How should we tackle the menace of terrorism plaguing ‘The Land of Pure’? Confusion surrounds us when we try to look for an answer to it. First we have un-ending list of conspiracy theories of Taliban being Indian, American and Israeli agents. Then we have mainstream right wing parties i.e. Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN), Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and Jamat-e-Islami (JI) who are ardent supporters of negotiating with the terrorists and going to extent of even providing offices to them. On the other hand we have mainstream left wing parties i.e. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Awami National Party (ANP) and Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) who have historically supported operations against terrorists but exhibiting confused politics on the issue for last one year or so.
Although a firm understanding of the past events does not guarantee avoidance of its failures and faults, understanding the past and its patterns augments one’s ability to analyse the present and the future. The activity of historical analysis is embedded in daily lives of human beings. The Judges cannot draft a judgement without understanding relevant precedents. Doctors cannot make a sound diagnosis without first taking a medical history. Sports coaches cannot develop game plans without analysing the past strategies of the opponents. Top management of the companies cannot reposition their companies without understanding market and sales history. Banks cannot loan to borrowers without checking credit history.
Do we have historical precedents to deal with the menace of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and terrorism? The answer is, yes we have. Let’s try to dig in some recent history and find out what history teaches us.
History Lesson: Unsuccessful peace talks, success of military operations and its results
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or Tamil Tigers was a rebellion militant organisation based in Northern SriLanka. Over the years its campaign evolved into a civil war from 1983 to 2009 until it was defeated by SriLankan Army. Tamils Tigers were the actually the ones who invented the suicide belts and pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks. SriLankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa and ex-Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were assassinated by the Tigers. SriLankans bore the brunt of the military and terrorist activities of this group. The economy and tourism of the country suffered in particular. In case any one remembers, the cricket teams of Australia and West Indies did not tour SriLanka during the 1996 Cricket World Cup. The Government of SriLanka was involved in four rounds of unsuccessful peace talks during this whole conflict. After the breakdown of the peace process in 2006, the SriLankan Army launched a major offensive against the Tigers, defeating them militarily and brining the entire country under its control. The most important fact from this historical event is the role of Pakistani Army and Air Force who lend help to SriLankan Government and Army. PAF attacked the major bases of LTTE and destroyed them completely. SriLankan Government declared victory in 2009 and since then the country’s economy is booming and progressing leaps and bounds.
History Lesson: An integrated action plan of operation and peace process
A movement of ‘Naxalites’, a guerrilla group, started in West Bengal of India. This group was radical communist and supportive of the Maoist political sentiment and ideology. Over the years this movement expanded out of West Bengal to over eight or nine states of India. This movement transformed into a militant one with a sizable number of armed-cadre Naxalites operating in a number of states. Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, declared them to be the most serious internal threat to India’s national security. In February 2009, The Indian Central Government announced a nation-wide initiative to be called the ‘Integrated Action Plan’ (IAP) for broad and coordinated operations aimed at dealing with Naxalites in all affected states. In 2010 operation was started in which over fifty thousand security personnel participated and pushed Naxalites back to their bases. Indian Government after gaining upper hand, offered peace talks but instead of accepting it the Naxalites asked Government to pull back its forces from the states. The IAP included funding for grass-roots economic development projects in Naxalite-affected areas, as well as increased special police funding for the better containment and reduction of Naxalite influence in the areas.
History Lesson: Peace talks from a position of strength
‘The Troubles’ is the common name for the ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that spilled over at various times into the Republic of Ireland, England and Mainland Europe. The conflict was mainly about constitutional authority. ‘Unionists’ who were in majority and belonged to Protestants sect wanted to remain under United Kingdom. On the other hand ‘Nationalists and Republicans’ belonging to Catholic sect were in minority and wanted to become part of Republic of Ireland. Irish Republican Army (IRA) was an Irish republican revolutionary military organisation which intended to end British rule in Northern Ireland and reunite Ireland. The political wing of IRA was known as ‘Sinn Fien’. With passage of time the conflict evolved from a militant one to political one. Negotiations started between all the parties involved in 1996 and ended in 1998 in form of an agreement called ‘Belfast Agreement’. The notable events here were the two events of ceasefire: First in 1994 by Loyalists and Republican Paramilitaries and second started in 1996 by IRA. The key point to note here is British Government refused to begin all-party negotiations until IRA decommissioned its weapons.
For conspiracy theory lovers, if TTP are Indian, Israeli or American agents then there is no point of peace talks. If they are our own people then they are challenging the writ of the state and need to be dealt with iron hand as all the past peace talks have been unsuccessful. Peace talks are offered from a position of strength not weakness.
We have a recent example of successful operations carried out by Pakistan Army in 2010 in Swat during the tenure of the last government. The operation was carried out after breach of peace agreement from Taliban. It was a great exhibiting of strategy, planning and execution. Army cleared the area from TTP, the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) returned home and area is now again buzzing with tourists from all around the country.
No more ifs and buts. It’s time to take action against TTP and terrorists. Operations may cause collateral damage but we have to decide whether we have to bear this ‘one time collateral damage’ or hundreds of years of damage from Taliban and their mind-set.
This blog was published for Pak Tea House.
This article was also carried in ‘Prabhat Khabar’ a leading Hindi Newspaper. Please check it here: ‘Tackling TTP, Lessons from History’ published in Prabhat Khabar