Editorial: Counter-terrorism in a divided land

6 04 2009

Sorce DAWN NEWS

The suicide-bomber who killed eight Frontier Constabulary men on Margalla Road in Islamabad two days ago was successful because the man appointed as guard in the camp thought he could leave his post during meals. In 2008, the truck that blew up the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad had taken the heavily guarded “high-security” Margalla Road because the security force stationed there thought it could leave its positions to break the Ramadan fast. In both cases the force knew that an attack was imminent.

The state can multiply the police force manifold but unless the quality of its recruits is raised, counter-terrorism strategy will be a failure. Pakistan can get any amount of money if it wants to raise the quality of its security forces through better salaries and higher educational qualification. In Lahore at Manawan the police recruits said that they were not even properly fed during training. Only an educated and “rational” security person will know that he can’t leave his post during meals and that his religion allows him relaxation of namaz and fasting during a life-and-death emergency.

Today the fact is that Baitullah Mehsud can attack a Friday congregation in a mosque and still be trusted as a “good Muslim” by sections of the population and media but the security forces cannot be relied upon to prevent their faith from becoming an impediment in the fight against terrorism. When Baitullah Mehsud says he has not done a certain act of terrorism, he is believed, adding to the deception and savagery of the violence done in the name of Islam. The latest proof of his strategy of false propaganda came when he claimed the killing of 13 innocent people at a New York immigration centre this week. The killer was in fact a Vietnamese.

It has been observed in the wake of 9/11 that Muslim terrorists find it easier and strategically useful to attack and kill Muslims. Mounting a terrorist attack in the US after 2001 and in the UK after 2005 has been difficult. Attempts made by Al Qaeda since then have been unsuccessful although the terrorists succeeded in coming to Pakistan and taking their training and indoctrination here. Killing Muslims in Muslim lands produces sympathy rather than fear and loathing. Fundamentally it is public fear and loathing which leads to better counter-terrorism efforts. This has been proved by unsuccessful Al Qaeda attempts in the US, Europe and Russia.

As terror becomes widespread in Pakistan — another incident happened Saturday when some JUI activists closed down a dancing event in Larkana, and on Sunday morning at an Imam Bargah in Chakwal — sympathy for the terrorists has arisen in Lahore instead of declining. Sympathetic terrorist incidents aimed at closing down theatres and music shops have increased. The video showing the lashing of a 17-year-old girl has united civil society but divided the media and the intelligentsia. At least two leading journalists of a major newspaper group have illustrated the dilemma of a nation trapped in terrorism it can’t clearly define in moral terms.

Reacting to the Pakistan-wide condemnation of the Swat Taliban, the chief reporter of the said group warned that the nation was “thinking like America” and referred to Sura Nisa to prove that the whipping punishment meted out in Swat was right. By ignoring the question of “authority” — a fundamental condition under Islam — he asked the nation to accept the legal status of whoever it was who ordered the whipping. Another TV anchor who does a popular “monologue” programme pointed out that the Swat whipping had brought the “humanist-Islamic” divide in Pakistan. A pro-Taliban leader in Swat also said on TV that the “roshan khayal” (enlightened) elements of the country were aligned with America and their NGOs were leading the assault against Islamic values.

Despite the nation-wide condemnation, the whipping incident is gradually becoming victim of the national division over terrorism. Are we being killed because we are fighting America’s war; or are we dying because the terrorists want to take over the country? The media is heavily tilted along with the opposition politicians in favour of the first cause. Civil society is being heavily influenced by the TV channels and is becoming vulnerable to the rhetoric of retired army officers who say terrorism can’t be fought and the correct policy is to fight the Americans out of Afghanistan instead of fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban out of Pakistan.

Terrorism has to be fought, if not as terrorism than as a law and order problem. If the state wants to survive it must raise a strong security force that will face the terrorists and lay down the law. *

Second Editorial: Uniting to kill Baitullah Mehsud

According to a reported intelligence source, “Pakistan and the US have agreed to stage a joint operation to kill local Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud”. The effort will include intelligence from Pakistan about Mehsud’s movements, with the aim of guiding a missile attack from an American drone. It is said that it took Pakistan time to persuade Washington to target Mehsud and abandon its earlier drone policy of not attacking elements who are not directly involved in raids across the Durand Line.

The Americans have likely agreed to cooperate on Mehsud after twice ignoring precise triangulation of Mehsud’s movement by Pakistan. The earlier American policy of letting Mehsud wreak havoc in Pakistan was flawed. His men literally drove NATO supply logistics out of Pakistan by attacking the truck convoys outside Peshawar. His men also spread from Khyber to Orakzai to Kurram and were able to increase Mehsud’s capacity to challenge America in Afghanistan and, finally, inside the United States. He is in his early 30s and dangerous precisely because he has acquired power without the maturity to use it judiciously. Before he goes down, he is bound to do a lot of damage to both Pakistan and America.

What Baitullah Mehsud is doing together with his master organisation Al Qaeda is global terrorism. If he is killing Pakistanis today, tomorrow he will be killing others all over the world. Pakistan can tackle him but lacks the technological capacity and funds to prepare itself for the job. It is joined with the advanced nations of the world in the fight against global terror, more or less like it is united with the world against such endemic diseases as polio and smallpox. Had Pakistan refused to join the world against the latter two diseases, a large percentage of its population would have died by now. *

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