Even though a lot has been written on the issue of terrorism, overcoming the menace continues to elude everyone. Unlike territorial wars, ideological wars know no boundaries, and it is an established fact that wars without boundaries are anything but simple.
Pakistan, like dozens of other countries, is combating the most irregular of irregular wars. Such conflicts can only be resolved through a well-thought-out comprehensive mechanism, but Pakistan continues to rely on its often-used knee-jerk reactionary approach.
There are three dimensions of terrorism that have plagued our country: international, regional and local. As far as the international dimension is concerned, Muslims from across the globe are facing an existential crisis where a faction of ideologues is looking to usurp religion as a whole. Moreover, the ongoing sectarian conflicts in the Middle East (ME) have claimed 1.4 million lives and do not seem to be moving towards an end anytime soon. Western policies have added fuel to the fire: the invasion of Iraq and interference in dozens of other ME conflicts have destabilised the entire region. The consequences of these interventions are now affecting the rest of the world.
We cannot do anything to overcome extremism since our clerics have failed to create a consensus on the extremist interpretations of Islam. The most Pakistan can do is to create some international consensus and involve the OIC. But not a lot will be achieved since the majority of the Muslim countries don’t consider resolving this issue a priority.
What we and other Muslim countries can and should do is to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran to the negotiating table. The rivalry between the two states is dangerously intense. Failure to bring the two nations together would mean critical failure in overcoming the international dimension of conflicts that give rise to terrorism. If we cannot resolve this dimension, we cannot combat the threat of terrorism as a whole.
Muslims in Pakistan will be greatly impacted by the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran. If we fail to resolve this situation, we may withdraw and isolate ourselves – just like we did in conflicts in the Middle East and Yemen. Neutrality and isolation could be beneficial as we cannot afford to take sides in a sectarian clash.
The second dimension of terrorism that plagues Pakistan is regional. Throughout our nation’s history, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has been used as a frontier province. This term was coined by the British to identify an area that was created as a buffer between two states, in this case Afghanistan and the Subcontinent.
Given this history, the area has been ripe with conflict for several centuries. Although war has remained a ‘constant’ in the region, the nature of conflicts throughout the ages has changed. In the 1980s, one group of fighters was supported by the US and Pakistan, while the other was supported by the Soviet Union and others. After 9/11, the dimension of conflict in the region changed yet again: our former friends became our enemies. There is a new regional troika at present: the war for influence between India and Pakistan, the ongoing war between the Durrani tribes and the war between Persian-speaking tribes and Pashto-speaking tribes.
Simultaneously, India is supporting one group while Pakistan is supporting the other. It is naive to say that Pakistan should not support groups in Afghanistan. That cannot happen unless India stops supporting its own groups of choice. There is no doubt that Pakistan wants a friendly state in Afghanistan, but if India tries to impose its will in the country, then Pakistan has no choice but to play its own cards. Unless this conflict is resolved in Afghanistan, regional stability seems far away.
The resolution lies in regional conference. Unless Pakistan, India, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, the US and Saudi Arabia sit together and devise a strategy to overcome the existing issues of contention, stability will continue to elude Afghanistan, and consequently the whole region.
We may think that the return of Afghan migrants will solve certain issues, but we forget that 74 percent of Afghan-origin migrants were born in Pakistan and have never seen their country of origin. We need a concrete policy to bring them into the fold as shareholders of our economy and culture and integrate them into our society.
The last dimension of terrorism is the most lethal: the sectarian war within Pakistan. Historically, our state created militias and mercenaries that are now running amok. The lack of strong will to control rogue sectarian elements is most dangerous. However, this is the area in which Pakistan can play the most effective role in the war against terrorism.
A military operation to tackle sectarianism will introduce the army into the urban theatre. And it is never desirable for the army to be operating in civilian spaces. All those who think the Police Act 1864 has become redundant should go back to the British system of policing in rural districts. Urban policing needs different treatment but revival of lumberdar and chowkidar along with local government bodies will give the state a huge administrative arm to deal with general crime and terrorism. However, we need police, prosecution, judicial and jail reforms simultaneously. Picking one and leaving the others will make all four of them redundant.
The writer is a lawyer, analyst and spokesperson of the PTI.