Every nation encounters a turning point in their history, which at times becomes its defining moment. The rise and fall of nations are defined by the decisions they take at critical junctures. In the past 15 years, since the start of the US led, Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, Pakistan became an open victim of a ruthless menace. The beast of terrorism was unleashed with full ferocity, resulting into heart wrenching stories, filled with pain and agony. The nation of Pakistan suffered greatly, not only from continuous attacks of terrorism, but its destructive effect amplified through other means of non-kinetic warfare.
Ironically, even these gruesome attacks could not wake the Pakistani nation from the slumber of indolence, while the leading characters of the nation remained in a state of confusion about the enemy with its thousand faces. Countless analyses, seminars, round table talks, books, thesis and talk shows could not build up a narrative against the enemy. Helplessness against the terrorists’ narrative has been justified with different theories, reality is denied with an approach of quick fix, and our commanders from the intellectual brigade have tried to repel the attacks of terrorists with empty cannons, and with an already defeated mindset.
From early counter-terrorism efforts to the formation of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), and then to the implementation of National Action Plan (NAP), the story of failures continues; needless to talk about legislative issues on terrorism. The nation, after the Peshawar APS attack, resurged somewhat from its deep slumber, showed resolve in the fight against terrorism, put its weight behind the counter-terrorism efforts of major stake holders, and mandated them to carry out all that was needed to uproot this evil that has hounded us since very long. APS became a turning point for Pakistan; whether it will become a defining one – remains to be seen.
Experiencing the horrors of terrorism first hand, while exchanging views with hard core terrorists, travelling in areas where stories of horror were orchestrated, I had the chance to explore terrorist networks, their working mechanism, methodologies and most of all their ideologies. There were times, when I empathized with them and there were moments when disgust and darkness surrounded the environment. I remained in a state of confusion until the debacle of Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) took place.
The war of narratives turned ugly, when a severe trust deficit was encountered between two important stake-holders, at daggers drawn, i.e., scholars of contemporary studies standing against religious scholars. Where both could have built a strong defense line for our society and the nation, unfortunately both became victims of psychological warfare and added fuel to the fire on different occasions. The dichotomy of narratives against a common enemy resulted into the infamous terminology of “faceless enemy”; hence the chaos and anarchy!
What has been missing in our efforts? For us, it is the collaborative effort of practitioners from both ends, which can dissect through the ideologies, methodologies, and mechanism of these terrorist networks. Only then a concrete effort can be presented to policy makers, legislators, and the military establishment to counter the terrorists on their own turf. The material we intend to present through this series is an effort to bridge the gap between two segments of our social fabric, to present a joint effort, and construct a strong narrative on terrorism and its branches.
Dynamics of Terrorism have been discussed in our institutions domestically and globally with much detail, but for some reasons, our researchers, policy makers and legislators have failed in their attempts at a thorough investigation into this newly induced Terrorism inside Pakistan, which started after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. The US approach of quick fix remained the line of action for all other effected countries.
Terrorism has its own history; some believe it is as old as the history of mankind. If we go through different studies, it is quite interesting to note that the damage caused by terrorism has never surpassed the damage or casualties of routine life. Accidents, diseases, natural calamities, even routine criminal incidents have larger statistics compared to acts of terrorism, but human beings have always been more apprehensive and frightened of terrorism. One can forget the number of deaths in a road accident but cannot ignore a bomb blast or a suicide attack. A single deliberate act of terrorism has greater psychological effect then routine incidents of homicide, and it is this reason perhaps that has changed the course of history for many nations.
There are different theories, psychological and social analysis on the issue of terrorism by scholars around the world, despite their differences regarding a single definition; however, the agreed upon factor is that, “it a tool to manifest and incept fear in human minds”. Whether it is to break down an individual, society, nation or a whole civilization, the oldest tool used and the basic concept is the same – striking fear in the minds of individuals.
Terrorism however has evolved with the passage of time, in its dynamics, methodologies and tactics. With respect to countering and combating terrorism, there are different theories and notions by scholars around the world, especially in post 9-11 scenario, terrorism and security is the main subject of concern for all major players around the globe. Some are of the view that terrorism cannot be eliminated completely but it can be reduced to a level of “nuisance”, as it was in the pre 9-11 era. Others believe it should be followed, hunted down, and should be eliminated by all means.
There are two modules of terror networks:
a) Ideological Methodology – Developing the “will to kill”
b) Operational Methodology – Based on ideology and learning from intra terrorist networks, carrying out operational activities, i.e. “how to kill”
The problem with these theories is that instead of discerning these two modules of terrorist networks, the policy makers often inter mix the two, thus could never find a sustainable solution to dry out the supply line of human resource for such networks. These debates and policies that surface from time to time also lack the basic ingredient to chalk out a policy with perfect combinations of different strategies and tactics. That basic component is to understand the dynamics of a society, particularly in current case, the Muslim society. The approach of quick fix always takes over rationale, and blocks the way of forward thinking.
Although the two modules are often discussed in scholarly debates but James JF Forest in his book, “Teaching Terror”, has discussed these two modules in different capacities explicitly, something that is seldom available in other scholarly reviews. However, James JF Forest also seems to have missed out a fact – the “priority” of these networks. The operational methodology is discussed more in all counter-terrorism initiatives, strategies and policies, but that which is more lethal has been given less importance. The volume of damage is therefore escalating!
Those who have been associated with these terror networks know very well, that for every terrorist network, comrades with the “will to kill” are more important than the people with operational knowledge. Ironically, while talking about dynamics of current wave of terrorism, often labeled as “Islamic Terrorism”, Muslim scholars and experts from the same society are not taken onboard while chalking out a joint CT policy. There have been some attempts of taking religious figures on board in the execution of different action plans, but only half-hearted.
A counter- narrative is the key to dry out the supply line of these networks; an effective outcome does not lie in uprooting the operational infrastructure, but in uprooting and countering the ideological methodology of the terrorist networks. This unfortunately has not been focused on, even in countries most affected by this wave of terrorism.
U.S. and its allies declared a “war on terror”. They perhaps had clear notions of their “enemy” and objectives. They had the vision and mission of “saving their way of life”, but countries like Pakistan faced more destruction, because of the dichotomy of narratives in their war on terror. The confusion between right and wrong, the misleading approaches and ideas, and exploitation of fault lines by external enemies, compounded the threat, which perhaps our society never faced before.
War was declared in Pakistan, in blind emulation of the international community, while the enemy remained a “faceless enemy”. The decision makers perhaps missed the basic point that war has certain dynamics; it is waged to win and it is only declared against an enemy who is visible, who holds territory, and who can be defeated openly and clearly. Instead, they declared a war against an enemy, who even until now, has not been defined properly. Some labeled the enemy as “innocent reactionaries”, others “our own people, angry at the government’s policies”, while a third lot declared them “invincible forces”, creating false legends out of them. Thus, officials busy in combating them on field have been often concerned about their actions against the “pious lot”, confusing them with the lot of actual scholars and their followers.
This is probably the sole reason that this menace has grown out of proportion, from the level of ‘nuisance’ to the level of chaos and anarchy for the nation. Policies bearing a vague understanding will further lead the nation into the abyss of darkness. Therefore, policy makers should realize a long term strategic solution to counter misleading theories and apprehensions revolving around this war on terror. The sooner we understand this, and address a clear narrative on terrorism, coupled with radicalization, the better.
This article has already been published in a previous issue of Stratagem magazine