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OP-ED: New Roadmaps

Published by Global Village Space 13 March 2017

With the Armed Forces to protect the borders - agencies to safeguard its national interests and weaponry to deter military invasions, Pakistan can honestly say that its security is in good hands. Generally this would be enough for conventional warfare. It now needs its citizen’s support to tackle the new age phenomena of terrorism. For that there must be a narrative in place and it should have no ambiguity this time around.

The decade long war efforts have been marred by confusion, dissent, resistance and doubts. Whether it is foreign agencies or home-grown networks in the payroll pulling the strings – their support system lay within. And that is where the fight also lies. And though the ‘hidden hands’ remained the go to theory, the spotlight never could stay for long on the sympathizers, financers, facilitators that walk among us. A vicious and unrelenting terror campaign failed to bring the political leadership on the same page.

The time to have the conversation was perhaps a decade ago when militants first declared war on Pakistan. But the floor is still open and citizens must be brought in on the loop. And while there are awareness campaigns regularly beamed across the airwaves; emergency hotlines set up; while movie theaters air promos warning about suspicious people, acts, and packages - beseeching the public to do its part, more needs to be done.
There is the morale for starters.

1. First restore the public’s confidence in the States ability to safeguard their life and property. While the sight of Rangers patrolling the streets may set a few minds at ease, and rewards for exemplary performance for departments (CTD) that saved Karachi make residents breathe easier, pouring in resources in upgrading and streamlining the system will go a long way in getting the people’s attention.

The citizens must not feel their security is secondary to a privileged few. They will need reassurances. Standing in the midst of a crumbling infrastructure and hearing about the blatant misuse of funds when nothing around them functions is asking too much. In the case of the Sehwan bombing in February 2017, medical facilities were lacking. In any crisis, rescue efforts generally leave much to be desired. Navy helicopters and PAF C-130s had to be called in to airlift the injured from the shrine. Rangers and Army assisted in the efforts. Against that bleak backdrop, the decision to upgrade Sindh’s bomb disposal squad needs to be highlighted and mirrored across the provinces. And community uplift projects and investments in public safety should be visible to boost confidence.

Pakistan has seen war before. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to MM Alam, Younus, Aziz Bhatti and Rafiqui etc. Their exceptional courage and powerful legacy motivated citizens to pull their weight, survive trenches, endure blackouts; enroll for military training in schoolyards and line up for blood drives. People had faith in the system and it was repaid. The theme of patriotism remains the mainstay and sacrifices of their men are never far from mind. Also, the sight of containers, security gates; check-posts and sniffer dogs is the new norm. And HUMNIT can only do so much.

But sub-conventional warfare cannot be fought by sophisticated flying machines, unmanned drones or covert ops alone. It will need the public’s cooperation and support and round the clock vigilance from LEAs. Operations launched to rid the land of terror once limited to badlands have now gone nationwide. ‘Radd-ul-Fasaad’ plans to take the fight to the enemy within. It includes, among other things, a deweaponisation drive that could alter the dynamics particularly of the tribal belt that serves as a veritable arms bazar.

2. The first order of business will be to reinforce the message put out in the aftermath of APS massacre – Dec 2014. That it is either us or them; that the ‘they’ in question walk among us and this is a fight to the end. That message keeps getting lost in the din. And once the enemy has been identified, take care that accusations of profiling do not mar the process. Mistakes that can sow division will have to be instantly rectified. Reports of profiling Pashtuns and Afghan refugees recently surfaced that could have potentially damaging consequences for provincial harmony- such as it is. If the stories are false, they need to be rebutted immediately. If it’s a case of miscommunication, retract and amend the statement. For if an entire community believes it is being persecuted or feels ostracized, any efforts made to rally support will ultimately fail should it lose the core audience.

