I served in London as a military attaché in the high commission between 1992 and 1996 when the IRA – the militant wing of the breakaway Sinn Fein of Northern Ireland – had laid siege to Kingdom’s Union with Northern Ireland.
In an over 30-year-long civil war, 3500 lives were lost with over 50,000 casualties in 36,900 shootings and 16,200 bombings or attempted bombings. It took the UK, the Republic of Ireland and the good offices of an Irish-American President, Bill Clinton, to work out an agreement towards a political solution.
In those four years, the possibility of an IRA bomb attack lurked behind every shadow in all public places at all times. All of society was at risk. The war was real and omnipresent. London reeked not of fear but constant caution and awareness. Public places all seemed ready at all times to face up to any eventuality even as people went around in their business-as-usual mode. The police were everywhere keeping an eye for the unusual even as they appeared as affable as tradition held, while the administration was keyed up with repeated reminders and announcements to the general public to be aware of their surroundings. It was a ‘societal’ response to a new kind of war. Unable to cow down the indomitable English spirit through terror and destruction, the warring factions settled to what is now termed as a classic model for a peace process. Peace ensued in 1998 and has held since by accommodation on both sides of the isle.
Ten years later, between 2006 and 2009, I served in another war zone of a similar hue – only deadlier. Colombo, Sri Lanka was in the spate of another round of terror attacks and then counter-attacks by security forces fighting off the threat of an ethnic secession by the LTTE against mainland Sri Lanka. As the high commissioner, my frame of engagement was different with my country’s declaratory support to the Sri Lankans in the deadliest fourth-generation war yet known to humanity. War was everywhere, especially in Colombo even as the army fought the rebels in the northern and north-eastern extremities of the country. Socially weaker in constitution because of poverty, yet educated and disciplined as a society, it was once again the entire country at war. How they prevailed over an enemy so profusely supported by India’s giant presence next door is a tale waiting to be told.
Typically for a third-world nation, the war had seen its ups and downs in terms of governmental and institutional incompetence, always leaving society to bear the consequences. But when once the decision was made to end the war (2006), they had routed the LTTE by 2009. The victory was won in this case, not negotiated. Negotiations had long petered out into numerous rounds of state’s appeasement of the recalcitrant Tamils while only putting the inevitable off and biding time. Numerous foreign players in this peace act played to their own tunes. Nothing substantive ever materialised through these superficial engagements. Only a final blow bludgeoned externally inspired ambition to break a perfect country up.
Pakistan has been in a similar ‘war of attrition’ for over a decade-and-a-half; enough test for stability of a nuclear power claiming such a mantle. That the country hasn’t rolled over like so many more in the Middle East should only be a minor consolation. Our biggest test lies ahead as terror groups mutate into deadlier versions already in the act with their even deadlier craft. The world’s most powerful who enable such transmutation – using Afghanistan as a stage – do so in pursuit of their agendas which fearfully include Pakistan as a corollary. This may have something to do with Pakistan’s past follies but imposes on us an existential challenge. From the Taliban to the American forces to international intelligence outfits, it is a franchise selling its wares. And this isn’t changing in the near future. So the odious will subsist. Pakistan will have to navigate itself out of this imposed geography despite it; and that is where the adeptness and a wholesome systemic approach will help. Sadly though, this hasn’t been the case since the war began for Pakistan. The National Action Plan, a multi-discipline effort, has gone abegging. The wholesome systemic response needed to ward off the menace never materialised.
The three incidents where lives were lost in recent weeks as the nation moves towards its own political transition were aimed to delay and deny Pakistan’s desperate need for political stability. Almost all attacks were sourced in Afghanistan wherefrom they plan, penetrate and find local support among a huge Afghan Diaspora in Pakistan. There just cannot be a qualification to such failure in denying these elements the space to inflict their ghastly intent. Whoever is meant to inhibit such occurrence should ensure effective interdiction of such intent; whatever the cost, however long the effort. While we claim relative success, significant at that, such mauling at will by adversaries is disturbing, disruptive and damaging.
Step back to the militant environment in Balochistan where these incidents repeat at will, it seems. There is a whole list of possible facilitators and perpetrators: TTP, LeJ – both local and Al Alami, Jundullah, Daesh, anti-state Baloch secessionist groups, Indian agents – the leftovers of the Kulbhushan network, foreign intelligence agencies and criminal outfits ready to lend their services at an appropriate price. This is a formidable mix, which instead of decreasing in its composite size has only been expanding in both quality and intent. Their implicit impact on Pakistan is only deep harm. Just recently Iran, Russia, China and Pakistan assembled to mull over the reformed threat to regional peace and stability. Afghanistan claims it only has 2,000 Daesh men rerouted from Syria into its ungoverned spaces. The other four think the number is closer to 10,000. That is the next frontier. And it is already here. The challenge continues unabated. How are they there? Why are they there?
While we may not find an honest response to these queries, the insanity of it renders the evolving environment toxic. Our mission is then cut out: stop and eliminate those who mean harm. And this will need a systemic approach of all involved. Our new mantra to the old war must also mutate: Find, Fight and Eliminate. This is the war which has only been partly fought till now. And then for some reason we wander away, perhaps entrapped by the reassuring calm of relative gains. How can the evil and the rational coexist without defiling what is sane and normal? Mastung or Yakka Toot should remind us of that.
We are only 15 years down the line. We may have another 15 to go before we can find peace. To find, fight and eliminate those meaning harm, only a kinetic mindset will deliver. Stagnation or diversion from the core responsibility despite the trappings will only mean being mired further and deeper. We have been victims of this proclivity far too often.