Our history of terrorism is as old as our willingness to use violence to affect politics. We have inherited and are still facing different forms of terrorism since Zia’s era of political Islamisation and the Soviet Afghan war. Currently we are at war with a terrorist movement fueled by a radical ideology of injustice, oppression, and socio-economic disparity.
Countering terrorism has been on the agenda of our civil and military establishment for decades. We have devised multiple strategies to eradicate this menace from our soil. From intelligence gathering to intelligence-based operations and banning militant organizations to military operations, every time our efforts to curb militancy seemed to fail while terrorist attacks continued. From Rah-e-Nijat to Rah-e-Rast and from Zarb-e-Azb to Radd-ul-Fassad, we come up with a new name with the same old ideology.
We do not seem to have learnt anything from past. Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it; and that is exactly what we are doing. We are still trying to remove the stains of blood with blood – impossible. Gandhi once said, “an eye for eye will make the world blind’.
We will have to change our mindset to address this turmoil. At least now we should realise that defeating terrorism with purely militaristic mindset is not possible. We have been trying this actively for at least four decades but time and again there are instances that expose all the persisting gaps and vulnerabilities in our security infrastructure along with the mindset. We keep on doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for a different result each time.
We should devise a multipronged strategy covering all aspects and reasons of terrorism rather than terrorism itself. We should put all the stakeholders together and ask of the causes and conditions that create a favourable climate for terrorism.
We have often mistakenly associated terrorism with religious fanaticism, or with a particular sect of religion or ethnicity. Terrorists have no religion and ethnicity. Every religion discourages violence practiced in any form and dissociates itself from those who commit their actions under its shelter. It is more of a greed driven phenomenon rather than belief driven.
We should start from the prevailing social and economic injustice – poverty, unequal distribution of wealth and discrimination – the root causes of terrorism. Almost all the resources of this country are being controlled, governed, and invested by a handful of ruling elite according to their priorities and stakes. When the budget of a single train line in Lahore will be several times higher than the developmental budget of the whole of FATA, the obvious result will be monopoly and socio-economic disparity. As this inequality grows, naturally more and more people are becoming desperate. When someone is stripped of his rights, he will be persuaded to look for alternative means of achieving them and when he cannot have his rights through fair legal means, he will be forced to believe that he has no other choice but violence.
If only half of the amount of money wasted on wars was invested in education and healthcare, the results would have been different. Our education system, especially the one in religious seminaries, needs reforms and this is the prime need of the hour. The billions of rupees spent on advertising roads and flyovers, can really make a difference if invested in socio-economic well being of the under privileged.
Government should invest its time and resources to investigate how this militancy is being financed. Without adequate sources of finance, terrorism is simply unsustainable. The arms and ammunition used in terror activities and the paid ‘volunteers’ being hired for training camps and co-ordination – all need money. We will have to trace and eliminate those sources providing financial cover to the militants. Funds channeled to the extremist organisations in the name of charity and religious donations, also need to be traced.
Similarly, corruption facilitates/feeds terrorism and both are proportionately interlinked. The black money generated through bribe, corruption and tax evasion is susceptible to being used for terror financing. Continuous increase in black economy and financial corruption puts a question mark on our fight against terrorism.
FATA, GB, Azad Kashmir and Balochistan need development on equal basis. People of FATA are facing wars and militancy for more than past four decades. They also deserve peace, stability and development. Developmental projects should be initiated in these under-developed areas with special focus on infrastructure, health, and education. Economic zones should be made with special incentives to bring them at par with the rest of Pakistan.
Fighting terrorism requires endurance, special counter terrorism, and countering socio-economic factors along with the intelligence and swift operations. Peace does not mean just to end violence, but also to end oppression, injustice, and hypocrisy. Without controlling the increasing disparity and economic inequality, our dream to fight terrorism will just be a dream.