3. The role of LEA’s at the front line may have undergone a dramatic shift. Yet the wall of suspicion between people and those entrusted to serve and protect them remains intact. And fixing that breach may help make their jobs a little easier. Laudatory comments regarding security forces at the PSL Super League held in Lahore recently are a refreshing sight. That good will must not be squandered. As the first line of defense, security agencies need to be outfitted, trained and prepared for the tempest and their sacrifices acknowledged, and PAF’s newly minted Uqaab force ready to fight alongside law enforcement comes at an opportune time.
Counter terrorism has a steep learning curve and since terrorists adapt and evolve accordingly, so must the security plans. It can never be truly foolproof. But the State should be able to truthfully say that they did their very best. Terror took time to manifest. And will take time to die out. Patience will be expected.

4. The stakeholders concerns must have a place in this new world order. Where there are mistakes and lapses do not cover up. Own up and allow for an open discourse. Use them as a sounding board. A short on France 24 regarding the Swat makeover also added a less than flattering portrait of the saviors in the post Taliban valley. It was based on interviews with disgruntled elders afraid their land was being usurped by the military stationed there to protect them.

Grievances can be exploited. Trivializing them would be a mistake. A sympathetic approach will ensure that residents who have endured so much and form the heart of resistance are not disheartened or disillusioned. Strong arming opposition and media blackouts are never the solution.

Such missteps aside, the resilience of the nation has never been doubted. And it must be clarified that the people are in it for the long haul; that they will not be left to fend for themselves - the defenders will be there with them every step of the way. They must also know that a constant state of red alert is unrealistic. And it is not a deterrent. Every soft target cannot be manned; every single person / vehicle cannot be searched. Getting the nation on board is key, and citizens need to be engaged on all fronts.
It may not look it but Pakistan is on war footing, which means that smallest mistakes can be extremely costly and any dereliction of duty can lead to mass casualties.

5. If there are CCTV cameras they must be functional; ditto for the handheld scanners and walk through metal detectors. Sindh Chief Ministers’ statements about how load shedding reportedly affected the video quality of cameras along with claims that Sehwan’s security had been compromised due to some unnamed VVIP’s need to be investigated. And at the same time ensure that there is zero tolerance for a breach of security protocols – for any misuse of power that could jeopardize public safety. Checks and balances should be enforced on an equal basis for the Minister, the Major and the common man. It is the only way to ensure compliance. A political party head being subjected to snap checking in Karachi just like any other mortal is a good precedent.

Perhaps a dose of accountability might help remove doubts about the States sincerity in reforming the system. That accountability extends to the citizens as well. Once they stop searching for scapegoats and start looking inwards – the support system that permits values incompatible with their founding fathers vision will start losing its patrons.

With mass surveillance and draconian laws - privacy is no longer an inalienable right. Citizens agree to forego freedom and face inconveniences (mobile jammers, random searches, excruciating delays) for the sake of their collective safety. With ten Security breaches in the span of 2 weeks – confidence in the system has been understandably shaken. And the outpouring of sympathy and support is conspicuously absent from the global scene.

The world does not see Pakistan as the victim of terror perhaps because the specter of hardliner mullah, corrupt politicians, urban legends of proxies and loyalty issues always rise unbidden. The return of Cricket at such a juncture has overturned that narrative if for a little while. It has also rejuvenated the flagging spirit and sent a powerful message to the world. That Pakistan’s head may be bloody – but it is unbowed.

Unprecedented security measures came into play to make the PSL dream a reality. Such a costly template may not be recommended for every event because of the extraordinary drain on resources. It may not have been the wisest move to hold sporting events in the midst of suicide bombings – but in hindsight it becomes a significant game-changer in the way Pakistan is perceived and how its citizens respond to the clarion calls for unity.

This could be an opportunity to build a better Pakistan based on equality and justice for all since its CPEC inspired dreams of economic prosperity are dependent on assuring its integrity.
And said integrity can only be guaranteed by clearing the debris of sectarian violence, social disparity, and religious bigotry. Defeating such a complex threat with global outreach will require joint operations across the board– but at least the State can make it easier to identify toxic elements and choke the supply-lines. There is still time. The threat of terrorism has already pushed Karachi to clean up its act. Ideally a visionary leadership should be on hand to guide their flock to safety. In this case, a series of CBM’s and proof of an iron resolve would have to do.

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