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Winning the battle of narratives


July 16, 2018

Initiatives taken by the government and various operations carried out by the security forces and law-enforcement agencies – who have rendered unparalleled sacrifices – have ostensibly broken the back of terrorists.

But the attack on an ANP corner meeting in Peshawar on the night of July 10 – which led to the death of Haroon Bilour and 22 others – the Mastung tragedy, and the attack on Akram Khan Durrani’s convoy in Bannu, are stark reminders that terrorists are still alive and kicking. It is difficult to describe these incidents as anything other than barbarous.

The courage and determination shown by the Bilour family, the leadership of the ANP, and the families of those who lost their lives in other attacks epitomises the determination of the entire nation as well the civilian and military leadership to not relent till the last terrorist has been eliminated.

In a message issued after the July 10 attack, the COAS said that: “we are fighting against [the] nexus of inimical forces which aren’t willing to absorb a peaceful and stable Pakistan. We remain undeterred and shall defeat them”. What matters at the end is the firm resolve and determination to stand united against terrorists. However, the painful reality about terrorism is that the fight against it cannot be won within a short span of time.

If we examine the history of countries that had to deal with waves of militancy and consider how long it took them to eliminate this menace, it can be safely inferred that there is no quick-fix to the menace. For these countries, fighting terrorism is invariably a long-drawn-out war with debilitating social, economic and political consequences. They had to fight terrorists by not only using their military muscle but also pushing forward effective counter-narratives to terrorist narratives.

This is probably the most important aspect of the crusade against terrorism. It must be fought vigorously in all its manifestations, with unswerving commitment and resolve, to neutralise the philosophy of terrorists, which helps to swell their ranks and motivate their operatives to resort to violent acts.

This isn’t going to happen too soon. We still have a long way to go and the nation will have to endure this phenomenon for quite some time. There are many proponents of terrorist narratives and their sympathisers and sleeping cells can be found across the country. Some seminaries have also served as breeding grounds for terrorists. Sectarian terrorism is yet another devastating reality, which derives its strength from various ideologies.

All these factors are of a very sensitive nature and utmost care is required on the part of the government and the relevant agencies engaged in curbing terrorism and sectarian violence. This is arguably the reason why progress on the elements of the National Action Plan (NAP) with regard to regulating and registering seminaries, and dealing with sectarian outfits has not been as rapid as it should be.

In addition, there are other administrative inadequacies. There is a lack of effective coordination among various intelligence agencies and law-enforcement departments of the government. More importantly, coordination issues also exist among the provinces and between the provincial and the federal governments. Most elements of the NAP pertain to the provinces.

Nevertheless, the government and the military commanders are unanimous in their view that despite military offensives – such as Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Raddul Fasaad and Khyber-IV – and intelligence-based actions against terrorists along with their sympathisers and sleeping cells, NAP was the comprehensive blueprint for fighting terrorism on the internal front. There was an imperative need to reappraise the implementation of the plan, with a view to remove the bottlenecks experienced in certain areas to achieve its objectives.

A national implementation committee for NAP was constituted a few years ago. The committee was headed by former national security adviser General Nasir Khan Janjua and reviewed the progress of NAP. It came up with comprehensive and thought-provoking recommendations that emphasised the need for a proactive role of the provinces in maintaining of law and order and enhanced coordination among various federal and provincial intelligence agencies. As per the recommendations, provincial governments should also be a role in registering and regulating seminaries and drawing up a curriculum for them.

In addition, efforts must also be made to check the projection of terrorists through media, adopt effective measures to check funding provided to terrorist organisations, and ensure that a board of ulemas is constituted to deal with sectarianism. According to the committee’s recommendations, strict checks must be introduced on the exit and entry points of cities and provinces, and attempts must be made by provincial governments to stop the dissemination of hate material.

These recommendations also stressed the need to develop a counter-narrative against terrorists. This narrative must be included in the school syllabus as a long-term objective to save the youth from the lure of terrorist narratives. These recommendations evidently placed greater emphasis on the war being fought on the ideological front. It was a blueprint to remove the bottlenecks involved in the implementation of NAP.

We shouldn’t forget that the government has been working to devise a counter-narrative against terrorists on the ideological front with unruffled commitment. Writers, poets and intellectuals have to play a leading role in eliminating terrorism and promoting peace. They are the brain and conscience of a society, and play a significant role in its intellectual development. They can also be useful in changing social attitudes and behaviour.

Intellectuals mostly have to rely on the media to propagate and communicate their message and intellectual discourses. As a result, the media also has a pivotal role to play in this regard. It must make sure that these discourses are communicated to the people in an appropriate manner.

As the fourth pillar of the state, the media is under an obligation to discourage divisive narratives and guide people in the right direction. It also has to show a greater sense of responsibility in reporting and commenting on incidents of terrorism, particularly during the live coverage of such events. The media needs to curb its impulsive propensity to ascribe blame to intelligence failure and the administrative inefficiency of the government. It cannot turn a blind eye to their success in pre-empting numerous terrorist attacks.

Terrorism is a fight against an invisible and inhuman enemy. Terrorists have the advantage of unpredictability, which enables them to strike at even well-guarded security establishments. The phenomenon needs to be understood in the right perspective.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

Email: [email protected]

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