‘Tough action’ at last?


After seemingly dithering for months on its approach to tackling terrorism, it appears the government has had its mind made up for it by the terrorists themselves. The spate of terrorist attacks through the length and breadth of the country in recent days has put paid to the notion that talks with the extremists are the only way forward. The binary amongst political opinion on the issue that it is a zero-sum game of either/or, i.e. either talks or war, has been resolved in the government’s thinking at least as talks with those willing, force against those not. Some in the media have dubbed this the third option, although objectively it was always the only option. No counterinsurgency or counterterrorism campaign ever relies exclusively on one or the other. The strategy always revolves around the use of force where necessary, negotiations where possible. If the government has arrived at this conclusion after reeling from the blows struck by the terrorists, it can be considered an advance on its previous stance, which seemed to rely almost exclusively, or at least predominantly, on negotiations. The only problem with this ‘advance’ is that actions are still being planned and implemented in retaliatory mode rather than as part of an overall strategy. After the aerial bombing in North Waziristan the other day in retaliation for the wave of attacks on the army, reports speak of an operation in Mastung against the sectarian Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) that has once again claimed responsibility for the Shia pilgrims’ bus bombing in that area the other day. The question arises, who does not know that the centre of gravity and presence of the LeJ lies in southern Punjab, where its network of madrassas, etc, gives it a ‘safe’ operating base. No one can possibly object to the operation in Mastung in pursuit of the terrorists who killed so many innocent Shias (again), but the snake will not be scotched if its head is not crushed, a head that lies in southern Punjab. The LeJ’s leader Malik Ishaq, who cannot be pinned down no matter how many charges of murder are placed against him because he is able to intimidate judges, prosecutors and witnesses, roams a free man. If the government is serious about an operation against the LeJ, it cannot ignore its leaders or its safe haven in southern Punjab. The perils of our times are nowhere better illustrated than in the incident of a vehicle blowing up in a motor workshop in Peshawar on Thursday. Ostensibly brought in for repairs, the vehicle had a bomb planted in it, whether before it arrived at the workshop or after is not clear. Reports say it was a jeep that was reported lost or stolen and had spent a couple of days in a police station before its owner transferred it to the workshop. Six people were killed, nine wounded, five other cars damaged in this latest atrocity.
Presiding over a high level security meeting on Thursday, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for making the intelligence mechanism more effective and boosting security on the Afghan border, including through aerial surveillance. The meeting decided on surgical strikes against terrorist targets (a la the bombardment in North Waziristan) rather than a generalised ground offensive. The partial move against the LeJ in Mastung and the decision to rely more on aerial strikes rather than boots on the ground indicates the continuing hesitation of the government to commit fully to taking on the terrorists with the full might of the state. The thinking seems to be that limited and targeted action may prevent things escalating due to the retaliatory attacks of the terrorists. If so, the latter are probably going to assist in furthering the clarification of the mindset of the government by not only retaliatory attacks but new and bolder provocations on their own. Since nothing else seems to work in nudging the government in the right if not inevitable direction, i.e. not sparing the bloodthirsty murderers of our people and security forces, we owe a vote of ironic thanks to the terrorists for ‘helping’ the government clarify its clouded thinking.  *

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