The incident in Lahore on March 3, 2009 where unidentified gunmen opened fire on the bus carrying the Sri Lankan cricketers is probably an eye-opener that the situation across the border is more complex than we imagine it to be. The attack that comes after the ever increasing international pressure on the government of Pakistan to take stock of the security situation not only with respect to bringing the perpetrators of the attack on Mumbai to justice but also the situation in the Swat valley and the FATA region has probably again raised the urgent need of a joint and urgent international action to wipe out the ugly head of terrorism.
The attack demonstrates amply how local terrorist outfits are steadily increasing their reach in Pakistan and the cause for concern especially for India is that this was no Frontier Province Area but Lahore, just a few hundred kilometres from Amritsar. It is here where the debate arises, the question of the Pakistan government’s relative failure to tackle the problem head first. Some might argue that the attack might have come as retaliation after 6-7 LeT operatives were arrested by the police in connection with the Mumbai attack but surely this simple an explanation does not seem to suffice. The imposition of Shariah law in the Swat was probably necessary as a means to buy some time and bring short term stability to the region but the abduction and killing of a prominent journalist, Musa Khankhel, days after the truce aggravates fears of breakdown of the truce and human rights violations especially with women due to tension between rival militant factions.
It is more plausible to believe that the truce process was probably a weak attempt by the government to stop the militancy from crossing over to Punjab where it might have received popular support due the influence of the clerics. The question that the government does want to take concrete actions in Swat is to keep the Jehadi faction alive as an option to fall back upon in case the situation in Afghanistan changes. The time has indeed come for the Zardari government to take concrete steps and show the international community that the political will to wipe out the ugly head of terrorism/religious extremism exists. For a start it would do well to track down the militants who as Ajmal Amir Kasab has admitted were trained along with him and who are probably in Pakistan right now planning another attack somewhere, sometime. It is also important for the government not to lose its authority in the Swat while at the same time let the autonomy function under a watchful eye. It would do well in co-operating with the RAW, the CIA and the INTERPOL in sharing intelligence and sensitive information and not keep harping about how the government and the ISI are capable of handling the issue at hand because the world does not seem to have ample proof of that. And though the time to even consider Military action or Economic sanctions in the wake of the current recession seems far away, Pakistan cannot rule out such a possibility in the future.
At the same time it is also important for the international community to realise that it is stability that is required for regional and global security. Pakistan is part of the problem and also part of the solution. Without Pakistan’s support, dealing with Afghanistan and terrorism is difficult and the situation would result in a flux. Therefore, it is important that while countries not make blanket statements and talk tough with the government of Pakistan, they also not completely alienate the government as such because there are several issues involved: combating terrorism, countering religious extremism, future of democratic traditions, the shape of Pakistan’s economy and Afghanistan-Pakistan relations. Full cooperation and healthy diplomacy would act as confidence boosters to the government in such a scenario.
Though for Pakistan, the policies of the past continue to haunt the present, testing the democratic process. This, along with the world at large needs to keep their sights on the long-term vision of continuing the democratic political process, even if there is a short-term rise in violence while combating and confronting the cold-blooded terrorists.