Seventeen persons-- including two policemen and one soldier of the Pakistan Army--were killed in a suicide attack at a checkpoint jointly manned by police and military personnel at Mingora, the principal town (capital) of the Swat Valley of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) on March 13, 2010.
Subsequently, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack and has warned that similar attacks would be launched if US Drone strikes continued in Waziristan. The suicide bomber was reported to have reached the scene of attack in a cycle rickshaw.
Such incidents illustrate the difficulty in eliminating terrorism even if the Army succeeds in establishing territorial control. During the last one year, the Pakistan Army and the para-military Frontier Corps have re-established territorial control over the disturbed Malakand Division of the NWFP, of which Swat is a part, and the South Waziristan and the Bajaur Agencies of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Despite this, acts of suicide and other terrorism continue to take place in the Pashtun belt with regular frequency.
Suicide terrorism can be eliminated only by weakening the motivating power of terrorist organisations and their leaders. The Drone strikes are necessary for sustained decapitation of the terrorist organisations, but they add to the flow of volunteers for suicide terrorism due to the anger caused by the strikes. The present high level of suicide terrorism--about 95 since the beginning of 2009, an average of seven per month--will continue so long as the Drone strikes continue at their present high level, but that is not an argument for reviewing the present policy of intensified Drone strikes--as argued by some US analysts.
The Drone strikes must be kept up till the terrorist leadership is decimated beyond replacement and the terrorist organisations are weakened beyond repair. If the Drone strikes are discontinued or reduced, the resulting pause would be exploited by the leadership of these organisations to re-build themselves as the Afghan Taliban did in 2004 and 2005. The present high level of suicide and other terrorism is a price which Pakistan and the US should be prepared to pay tactically for a strategic victory over terrorism. The present high level of terrorism could continue in the Pashtun belt at least for another 18 months if not longer. Better territorial control would not mean better control over terrorism as a phenomenon.
A battle against a disrupting phenomenon such as terrorism--suicide or otherwise-- takes a long time to succeed. We had ourselves seen this in our Punjab at the height of Khalistani terrorism. It flared up after the military operation in the Golden Temple of Amritsar in June 1984. It took us another 11 years to bring it under control even though the Khalistanis did not indulge in suicide terrorism and did not have access to the kind of weapons and explosive devices to which the jihadi terrorists of today are having access.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.