Spearhead Analysis – 24.02.2017
By Hira A. Shafi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
This month was marked by a new-old wave of terror; which not only destroyed many lives, but has left several traumatized and terrorized. A new feature was total confusion about the type of attack—accidental gas explosion or planted explosives blast. A preliminary investigation has labeled it an accident but a forensics report is pending. The panic that followed the attack highlights the fact that irresponsible statements by officials and rapid fire unsubstantiated reports on social media can create chaos exposing the fragility of the socio-economic environment and the absence of human security. The clincher in favor of the accident theory is that no one has claimed responsibility but it could be that this is a new tactic to sow confusion and deflect retaliation. The general perception is that it was a terrorist incident using a planted device and that the gas cylinders augmented the effect of the blast.
The usual post event reassurances of tackling the menace conclusively were made by the entire officialdom. The ISPR had already announced the start of a new countrywide urban joint civil-military counter insurgency operation — “Radd-ul-Fassad”. The usual statements are being made by various government spokespeople claiming ownership of the operation and the strictures under which it will be carried out. The general perception, however, is that the Prime Minister approved not only the operation but also the steps taken against Afghanistan and that the Punjab government reluctantly or otherwise has to fall in line. The rapidity with which results are being achieved indicates that this is an operation that was long in the works and all preparatory intelligence gathering activity had been completed. There seems to be an imbalance in the numbers of Madressahs so far identified as being involved in terrorism related activity with the maximum being in Sind but no doubt this imbalance will be corrected as the operation progresses. At least one columnist seems to think that the most recent blast in Lahore was the terrorists’ way of ‘thumbing their nose’ at the military operation.
Besides intelligence directed targeted operations underway a country-wide ‘combing operation’ is also in progress. This is netting suspected terrorists and their facilitators, criminals, drugs and weapons smugglers and extremist hate preachers. Such operations by Rangers have been the norm in Karachi for quite some time and have sidelined extortionists, kidnappers, hit-men and politically linked militant gangs to break the nexus between crime generated finance and terror. Karachi may have been easier because of the undeclared but established turf division but the Punjab operation will also start delivering results and in fact should have started in tandem with the Karachi operation to consolidate the gains made by Operation Zarb e Azb. Better late than never. The various politically motivated restraints being put on the military will not work and neither will limited and delayed sanctions as is being done in Karachi—a military operation once unleashed builds its own momentum and will be carried to a conclusion. The military needs to make this clear because no military wants to get into urban situations in its own country but when forced to get involved it cannot risk failure because of political considerations. Such considerations can be in play only before the operation is launched not after it has started and is delivering results.
Raddul Fasaad is the eleventh major operation launched by the military. Is immediate predecessor Zarb-e-Azb took off after the terrorist attack on Jinnah Terminal of Karachi airport. Then came the still dormant National Action Plan after the attack on the children of Army Public School Peshawer and now Raddul Fasaad comes after a series of attacks this year the worst being the one in Lahore. Each operation had its scope spelt out in terms of scale and dimensions and each delivered results with vast areas cleared and control established. Zarb-e-Azb the biggest operation cleared the Waziristan area forcing the Haqqani Network and various other groups to relocate and shift their bases across the western border. The military frequently asked for steps to consolidate the gains made in terms of time and space within the internal environment. This basically meant political resolve to fully implement the National Action Plan including rehabilitation of IDP’s and refugees. This was not done and the result is that these groups have regrouped in the ungoverned spaces of Afghanistan and forged fresh alliances including with Daesh and are now available to any and all who want to finance operations against Pakistan and its CPEC linked future. You do not have to be a rocket scientist to figure out who such backers could be and the more activity the terrorists generate the more are the backers encouraged to ‘do more’. Radd ul Fassad now promises to thwart terror plans, eliminate terrorist capacity and sound warning bells to those who finance such terror and those who provide infrastructure support.
The political wrangling over the future of military courts is leading to the perception that it is the military that is demanding such powers. Just as no professional military wants to be involved in urban warfare in its own country no military wants to exercise civilian judicial functions especially if the country has a well paid and established judiciary. The problem is that the terrorists being arrested were slipping through the judicial system unpunished and that judges were fearful of consequences if they delivered quick judgments leading to executions. The limited tenure granted to military courts should have been used to reform the judiciary and give it the capacity and protection required. This was not done and the military courts were allowed to lapse without any action taken. This has resulted in the conundrum that the government now faces—the military is waiting and watching and piling up the numbers to be tried and sentenced.
The military will clean up and stand as a bulwark against all threats internal and external but the threat within has to be tackled at its roots. This means the elimination of the eco system that breeds extremism, intolerance, hatred and violence. The National Action Plan if implemented could start the process of tackling this menace that is the real threat to the internal environment. There are reports that the military has taken steps to bring about the kind if clean-up that will change mind sets and set an example for other institutions to do the same. The Army chief has spoken of a cooperative and joint arrangement with Afghanistan that is the only way forward. It is for Afghanistan to see that it is not used as front or proxy for actions against Pakistan and the CPEC. The opening moves towards Iran are a good step in the right direction and the ECO summit conference in Islamabad holds great promise for cooperative regional arrangements. The growing relationship with Turkey needs to be expanded and the stable relationship with China needs to be nurtured. The relationship with Russia has great potential. India needs to make up its mind on its relationship with Pakistan. For all of this to happen Pakistan needs a stable and secure internal environment and for this the dragons within have to be slain and those outside kept at bay. Pakistan needs to continue acting in its own interest and not reacting to the garbage being thrown its way.