Terrorism is again back at center stage. It has raised its ugly head in Baluchistan and KP and taken toll. As if that were not enough. A couple of sitting members of the national assembly led a mob of Pashtun Tahafaz Movement, PTM, and attacked a security post close to the Afghan border.
At its inception the PTM was voicing genuine grievances of the Pushtoon; a fact accepted by the state as well. I hold the view that it was sorely mishandled at that stage. Since the grievances were genuine, these should have been granted immediate redress. But there are always those who feel, most erroneously in my view, that admission of previous errors will be embarrassing and argue in favor of prevarication.
Had even some of those grievances been aggressively redressed, PTM would probably have turned into a unifying force. Instead, security was tightened and their complaints downplayed and, the plaintiffs found a cause and, in due course, the few anti-state elements that are always and inevitably awaiting an opportunity, turned it into a movement.
And, like all such movements, PTM turned ugly. The most recent attack by the PTM was without doubt, reprehensible and despicable. It was intended to turn ugly, as it did. It was intended to result in casualties, dead and alive; and it did. While I am of the view that the PTM could still be salvaged but, I think it is best to let the parliament lead in this situation.
Two important lessons, however, emerge from this series of events. First, a country like Pakistan, with numerous fault-lines, when faced by plaintiffs airing genuine grievances, cannot afford pusillanimity or even indecision. The complaints must be redressed immediately and aggressively before they change a schism to a chasm. Second, is the title above and let me attempt to explain the context.
When an individual, or group, decides for whatever reason that it has become necessary to use force to coerce the state into changing a policy or methodology, he has finally crossed a line. We in Pakistan, are less sensitive to death but, not all individuals can bring themselves to take lives. The insurgent/terrorist must, of necessity, be inured and, in time, indifferent to death; that’s the line they cross.
Obviously, these individuals, though few, draw strength from anonymity, since they cannot be identified but, their cause craves and can only thrive only on publicity. If this be so, how can the state deny them publicity? That is defiance of human rights and is the abhorred censorship. Recently, PM of New Zealand discovered one way; by refusing to name “them”—-the terrorist.
Another aspect of the terrorist’s strength is that every aspect of initiative lies with him. It is impossible to deny terrorists access to all possible targets and, any attempt to do so, would virtually bring life to a standstill; and the terrorist would have won. And, since for him, terrorism is a policy to achieve an end, he cares not, for the damage to property or life. In fact, the greater the damage and the greater the disruption of normal life, the more his success.
It was this realization that caused a British Lt Col to author a book on his experiences in Malaya in 1941/2. His conclusion was that “the purpose of an anti-terrorist campaign is to terrorize more”. American forces in all foreign lands seem to have been influenced by his reasoning. However, this reasoning can never win hearts and minds. Consequently, those unfortunate militaries who are faced with “the enemy within” cannot follow this dictum.
Thus the title. Since initiative lies with the enemy; state forces must seek to cease the initiative from him. To do so, they must rely on actionable and timely intelligence. To do so, the enemy must be infiltrated at multiple levels and locations. To do so, state forces infiltrating the enemy will have to commit those very inhuman acts of terrorism to be credible.
To be able to act on the intelligence provided, rapid response forces must be suitably located to take advantage of the intelligence and must have the degree of mobility and flexibility necessary to act and, for that degree of flexibility, local security force commanders of whatever rank must enjoy the initiative necessary to take action and decide on the quantity and type of force necessary so as to terrorize terrorists more. Only thus far following the Lt Col’s dictum and playing the game on the terrorist’s terms.
However, not by his rules; since state forces cannot afford [to use the reprehensibly ugly American term] collateral damage. And this creates the first dichotomy for the very unfortunate state forces; the same one that was used to justify prevarication against the PTM plaintiff.
On one hand, local commanders must have the desired initiative and, on the other, must be accountable. The greater the accountability, the more limited must be the initiative. How does one balance this? Thus, while we must win while playing on their terms, we have to make our own rules.
This article is not intended to justify the military’s actions in any way. In fact many a soldier might feel I have been harsh on my profession. This merely points out the difficulties in decision making on security matters, even with regard to media control.