Najam Sethi in The Friday Times
The Pakistan Army has launched Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad across the country to “indiscriminately eliminate residual threat of terrorism, consolidate gains of operations made thus far and further ensure security of our borders”. The ISPR statement claims that the Army, Navy, Air Force, Civil Armed Forces (Rangers) and other LEAs (police, etc) will participate in this “Broad Spectrum Security/Counter Terrorism operation”.
The key words are, first, “indiscriminately”. This suggests that in earlier operations some terrorist groups and elements were spared for one reason or another but they will be targeted this time round. The second key word is “residual”. This suggests that much of the core work in eliminating terrorism has already been done in the past and only some “cleaning” or “mopping up” remains. The third key word is “Broad Spectrum”. This suggests that operations will be conducted across the country and not just in Fata and Karachi as in the past and that both small and big targets will be fair game. In other words, the operation aims to rid us of all internal and external elements which are creating terrorist anarchy in the country.
If this operation succeeds in even half its stated objectives it would be a great boon for Pakistan. Consider.
In earlier operations, the Pakistani Taliban in Fata and the criminal terrorizing cadres of the MQM in Karachi were targeted. Of late attempts were made to eliminate a handful of leading sectarian elements in the Punjab through police encounters but no systematic attempt was made to uproot the sectarian organisations spread across Southern Punjab. In other words, the actions were discriminatory. One reason may have had to do with the political affiliations of such elements with mainstream parties that stayed the hand of the local administrations. Another may be lack of will in local and provincial governments to face any violent or militant backlash. Are we to understand that now concerted action will be taken against these elements as well? And if action is taken, what sort of action will this be? If sweeping arrests are going to be made without adequately provisioning for successful prosecution, then this will be no more than a temporary palliative because the civil courts will set them free sooner or later. But if summary military courts are to sentence them, then a whole new upgraded legal edifice has to be constructed that is accorded approval by a consensus in parliament and which is not challenged by the superior judiciary. How this is to be accomplished remains to be seen because parliament is still debating the pros and cons of extending the legal cover of military courts for a limited period of time and the Supreme Court has stayed the executions of several terrorists convicted by military courts on one ground or another.
But the problem won’t end even if all this is accomplished quickly and another few hundred are executed or jailed for life. The roots of sectarianism go deep in society and are related to the narrative of “Islamic ideology” that underpins state and society in Pakistan and permeates the political parties, state institutions, education system and media. How on earth are we going to depoliticize Pakistan’s version of Islam in a few years when we have taken six decades to enshrine it as the be-all and end-all, and what it means to be a true Pakistani soaked in this ideology? Operation Radd-ul-Fassad may rid us of a score or two of potent sectarian troublemakers but it will not make a dent in the system that gives birth to and nurtures tens of thousands of such people every year in the bowels of its madrassahs.
The second word “residual” is clearly aimed at the tip of the terrorist iceberg. If the sectarian organisations are the “residual”, what about the jihadi organisations that are unable to stop their “members” from splitting and joining sectarian, IS or TTP groups or infiltrating militants across the border into Indian-held Kashmir? Is the military establishment ready to disband these jihadi groups that trigger the proxy terrorist wars between India and Pakistan? Equally, we may ask whether this operation that claims to secure our border with Afghanistan will target the Haqqani network based in Pakistan and drive it into Afghanistan so that the Afghan government will reciprocate and deny refuge to the TTP that is sending its terrorists across the border to wreak havoc in Pakistan? Like the sectarian organisations that feed off the “narrative” of Pakistan, the jihadis feed off the continuing conflict with India over Kashmir that has now become part and parcel of our national security narrative of India as the perpetual and existential enemy of Pakistan.
These are some of the many thorny questions that remain unaddressed by Radd-ul-Fasaad. Central to the theme of eliminating terrorism is the legitimizing “idea” or “narrative” of Pakistan that feeds into it. On that score, we have not seen any serious initiative by the civil-military establishment that fashioned it in the first place.