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Moving towards peace



That Pakistan is going through tough times we all know. What the government and people are doing about this, we are yet to find out. At this stage, it seems for most people that it's business as usual.

Not true. For all practical purposes, we are a country at war.

Our armed forces have declared an operation against militants, and have vowed to continue this exercise till they achieve their objectives.

This means a long-drawn out affair where retaliation will also be expected.

But what to do, say many. We have seen that peace talks have failed. The problem was not the intention of the government, it was more the fact that it did not know who to talk to.

The groups have themselves splintered. Discussions with Irfan Siddiqui, the government's point man on the peace talks, suggest that there was genuine desire on the part of the PM to try and resolve the issue through talks.

But the increasing attacks on our people and installations possibly forced the hand of the government and the military, which went ahead with the operation.

However, like such conflicts all over the world, the fighting in the target zones is only one part of the operation. There are the thousands of people who have been displaced.

Not only does the government have to look after them, but also win their hearts and minds.

This week, we were reminded once again that Pakistan hosts the highest number of refugees compared with any other country in the world.

Plaudits aside, this is a very high burden we are bearing. We now also have to bear the cost of internal refugees, which we have done in the past as well.

There is so much our poor country can undertake.

Then there is the issue of the cost to the armed forces. Not only in terms of lives, which cannot be accorded a numerical value, but to the equipment and the materials involved. All this will come at a price. We should be looking at the government imposing more taxes, as was done in the past.

But the question one can ask here is whether this would be the right approach to take.

The problem does not end there. The bigger issue is whether this operation would be followed by similar operations in our cities and areas where militants have taken over large swathes.

Are we now in a position to conduct operations in our cities, starting of course with Karachi?

Will the political actors in Pakistan's largest city be on board when such an operation is started?

This would involve sealing off areas and conducting house-to-house searches.

In the past, this has not had the desired effect because the arms recovered will not be of the militants only.

This is a city where a drive to eliminate tinted glasses and fancy number plates brings the chief minister down hard on those trying to enforce the law.

Coming back to winning hearts and minds, there is then the issue of bringing all on board with the operation we have launched.

In the past, we have seen some quarters giving moral or material support, including shelter, to militants.
There are documented cases of this, which means that there are people within us who do not endorse this fight against militancy.

We need to start a massive information exercise where people are convinced that this is the way to move ahead to save our country.

This is not a job for the military, it will have to involve opinion leaders from a variety of quarters. Programmes have to be made, information disseminated, debates held not just in universities but schools, colleges and madrassas.

Finally, those caught in the operation fighting against us have to be punished by our judiciary.

We have seen in the past that terror suspects have been let off due to poor police investigation and on technicalities. Hundreds have been let go.

If nothing else, we should be talking about all these issues. Apart from certain areas of the country, it seems at this stage that no one else is bothered with what is happening. The army alone cannot win this war. We all have to own up to it.

The Express Tribune

The author is the Editor of The Express Tribune


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