The most common approach to deal with insurgencies, terrorism, or internal violence is to use the forces to establish law and order in the affected areas. .In most of the cases, this has not been a successful strategy. Even when these measures are successful in defeating the extremism or terrorism, the human cost associated with military operations is very high. The way out of the current impasse is to promote culture of tolerance and moderation through good governance which is essentially a strategy of social, political and economic reforms .Peshawar school massacre of 16 December 2014 in which nearly 150 children lost their lives, was a watershed event in the history of Pakistan. Prime Minister of Pakistan while announcing the National Action Plan on 25 December 2014 has very rightly said that the December 16 massacre has drawn a line. On one side are coward terrorists and on the side stands the whole nation. This incident changed the thinking of the whole nation. A consensus was developed between the civil and military leadership to clear the country from the menace of terrorism. The uncertain and ambiguous narrative on counter terrorism was replaced with a new united national narrative to curb terrorism. Earlier the diverse and divided counter terrorism narrative created societal confusions and polarizations. As a result, successive Pakistani governments have failed to get public support against terrorists.
The national counter-terrorism narrative should explain the rational of fighting terrorism- why is it necessary to fight the menace of terror and what dangers it will entail for national survival if not properly tackled today. It should highlight the causes and sources of terrorism. Without addressing the causes and sources of terrorism the counter terrorism efforts would not be successful. The war on terrorism cannot be won without support of the population. Counter-narratives are created to fight the war of ideas with the aim being to win hearts and minds of the population. They basically indicate state’s political will and clarity to fight extremism and terrorism. Counter-narratives should clearly establish the government’s credibility before the public as to why their future is with the state rather than with non-state groups. Pakistan’s national counterterrorism narrative can best be described by answering three main questions:Why to counter terrorism?, How to Counter Terrorism? and How to make counterterrorism narrative acceptable and credible?
The best counter terrorism narrative is to convince the people and take them into confidence on the question why is Pakistan fighting terrorism? It can be explained to the people the war on terror is a ‘Just War”. It is a war for our national survival: Terrorism is a hindrance to Pakistan’s development and is the biggest threat to the economic, social, political development of the country. The country has been mauled by the marauding terrorism for well over a decade in which more than 50,000 people both civilians and security personnel have been killed besides an economic loss of US$ 100 billion. Therefore, there should be zero tolerance for terrorism both at state and society level.
The three main arguments that can be included in our counter terrorism narrative are: 1) Terrorists’ arguments regarding implantation of Islam and Shariah are against essence of Islam. They want to impose their brand of Sharia which is certainly not in line with what t is given in Quran and taught by the Holy Prophet (pbuh). They are not following true teachings of Islam Their killing of security forces and innocent masses mainly through suicide bombings are un-Islamic. On several occasions they have violated a ceasefire that compelled the government to launch a full-scale military operation; 2) Terrorists are tarnishing the image of Islam and have created a gulf between the Muslims countries on sectarian basis. They are misguiding local elements by promoting “Takfiri’ thought. They are being used by the enemies of Pakistan and Islam to achieve their strategic objectives creating instability in Pakistan specially to show the world that Pakistan is a failed state and its nuclear assets are unsafe; and 3) the terrorists are anti-development and are posing the biggest threat to the economic, social, political development of the country.
How to Counter Terrorism? is the second important question relating to counter terrorism strategy .The terrorism can best be tackled by undertaking some critical measures that may include: addressing the root causes and sources of terrorism.; highlighting the importance of civil society and public support for counter-terrorism.; critical role of media in fighting terrorists’ ideology; creating Sectarian and ethnic harmony by involving religious scholars and community leaders;. stressing the importance of reforming education system including registration and regulation of Madrasa.; highlighting that terrorism is being used as policy tool by various powers to damage the image of Islam and to create instability in Pakistan; and creating awareness among the masses about the funding of terrorism and that people should be careful while giving donations to charities linked with terrorist organizations.
The National Action Plan is silent on counter-radicalisation to stop more people from joining militant groups. Counter-terrorism is not effective without corresponding counter-radicalisation efforts. A broad based policy to change the extremist mindset and to address the structural factors responsible for expansion of militancy should be formulated. The use of military force should not be considered the only solution to counter terrorism; it is just a short term measure. There is also a need to focus on political, technical and economic policy approaches to curb terrorism.
In order to make counter-terrorism narrative acceptable and credible, there is a need for government to have clarity in its policies with clear description of responsibilities. Any confusion in the thinking of ruling hierarchy or the establishment will not help in developing a strong national counter terrorism narrative. Time for half-baked decisions is over. Only the state can remove this confusion if it shows its resolve to eliminate extremism and terrorism in the society. To ensure its credibility in the masses the government should ensure: good governance, rule of law, no space for militant groups, reforming police and other civil departments and eradication of corruption. The unity and coordination among federal government, provincial governments and the security forces will not only strengthen the national resolve to fight terrorism but it will also give a strong message to the terrorists as well.
Pakistan observer, March 01, 2015.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy.