When militants of the infamous Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) launched a brazen offensive on Pakistan's largest airport on April 8, I was frantically switching the TV channels in Karachi. I had heard there were missing employees and much later found out that their dead bodies were burned beyond recognition and recovered from a gutted cold storage area, where they had hid in a desperate attempt to save their own lives. The tragedy not only made me feel exposed to the threats being posed by the nation's lurking dangers, but it also made me realize that a large majority of the population shares the same apprehensions.
A full scale military operation to rid Pakistan of the scourge of terrorism in the country's tribal belt has sparked a national debate, and defense analysts and experts on Afghan affairs and militancy have begun shedding light on the Karachi airport attack. Given that Pakistan has already reportedly suffered 49,000 casualties -- including the loss of more than 15,000 security personnel in its fight against homegrown insurgency -- and given the prospects of full throttle action against the militants in coming days, the government needs to focus on formulating an effective strategy to avoid civilian casualties in future situations.
Keeping in mind our past experiences, we can say that any military offensive against battle-hardened local and foreign militants in the tribal belt near the Afghan border will most probably trigger a backlash across Pakistan through similar assaults targeting various high-profile sites. The government not only needs to strengthen its intelligence network to preempt such attacks, but it is also incumbent on the authorities to avoid collateral damage in its anti-militancy drive. Additionally, the government should make it a priority to save civilian lives in terror attacks in urban areas (Pakistan's top politicians like Imran Khan and other right wing politicians have repeatedly said that collateral damage due to the air strikes and the army's ground offensive in tribal areas has prompted militants to recruit the locals to take "revenge" from the state).
Such moves on the government's part could not only win it the support of politicians opposed to the use of force against the insurgents, but the other sections of society will also feel safe and encouraged to stand up against terrorism.
Instead of asking the government or other ministers to step down, we as a society should embrace the fact that the issue at hand has a far greater impact than a mere political blame game. It's afflicting the already limping economy, trade, international reputation, tourism, sports and all other facets that are vital for Pakistan's progress.
Let's not forget the fact that it was only a month ago when we were slapped with travel restrictions by the World Health Organization due to the nation's failure to eradicate the crippling disease of polio -- mainly because of terrorism. Now, it's unclear whether the foreign investors and tourists will still be willing to travel to Pakistan in the current circumstances.
Hence, it is high time to quell the insurgency through employing all the resources available.
The incumbent Pakistani administration has dual responsibility in the context of the present security situation of the country. First, it should devise an effective strategy to minimize collateral damage in launching a counter-insurgency offensive in its northwestern tribal border and the war-ravaged Afghanistan. Secondly, it must prepare itself to respond to the challenging task of safeguarding the precious civilian lives in the event of a militant attack.
This will not only have a positive impact on the Pakistani nation at large, but it will also make it more difficult for the TTP to bring more militants into its folds.
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