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February 26, 2017

And now, Raddul Fasaad

Opinion

February 26, 2017

Something is happening to Pakistan that one cannot fully comprehend. Is there a new game plan to finally demolish all terror networks? And if that is so, does the plan include a new formulation of what our national security is all about? Is there a change of heart somewhere? Or is it more of the same?

What is more, irrespective of whether it is the same or not, is Operation Raddul Fasaad. We have a new title for a fresh resolve to target terror groups. This time, the focus is on operations in Punjab, with an emphasis on ‘deweaponisation’. Apparently, this is a new territory for our security forces.

Yes, we have had numerous security operations during the past decade with limited or national jurisdictions. Every operation, of course, had its impact. Almost until yesterday, we were celebrating the successes of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Then, we have been struggling with the National Action Plan. The massacre of our schoolchildren in Peshawar had certainly changed some rules of the game.

Pakistan seemed very much at peace with itself two weeks ago. A major phase of our war against terror had concluded. One felt a bit reassured with visible progress in the building of the economic corridor to China, with the promise of glory in Gwadar. Our politicians had all the time for fun and games around Panama Papers leaks.

The politicians do not appear to be distracted by the new wave of terror and there is little evidence that they wish to seriously understand the dynamics of society and reflect on the passions that have steered the lives of ordinary Pakistanis. Their growing disconnect with the reality of Pakistan is manifested in the statements they make on a daily basis. Many of them have shamelessly championed the cause of some radical groups. The reservoir of sympathy for the Taliban, in the recent past, was truly astonishing.

In any case, the mood in Pakistan changed on February 13, with a suicide attack in Lahore in which two senior police officers also died. Later in the week, there were other terrorist incidents and a few of them were reportedly averted at the last moment. But the terrifying blast within the shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sehwan on February 16 stood out because of its significance and high casualties. About 90 lives were lost, including those of children and women.

A pall of gloom and fear has consequently enveloped the country. It has affected the rhythm of live at every level. Scores of ceremonies were called off. A number of educational institutions were closed for a week. Sadly, the Lahore Literary Festival scheduled for this weekend had to be curtailed. Already, Basant – the pride of Lahore at one time – had been banned.

On Thursday, Lahore was shaken by another blast that took place in an upscale DHA sector. At least eight people were killed and more than 30 were injured. It naturally intensified the sense of insecurity, though there remained a lot of confusion about the cause of the explosion. It took the authorities a considerable amount of time to decide whether or not it was caused by a blast in the LPG cylinders stored in the basement of the building.

As for Raddul Fasaad, this new countrywide urban counterterrorism plan was announced by the army on Wednesday. It overlapped with the decision to induct the Rangers in Punjab – a move that was in the offing for a long time. This operation was announced after COAS General Qamar Bajwa chaired a security meeting in Lahore. It was attended by commanders of all military formations and intelligence agencies working in the province.

According to an announcement by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), the new operation has four key elements: operations in Punjab, the continuation of operations in other parts of the country, border management and deweaponisation and explosive control.

What is new here is that an extensive operation is being launched in Punjab for the first time. That they waited for it for so long is a measure of the ambivalence that has existed about the provincial government’s soft corner for sectarian militants. The deal, it was assumed, was that the militants would not be too disruptive and would provide some political support to the ruling party.

We have been told about the decisions taken by the army leadership. They relate primarily to military operations and we know that the civilian authorities will play second fiddle. This is how it has been in matters of national security. It is the military that decides what – and who – is good or bad in a certain equation. But one expects that any prevarications that may have been there no longer exist – and that this is the final resolve to set things right once and for all.

Perhaps we should not fret too much over how the military makes its moves. A lot depends on the ability of our leading political parties to make sense of the changes that have taken place in Pakistani society and define policies that could generate peace, harmony and social advancement. The National Action Plan was seen to be a part of this struggle and the civilian government was found to be deficient in this respect.

When you look around, you may agonise over the absence of a national party capable of promoting liberal and progressive values to build defences against extremism, fanaticism and orthodoxy. In a bygone era, the PPP would be expected to play this role – not now, with Asif Ali Zardari at its helm. How can you explain the likes of Nadir Akmal Leghari and Irfanullah Marwat joining the party? The party’s governance in Sindh is itself an indictment.

The two other mainstream parties also lack intellectual depth and a proper sense of direction when it comes to dealing with the radicalisation of Pakistani society. The federal interior minister has had a rather negative approach to the anti-terror strategy. Imran Khan, on his part, is almost consumed by his Nawaz Sharif obsession.

Thankfully, there is some respite now from the political farce staged outside the premises of the Supreme Court while it conducted hearings of the Panama leaks. The court closed its proceedings on Thursday and the judges have to “deliberate and ponder” before they make their judgement. In that sense, the leaders of the PML-N and PTI have also been allowed some time to “deliberate and ponder”. If this is something they can do.

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: [email protected]