands and fight together all terrorists, both good and bad, is a welcome move. China has already offered its support to Pakistan in the fight against terrorism and extremism. This positive attitude needs to be explored and developed. While there would be sufficient due caution and so slow speed to ensure that nobody takes undue advantage of the other in the process, one hopes this could lead to a breakthrough in regional peace and friendships. The recent approach by the Pakistani government is better and practical as it’s impossible to change neighbours but somehow possible to turn enemies into friends. Terrorism is a mutual problem and it can be tackled only by mutual cooperation. Strict border control is also need of the hour by and between Pakistan and Afghanistan, besides boost to NAP be given in Pak territory. A coherent implementable policy and well thought-out strategy is required and it’s always better late than never.
—The writer is a Researcher at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a think tank based in Islamabad.