Fighting extremism through renewed strategy

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There has been steady spike in terrorists’ attacks in the country in recent months, with Balochistan at the centre of such attacks. While it has been effectively checked in the rest of the country, terrorism activity still continues in Balochistan. Last Friday, a DIG Police and two other policemen were martyred in a suicide attack in Quetta. In most cases, it is the TTP claimed responsibility for the carnages. Besides Quetta, a number of incidents took place in KP as well. Last month in Mirali area of North Waziristan two soldiers lost their lives when a remote-controlled device hit their vehicle. Three days earlier, four Frontier Corps soldiers, including a captain, were martyred in two IED explosions while searching for the Afghan Taliban’s Haqqani network linked militants involved in the kidnapping of an American-Canadian family, which had been freed by Pakistan Army following real time sharing of intelligence by the US forces in Afghanistan. This spike in violence seems to be the desperate reaction of terrorists under attack. In an important development also last month, the mastermind of the APS Peshawar massacre, Abdul Wali alias Khalid Khurasani, was killed along with eight of his commanders in a drone strike in the Afghan province of Paktia. Notably, Khurasani had parted ways with the TTP to form his own organisation, later announcing allegiance to the IS. Yet for long, he had been using Afghan soil for forays into Pakistan whilst the Afghan authorities looked the other way. In fact, he is believed to have been on the payroll of Afghan secret agency, NDS. His elimination following the freeing of US-Canadian family is a sign of the beginning of a much-needed cooperation between Pakistan, the US, and Kabul government. It can be expected that the other TTP groups having safe havens in Afghanistan will be similarly targeted. While it inspires optimism that both sides have come to an understating on the need to join hands to fight the common enemy, it also increases the danger of things getting worse before they get better. Balochistan could be particularly susceptible to terrorist attacks due to two obvious reasons: one, the security situation in the province is a lot less than satisfactory and certain hostile forces make no secret of their designs to hit Pakistan’s vulnerabilities, especially in Balochistan, second, there is a large presence of Afghan refugees some of whom may be willing to facilitate militants. But other parts of the country are not safe either. The government is therefore required to take all necessary measures to effectively deal with any eventuality in any part of the country. Violent extremism is increasingly being viewed as a combined security and development challenge. A long-lasting solution to curbing militancy requires the state to move beyond its national counterterrorism operations and adopt a holistic approach. One way is to promote cultural activities. In this context, activists recently urged the government to allocate at least 1pc of GDP for cultural pursuits given that the arts – and sports – are vital conduits for promoting pluralism and tolerance, especially in communities that are vulnerable to the influence of militancy. They made this recommendation while presenting a new UN report on the impact of fundamentalism on the cultural rights of women, noting that militant groups have a history of violently curtailing artistic expression with their absolutist interpretations of religion. Banning traditional festivities, targeting events at universities, bombing Sufi shrines, killing Swat’s women dancers, attacking actors, musicians and poets all constitute violent acts by militant groups to terrorise populations. Under no circumstances should the government tolerate such direct challenges to its writ by those who compromise the security of its citizenry. When violent forces try to eliminate fundamental cultural rights, the state must not collude with or give in to the will of regressive groups – especially when the latter punish cultural expression, supposedly incompatible with rigid religious interpretations, through campaigns of harassment, abuse and outright violence. To ensure that the values of pluralism and tolerance are ingrained in our counterterrorism strategies, cultural policies reflecting international human values must be adopted. The hydra-headed monster which is militancy and terrorism draws strength primarily from young recruits and marginalised segments of society – this fact alone should be enough for the government to work on ways that complement existing counter-extremism strategies. However, these cannot be peripheral actions. They must form part of national policies deemed critical to creating alternatives for protecting our youth from all forms of radicalisation. Meanwhile, experts say that although there have been quite a few high-profile attacks since the carnage at Army Public School, Peshawar, most strikes have been described by security officials as ‘hit-and-run’ operations. The latest pattern, therefore, exhibits increased coordination and better planning. As security strategists sit down to analyse the attacks, an essential element in their breakdown of the events would be the claims of responsibility of the attacks.

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