PAKISTAN’S ‘war on terrorism’ is over four months old. What has been achieved? What remains to be done?

The Pakistan Army’s Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan has cleared most of the agency of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other terrorist and militant organisations. While the TTP was the main target, other groups co-located there — Al Qaeda, the Haqqanis, Uzbeks and Uighurs — have also come under attack and been obliged to vacate North Waziristan. The ‘infrastructure of terrorism’ which existed there — training camps, arms caches, communications facilities — has been destroyed.

Over 3,000 less publicised operations have been conducted in Pakistan’s major and minor cities to round up TTP and other terrorists. More than 4,000 terrorists have been killed and hundreds captured in these operations. As a result of the military pressure, the TTP has split into several factions. Some of them have disavowed violence against Pakistan.

The TTP and its affiliates are ‘on the run’, as evident from the sharp decline in the frequency of terrorist attacks. The Wagah bombing against the soft target of innocent civilians had all the hallmarks of an act of desperation. Most importantly, Pakistani public opinion is firmly behind the anti-terrorist campaign. The Wagah slaughter has strengthened this domestic consensus.

Many of Pakistan’s security challenges are linked to the situation beyond its borders.
Several imposing internal challenges remain. Some heavily forested and inaccessible areas of North Waziristan remain to be fully cleared of terrorist bands hiding out there. This will involve tough military operations. Some of the terrorists still have to be smoked out from their urban hideouts. Sectarian violence by extremist groups allied to the TTP has been contained but not eliminated.

The anti-terror gains will be sustainable only if these are followed by a political, social and economic programme that halts the financing of terrorism, counters the TTP’s narrative, addresses legitimate grievances, creates jobs and infrastructure and promotes the eventual reintegration of past or potential terrorist recruits. This must be a high priority for Pakistan’s civilian and military leaders.

However, the major remaining challenges facing Pakistan’s war on terrorism have an external dimension.

The TTP and most of its leaders and affiliates have escaped to ‘safe havens’ in Afghanistan. It is uncertain whether the rump US-Nato forces or the Afghan National Army have the capacity or the inclination to restrain the cross-border raids by the TTP and its affiliates against Pakistan. Unless they do so, Pakistan may need to exercise its right of ‘hot pursuit’ to root out these militants from their Afghan safe havens. This is a crucial issue where Islamabad expects the cooperation of the new Kabul government, the US and others interested in stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the region. In exchange Pakistan can offer full support to the Afghan ‘unity government’ and, if it desires, assistance in promoting reconciliation within Afghanistan.

In this context, Pakistan, for its part, should accord high priority to breaking the links between Mullah Omar and the Haqqanis with the TTP, Al Qaeda and their affiliates, such as the East Turkmenistan Independence Movement.

Pakistan’s commitment to defeat Etim is vital, given its strategic relationship with China. It is sad that during President Ashraf Ghani’s recent visit to China, the Afghan Directorate of National Intelligence — which was caught red-handed last year collaborating with the TTP, to which Etim has strong links — has attempted to shift the blame for Etim’s activities on to Pakistan. This will fail to sow mistrust between Pakistan and China. But such continued mischief by the Afghan intelligence agency cannot but perpetuate mistrust between Islamabad and Kabul.

Likewise, the politics of counterterrorism with India is complex. Obviously, Pakistan should do everything possible to rein in pro-Kashmiri jihadis such as the outlawed Lashkar-e-Taiba from undertaking violent adventures against India. At the same time, Pakistan must require the Indians to halt their clandestine support for elements of the TTP and the Balochistan Liberation Army from Afghan territory. Instead of circulating baseless allegations against Pakistan for using the LeT as a proxy, as a recent Pentagon report did, the US should be working overtime to broker an understanding between Pakistan and India to eschew support for terrorist violence against each other.

Unfortunately, the Modi government’s objectives and actions in India-held Kashmir have not made such an understanding for mutual restraint easier. Protests have erupted in Kashmir with increasing frequency against India, including for Delhi’s indifference to Kashmiri suffering during the summer floods and the recent drive-by shooting of innocent Kashmiris.

If the BJP’s aims to instal a Hindu chief minister in Srinagar and trifurcate the region (into Ladakh, Jammu and the Kashmir Valley) are implemented, the history of the aftermath of the 1989 elections may repeat itself: massive Kashmiri Muslim protests, Indian repression, militant violence, Indian accusations against Pakistan and a full-blown Pakistan-India crisis with all its attendant dangers.

To address internal terrorism and the Afghan and Indian dimensions of counterterrorism, Pakistan needs tranquil and friendly ties with Tehran. Despite their other preoccupations, Pakistan’s security forces must regain full control in Balochistan and expel Jundallah and allied Sunni extremist groups operating against Iran. There is little doubt about covert external support to both the BLA and the anti-Iran groups. Tough security measures and muscular diplomacy should be deployed by Pakistan to eliminate such external subversion.

The international community has obviously not yet evaluated the complex and evolving dynamics of terrorism in this region. It is vital that the major powers, especially the US, China and Russia, understand and respond to these complex dynamics.

The counterterrorism agenda in this region should incorporate: defeating and destroying the TTP and its Al Qaeda and Etim associates; severing their links with the Afghan Taliban; promoting Afghan reconciliation through talks supported by Pakistan, Iran and the major powers; evolving an understanding for mutual restraint between Pakistan and India and retraction of the BJP’s dangerous strategy in Kashmir, and an end to eternally inspired subversion against Iran.

Pakistan, which is engaged in the largest and so far most successful anti-terrorist operation in the region, is not the ‘problem’; it can be a significant part of the ‘solution’ to regional and global terrorism.

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.