Pakistan remains committed to challenging extremism and stamping out terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Pakistan can act as a bridge between Islam and the West. Given its geopolitical importance and moderate outlook and credibility within the Islamic world, Pakistan is well placed to play that role.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Pakistan decided to help the US in its efforts in the war against terrorism. It also extended full assistance to the international community in the Madrid and the July 7 bombings. Pakistan is playing the role of a frontline state in the war against terrorism.
Terrorism has affected the socio-economic development of Pakistan. The new government is not soft towards terrorism. Pakistan is resolute in fighting terrorism and weakening and destroying al-Qaeda and other terrorist and extremist elements. Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani stated that the war against terrorism is in Pakistan's interest as well as in the interest of humanity at large. He added that "without stability in the region, its vast potential of economic development and cooperation will remain untapped and unrealized."
Adviser to the Prime Minister on Internal Affairs Rehman Malik has said "to save Afghanistan is to save Pakistan and to save Pakistan is to save the world. Without securing the western border we will never be able to eliminate this menace of extremism and terrorism."
The US asserts that terrorists have an elaborate system of financing, recruiting and systematic training of suicide bombers. There is a safe haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban in the area near the Afghan border. Preventing infiltration is required. Cross-border infiltrators and insurgents are quite often bombed by the US in Pakistani territory, and naturally the locals feel insecure and unprotected.
Pakistan and Afghanistan have a porous, 2,500-kilometer-long border. Since August 2006 Pakistan has been conducting patrols. Pakistan has been making all-out efforts to strengthen security along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, including the installation of biometric systems at entry points. Better monitoring of the border is required as there are 900 plus check posts on the Pakistani side as compared to 100 posts on the Afghan side. Putting up a fence along the border is one of the options being considered. The Americans also seem to have realized the complexity of the border operation as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently made an observation on an American TV station, saying that the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region "is very difficult for anyone to govern and very difficult for anyone to operate in."
Pakistan maintains that it is the Pakistani troops who have the sole responsibility to take action against terrorists within the nation's borders and that military action on the Afghan side of the border is the responsibility of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), NATO troops and Afghan forces.
Pakistan is pressing the US to improve intelligence sharing. The US appreciates Pakistan's difficulties in view of the complex tribal allegiances and sensitivities over sovereignty. Pakistan is persistent in its opposition not to have outside forces' action in Pakistani territory.
Pakistan opposes NATO forces' incursion into Pakistani territory which would jeopardize the alliance against the war on terror as public opinion in Pakistan is highly sensitive.
Given the temperament of the tribal people and the maxim that kindness often gets things done more quickly than force, the new government espouses holding dialogue with tribal elders. Pakistan is pursuing a multi-pronged strategy to deal with militants as it strongly believes that curbing extremism is in Pakistan's own interest. This strategy covers combining a political, administrative and economic approach with military action, where necessary. Pakistan signed a truce with tribal leaders in North Waziristan last September as a tool to combat terrorism by isolating militants. This agreement stipulated the stoppage of military operations by Pakistan against the militants and a pledge on the part of the latter not to send fighters across Afghanistan and attack Pakistan's army. The US was initially supportive of the move.
The incumbent government's strategy to deal with terrorism as such covers dialogue with non-militants and those who lay down their arms along with enhanced development activities that focus on the socio-economic uplift of the people in the area along the border. The use of force which would aggravate the problem will be used as the last option if the agreement is violated by the other side. America supports the policy that Pakistan should only negotiate with tribal leaders along the Afghan border and not with militants. Pakistan favors an agreement with insurgents and extremists if they decommission weapons and with the stipulation that they will have to pledge not to launch attacks in Pakistan or Afghanistan. All foreign fighters in the tribal areas must be thrown out. They would also ensure not giving sanctuary to any group targeting any of Pakistan's allies, including the US.
US counter-terrorism initiatives include the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) Development Plan, Reconstruction Opportunity Zones (ROZs) and capacity-building of the Frontier Corps (FC). The quick implementation of projects like ROZs, duty-free imports for troubled areas is likely to have a soothing effect. The proposal is aimed at the alleviation of poverty and at economic activity in FATA and other economically deprived areas of the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan. Under the plan, the industrial products manufactured in the proposed zones would have tariff-free access to the US market. The US Senate is expected to adopt a bill by September 2008 which provides for $7.5 billion to Pakistan over the next five fiscal years ($1.5 billion annually) in non-military aid and an additional $7.5 billion for the succeeding five years. This is meant for institution building, infrastructure development, education and healthcare.
Prime Minister Gilani has said that Pakistan is keen on strengthening its cooperation with the US in the diplomatic, political, economic, defense and security fields. He added that terrorism is a global phenomenon and that the war on terror is Pakistan's own war. Pakistan is itself a victim of terrorists and has lost many soldiers in combating terrorism and extremism. He added that it was a terrorist act that claimed the life of Benazir Bhutto.
Pakistan is currently engaged in a long-term and broad-based strategic partnership with the US. Prime Minister Gilani's late July visit to the US is expected to mark a new relationship between the two countries.
In the war on terror Pakistan lost over 3,050 of its nationals since Sept. 11 and 1,050 soldiers since September 2001. The government is striving to establish its writ and regain control of the areas from the Taliban. Pakistan has declared time and again that no foreign power would be allowed to carry out any action on Pakistan's soil. The world has been extensively appreciative of Pakistan's role in fighting terrorism and extremism. The root cause of terrorism needs to be addressed by the world community. Use of force cannot be the only mode to beat terrorism. It is earnestly hoped that with the international backing, support and solidarity, Pakistan's efforts to eliminate terrorism and extremism will succeed.
*Mik Rashid is a freelance journalist from Pakistan. This article was written for Today's Zaman on the occasion of Pakistan's Independence Day.