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The crumbling face of terrorism

Over the past few weeks, the law enforcement agencies (LEAs) have had a number of successes in counter-urban guerilla operations in Karachi. While some middle level terrorists have been paraded before the media individually but of crucial importance to the urban war was the “ambush” of Farooq Dada and his associates as well as the capture alive of Fahim “Commando” along with his gang. These are positive factors of which the LEAs can be proud of. Despite his penchant at going off on a tangent to the bewilderment of all concerned, the PPP regime’s pointman in the war against terrorism, Maj Gen (Retd) Nasirullah Khan Babar, the Federal Interior Minister deserves kudos. For any fighting entity to lose its key sector commanders is always a severe setback, hardened cadres can never be replaced in a short spell of time. It would be crass to deny the Ms Benazir Government their first flush of success in what has been a frustrating (and savage) battle against urban terrorism.

Without any doubt, the major part of the success can be attributed to the closing down of the cellular telephone services. Mobile telephones provided a tremendous communications capability to the terrorists, allowing them freedom of movement and thus an ability for concentration of effort at vulnerable points in the city. The disruption of their communications meant that both for operational and administrative purposes they had to come out of the shadows more frequently, making them more vulnerable to surveillance and detection. Except perhaps in Grozny (Chechnya) by the Chechens, there has been no commensurate use by urban guerrillas of mobiles with such devastating effect. With communications gone, the command and control channel of the urban guerrillas was completely broken with a commensurate decrease in their lethal potential. The initiative has now passed on to the LEAs. As anyone with cursory knowledge of guerilla warfare will know, those who retain the initiative will always have the upper hand. With terrorists on the run and with those who have been caught singing like canaries, the tide in the battle to curb terrorism has turned somewhat and one would be crass to deny GOP’s pointman Gen Babar his due. For the past several weeks, the Federal Interior Minister has taken direct command of counter-terrorist operations and despite his many detractors, he has lived upto his reputation for being result-oriented. After all if he fails he will take the blame, so why not give him credit where he certainly deserves it.

One feels that the masses would respond more than grudgingly if there is a sea-change of attitude in the LEAs led by the Rangers. After all, Karachi is not a foreign country to be conquered, as good Pakistanis as any inhabit this city. One cannot blindfold hundreds of persons of entire localities and make them sit out in the sun as prisoners of war without inviting adverse reaction among the intelligentsia at the masses. We must show more discrimination between political activism and terrorists. The LEAs have been more than ham-handed and the cost has been the alienating of an entire community. Commanders have to exercise strict control over their troops lest their behaviour leads to problems worse than which they have come to solve. For the past six months the behaviour of Rangers had been bordering on the obnoxious, their high-handedness came under some official scrutiny only when Gen Babar decided to camp out in Karachi. Furthermore there are too many rumours floating around about kickbacks in purchase contracts of vehicles, acquisition of real estate etc. For his own sake and that of the uniform he wears (as well as that of his career), the previous DG Rangers Maj Gen Mushtaq should voluntarily get himself cleared by a Court of Inquiry.

“One or two swallows do not a summer make,” as such despite the successes of GOP, they still have a long way to go. Urban guerilla warfare that has the support of the people is much easier to organise logistically than a similar campaign in the countryside. Having knocked off Farooq Dada and caught Fahim “Commando”, the LEAs cannot sit back and relax, there are a hundred potential Farooq Dadas and Fahim Commandos waiting in the shadows ready to emulate and even outreach them. The information that the captured terrorists are giving will be invaluable for the continuing campaign to eradicate militancy from the city of Karachi but it must be handled with care.

No urban guerilla warfare can be maintained without the support of the people, conversely no counter-urban guerilla campaign can succeed without the support of the people. At the moment the people of Karachi are estranged from the Government, therefore important that GOP launches a major effect to win the hearts and soul of the people. This can only be done by restoring democracy at the grassroots level and filling the local leadership vacuum. An early Local Bodies elections must be held to bring Karachiites back into the national mainstream. At the same time one hopes that GOP will not give truth to the rumours floating around about another MQM-Haqeeqi type party being formed officially as an alternative to the original MQM led by Altaf Hussain. This policy would be counter-productive to the present success in the streets that the LEAs have achieved. If the GOP wants to succeed they must target criminals only, the original mission of Operation Clean Up. While some tears were shed for Farooq Dada (aka-Patni) within the close confines of his immediate Kathiawar-origin Baldia vicinity, the Mohajir community as a whole understood that his political or ethnic leanings were transcended by his criminal activity and as such the protest was muted at best. Similarly no great anxiety is being displayed at the incarceration of Fahim “Commando”, in fact there is palpable sense of silent relief. If Gen Babar can go after criminals without discriminating about political leanings, he would be doing his party, his Government and his country a favour. The touchstone of future success lies in being fair to all, without fear or favour to friend and foe alike. If the Mohajir community is convinced that they will not be discriminated against because of their lineage or political leanings, the battle will be more than half over. At the moment Karachi’s youth are being picked up indiscriminately and treated so badly that if they were not recalcitrants before incarceration, this type custody and treatment thereof will certainly make them rebels.

The essence of success lies in sound and mature leadership. Given that Gen Babar is given to various inopportune fulminations, as a patriotic Pakistani his heart seems to be in the right place. His loyalty to the Bhutto family is commendable, any dissent has never been in public. Sometimes he does come across as a bull in a China shop but his gruff interior hides a plain soldier with a very soft interior at least to those who know him well having served with him. One is, therefore, shocked at his indifferent reaction to the brutal handling of the Mohajir youth in custody by the LEAs. To add to this, once they are cleared the police do not let them off without imposing their own “royalty”. As much as he is a man of clear likes and dislikes, Gen Babar is also given to speaking his mind quite openly, and as one knows, quite irreverently. For the sake of his country he needs to give quiet counsel to the leader he serves so well not to exceed the political mandate of democracy by resorting to police-State apparatus that he presently controls on her behalf. If the LEAs can maintain a human posture while dealing with Karachi’s masses, the first flush of success will eventually become more meaningful and political activity sans terrorism can return through the entire spectrum of the body politic of this city.

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