Humphrey Fellow Shah on "The cost of militancy"

Published in Pakistan's The News International. The issues raised in the article are still relevant to Pakistan:

The cost of militancy  
Besides improving law-enforcement system, educational, social and economic reforms are also required to stem the growing militancy
By Syed Fida Hassan Shah
According to Oxford English Dictionary the word ‘Militant’ has been defined as “someone who is using, or willing to use, force or strong pressure to achieve his aims, especially to achieve social or political change”. Militancy has further been defined as ‘having a combative character in the service of a cause’.

Militancy can broadly be divided into two categories i.e. criminal militancy and political militancy. As criminal militancy is simply for criminal pursuits so it is political militancy which always has been a source of problems to many governments and countries around the world.
In many countries, we can find different types of organisations which resort to militancy for a political cause. Militancy going on in Kashmir, Palestine, Chechnya, Dagestan, and many other parts of the world come under this category. Political militancy can further be divided into state-sponsored and non-state militancy. 
Sometimes different countries of the world support militant organisations operating in other countries to pursue their own foreign policy objectives. But there are many militant movements in the world which are supported by non-state actors. Al Qaeda, Al Shabab and the Taliban movement in both Afghanistan and Pakistan come under this category.
The Social revolutionaries are dedicated to the overthrow of an established order and replacing it with a new political or social structure. National separatists are those groups of militants who have a goal of separation from existing entities through independence or political autonomy. The religiously motivated extremists are those groups of militants who have taken up violence to further their perceived religious goals. The militant organisations operating in both Afghanistan and Pakistan come under this category. In this article, the problems of militancy and its implications for Pakistan will be highlighted.
Although Pakistan has been facing different kinds of problems since its inception in 1947, the problem of militancy which Pakistan is currently facing is unparalleled in its history. The situation in the country, especially in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata, has been very volatile for the last six years or so. 

Militancy has really become a very complex phenomenon in the present day Pakistan. Despite all out efforts of law enforcement agencies and Pakistan Army, the destruction caused by different groups operating in different parts of the country has not yet been brought under control. The militants are using various tactics and strategies to destroy the social fabric of the society and ultimately to destabilise the country itself. Thousands of innocent people have been killed in attacks by the militants. 

The common people of Pakistan were, and still are, very peaceful and tolerant. But the developments during the last three decades have resulted in complete twist in the social fabric and politico economic system of the country. 

The Russian invasion of Afghanistan was a turning point which totally changed the course of history for our country. The then Pakistani government and leaders of the so-called free world encouraged all types of Islamic militant organisations around the world to use Pakistan as a base camp just to defeat the Russian forces in Afghanistan. The world powers provided their huge financial and military support to Pakistan and related militant organisations in the form of money, weapons and politico moral support. In the eighties, Pakistan became fertile land for the militant groups where extremist mentality was promoted both by the government and other stake-holders to attract the youth to fight against the Russian forces. 

But soon after the withdrawal of Russia from Afghanistan these militant groups got scattered. The international community pulled back its support from these militant organisations and their agenda was completely changed. These groups which were very resourceful in terms of money, weapons and religio-political influence in the region started to fight against each other.
During the Afghan war, huge quantity of arms and ammunition were brought and stored in Pakistan which were later used by these groups in sectarian, tribal and political violence. Meanwhile, political instability, corruption, social injustice and economic disparity gave rise to different forms of militancy. 

With the collapse of Russia from the world order, the geo-political situation of Pakistan changed altogether. In this changed scenario, the militancy strongly gripped Pakistan and swiftly spread in the society. Its most visible manifestation was sectarianism in 1990s triggered by religious extremism.
Then came 9/11 and unfortunately Pakistan once again found itself at the crossroads in the global war on terror. Pakistan became the frontline state in war against terror in international community. The militant groups which were hitherto being supported by the successive governments, all of a sudden found themselves on the wrong side of the establishment. Therefore, these groups started attacking police, military and other members of the law enforcement agencies. As a result, military operations were initiated against those groups which in the past had been receiving support in one form or the other. This was unacceptable rather unthinkable for these groups. Resultantly these militant groups retaliated with full force, attacking the security forces, sensitive installations, busy markets and sometimes even places of worships. 

The whole Fata and many parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) were severely affected and the district of Swat was virtually taken over by these militants in 2008-9, which had to be retaken by launching a full-fledged military operation after much loss of human lives and properties. Since 2006, more than 40000 innocent people have lost their lives including 5000 personnel from the armed forces and law-enforcement agencies. The attacks on sensitive military targets like GHQ, Mehran Base, Kamra Base and most recently attacks on Peshawar Air Base show the might of these groups. They have put the very existences of the state in danger.

The ongoing militancy and the counter action by the security forces to repress insurgency have greatly affected the Pakistani society in all respects. The people of Pakistan have suffered and continue to suffer politically, economically, socially and psychologically. Millions of people have been displaced due to the fear of militants and the resultant military operations by the government. This influx of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) has been causing many social, economic and administrative problems. 

The society has radically been polarised and people have been divided into two extreme groups. This division has caused great damage to the social fabric of our society which was once famous for tolerance, hospitality and fair treatment. Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Fata which used to be lands for hospitality have been transformed into sanctuaries for the militants. It has cost us very heavily in economic terms as well. 

According to official sources, Pakistan’s economy has so for suffered a huge loss of more that 70 billion US dollars. The education and health sectors have particularly been hit by the surge in militancy. Thousands of schools and healthcare centres were destroyed by the militants. In Swat alone, more than 400 schools were destroyed by the militants, about 70 per cent of them girl schools.
Women and children have particularly been affected by the ongoing militancy in the country. The resurgence in polio cases and the recent attacks on polio workers in different parts of the country have posed a very serious threat to the safety of our future generation. The daily scenes of bombing and killing on television screens and in their surroundings have been affecting them adversely. As a result, many of them find themselves as a victim of psychological diseases such as aggression, frustration and anxiety. 

The best way to contain the growing extremism in Pakistan is to look deeply into its causes. There are many factors which lead to extremism in the society. These include, among others, corruption, economic disparity, lack of education and weak criminal justice system. The growing militancy in Pakistan not only has the potential to destabilise the country, but can threaten the regional and global security. 

The government needs to adopt a two-pronged strategy to counter the threat of militancy. Along with security related measures such as improving law enforcement system, equipping the LEAs with modern weaponry and gadgets, fair and quick dispensation of justice; long term measures such as educational, social and economic reforms are also required to address the sense of deprivation among the less-privileged communities. 

Curriculum of both public and religious schools needs to be revisited to purge the educational system from hate material which promotes intolerance. Apart from the government, political parties, media, intellectuals, religious leaders and general public need to openly condemn the growing extremism in the society so that the militants do not find any space to operate.
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