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Opinion

February 23, 2015

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Defeating terrorism

Over 60,000 dead, many more crippled for life, hundreds of thousands injured, families destroyed, towns ruined, economy battered, peace shattered, sanity broken. Terrorists have hit every possible target. Politicians, businessmen, religious leaders, journalists, judges, lawyers, doctors, teachers, academicians, social workers, activists, soldiers, policemen, intelligence operators, students, traders, you name it. Every corner of the country has seen carnage. Schools, colleges, mosques, hospitals, graveyards, bazaars, military installations, clinics, shops, media houses, railway stations, airports, bus-stands, homes, hotels, dockyards – the list is frighteningly long.
No tribute is good enough for the incredible resilience of this nation which continues to fight hard, and doesn’t say die. Also it is no small matter that this country has to its credit an impressive tally of success against organised and foreign-funded forces whose target it is to rip the state apart and have this land descend into permanent chaos. Here, in spite of everything, children still go to schools and the national anthem is sung loudly every morning, announcing hope and heralding lasting determination.
But at the same time a country that has suffered so much should have learnt some key lessons from its crucibles about how best to shape a long-term response to dark forces, harbouring deep, evil designs that are at work against its vital interests. If this is a battle for survival, a challenge of immense potency and destructive potential – which it is – it is fair to expect state institutions and political leadership at all levels to use past mistakes as a back mirror to steer policy in the right direction avoiding costly mishaps. It is not asking for too much from anyone in a position of power to up their game and step up to the plate considering that we have had such a long experience of dealing with the threat of terrorism. Unfortunately, the situation on all the above core

points isn’t reassuring. While we have made good progress on several counts, our collective effort card shows disturbing trends.
The first of these is the excessive and laudatory claims that the officialdom makes, projecting roaring success in whatever it does in the battlefield. This is done seemingly to keep the national morale high and to ensure that the grimness of the problem does not get so much under the skin of the nation that it begins to become overwhelmed with panic. So we hear pet phrases like ‘breaking the back of terrorists’, ‘killing and arresting key leaders’, ‘chasing them out of existence’, ‘never letting them soil the good name of the country and devalue the pristine message of Islam’ etc.
After the Peshawar Army Public School attack there is a surfeit of such ‘positive propaganda’ and we hear it from every pedestal and podium. There is no evidence of any realisation at any level of decision-making that by glutting the market of opinion with vacuous slogans, the space for rational, fact-based national discourse has become hopelessly small. You either hear boasts of winning or laments of losing this war. These are two extreme ends of superficial chatter that is low on content, high on emotional contestation and brings no clarity about what is the best way forward.
The second trend, which emanates from the first, is to shy away from probing questions and deflect nasty realities upon which failures in this effort to succeed against terrorism are based. There has been a shocking lack of introspection of a forensic kind that attempts to deconstruct our own faults and then break them down to minute details to suggest remedies. If newspaper reports are something go by, the first probe into the APS tragedy has absolved everyone of any responsibility or negligence. In the great tradition of sweeping everything under the carpet this case too seems destined for the same fate. No one would ask any questions because one, no one will answer, and two all such queries will be immediately categorised as demoralising and therefore either deserving to be ignored or apt for being condemned as a national disservice.
We have done the same thing with every incident of terrorism that has afflicted us. From the Model Town killing of protesters to spectacular attacks at our installations, practically nothing has merited our consideration for open and frank debate. We are good at wrapping coffins in the national flag but very bad at asking ourselves whether we could have done better. Whether the dead we carry on our shoulders could have been saved.
In essence this post-mortem of performance is not meant to raise moral questions or to prompt pricks of conscience. The exercise does have that dimension to it, but more practically, open reflection accompanied by hard accountability is the only way we can improve our performance besides of course adjusting policy. But since we have adopted this tendency to glorify everything we do in the name of countering terrorism, therefore, we don’t have a detached documentation of our weaknesses, which if done would tell us that terrorists have outsmarted us several times and that our incompetence in certain cases has been hugely embarrassing and costly. Such assessments would also tell us that each time we take the road of self-praise we veer away from the correct path. We build national expectations of ‘never-again’ type of invincibility but then discover that big words are a poor substitute for sincere overhaul and internal cleansing.
What we hear now is nothing different from what we did not hear in the past under different governments or military high commands. Like today then too there were always two thumbs up because the nation wanted to keep its chin up. Like yesteryears, now too we only hear tales of heroism over-cast with the mantra that all is under control. This is disturbing.
No less disturbing is to see national institutions and leaders constantly passing the buck. Ask the federal government – it will tell you that implementation of the National Action Plan is now the responsibility of the provinces. Talk to the provinces and they will tell you that they are doing their best but that this cannot be done without the federal government taking the lead and providing necessary resources. Engage with the army and you will find out that they are already going beyond their responsibility to help the government at the centre and assist those slow-moving things called provincial setups. Police officials shrug shoulders and point to political interference, nepotism and the army’s central role in what used to be classic policing mandate as the reason for inefficient action or insufficient results.
Apex committees have become a leaking pot from where the drip-drip of information is moderated into the media to make one member look bad and the other a messiah. Outside these committees, finger-pointing is even more vulgar. It is almost as if the stakeholders were more concerned about spending time on shining their image (and careers) than to focus on the real threat – terrorism. This is an exhausting and self-consuming exercise but inevitable in a system where institutions and their representatives are constantly playing to be one up against the other.
We do hear that everyone is on the same page, but throw a keen glance at that page and you will see fewer signs of happy huddles and more evidence of a growing muddle. You see civilians and the brass sitting around the same table, seemingly so near and yet so far away from one another. And this is a trend that, among all else, is most damaging of the national aim of decisively defeating the enemy in our midst.
The writer is former executive editor of The News and a senior journalist with Geo TV.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @TalatHussain12

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