Terrorists in Afghanistan
A NEW report recently prepared for the UN Security Council confirms what Pakistan has been saying for years: that ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan are being used by terrorists to destabilise this country. As per the report, between 6,000 to 6,500 anti-Pakistan militants are based in Afghanistan, mostly linked to the banned TTP. In fact, many of these TTP fighters have joined forces with the self-styled Islamic State’s Khorasan ‘chapter’, which operates out of Afghanistan. Clearly, this shows that if the Afghan imbroglio is left unaddressed, a new, ferocious threat will emerge from the chaos to threaten not only Pakistan, but also the security of the entire region. As the UN report points out, the aforementioned militants are working on an agenda that is designed to use Afghanistan as “a base for spreading terrorist influence across the wider region”.
To understand the threat the presence of these militants in Afghanistan poses, the role of both the TTP and IS must be examined. From 2007 onwards, the TTP unleashed a reign of terror in this country that included bombings, assassinations and other acts of mass casualty violence. The worst point in this grim campaign was the atrocious APS massacre of schoolchildren in 2014. It took multiple military operations, including Zarb-i-Azb and Raddul Fasaad, to check the advance of the TTP and like-minded terrorist groups. On the other hand, the fanatical violence of IS is well known, as the self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’ spread havoc across large swathes of the Middle East, specifically Iraq and Syria, while ‘chapters’ and sympathisers sprung up across the world. While IS may have been beaten back in its Middle East bastions, it has sought sanctuary in other ungoverned spaces in the world, with Afghanistan being one of its prime choices, thanks to the chaos in that country. Therefore, if these two bloodthirsty outfits — the TTP and IS — should join forces, much turbulence can be expected in the region. While the TTP know South Asia well, IS bring plenty of ‘experience’ from their bloodcurdling exploits in the Arab world. Therefore, neutralising the threat in Afghanistan should be a key priority for all regional players.
To ensure that a TTP-IS combine does not transform into an uncontrollable monster in Afghanistan, there is no other option but to push the peace process forward in that country. The gulf between the government in Kabul and the Afghan Taliban is quite wide. However, both players must realise that should the TTP and other foreign militants establish themselves in the country, Afghanistan will plunge further into chaos, while security threats for the region will be amplified manifold. If the Afghan Taliban decide to wait for the Americans to leave in order to make a move on Kabul, the TTP and IS will surely take advantage of this and try to consolidate themselves — a scenario which must be avoided at all costs.
Unprepared for locusts
WITH all eyes on the coronavirus outbreak, little has been done to deal with another emergency — the locust plague — which has been threatening the nation’s food security and the livelihoods of millions of farmers for over a year now. In spite of the warnings issued by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, as well as repeated calls for help from the farmers ever since the crop-eating pests entered Pakistan via Iran in summer last year, the government has done little to control the infestation. Farmers have mostly been left to their own devices to tackle the swarms using conventional means. The government quite belatedly declared a locust emergency in February this year. Nonetheless, no effective measures have been implemented to destroy the infestations. The decision to push the Plant Protection Department into the background and assign the responsibility of tackling the menace to the National Disaster Management Authority hasn’t helped either. It has actually led to delays in the decision-making process. For example, the government has only recently decided to purchase new dusters for aerial pesticide spray. Now it plans to lease aircraft for aerial spray as the new dusters will take a few months to reach the country.
Sindh has once again asked the federal government — plant protection is a federal subject — to provide it with 100 vehicles and aircraft it had committed for combating the locusts in the province before the new generation of insects matures and finds its way here in the coming days and weeks. However, chances of any help reaching Sindh soon appear thin given the federal authorities’ past record. Indeed, the plague had caught the government unprepared as the current locust attack is the worst in 30 years. But the government cannot use this pretext as an excuse for its slow response to the scourge. It has had enough time to get ready for the battle, not just for the current round but also for the future. The fast-changing climate is feared to increase the frequency of locust invasions at the cost of food security and livelihoods. While the coronavirus appears to be retreating at the moment — at least for now — the maturing pests in Sindh’s deserts are growing wings for a fresh assault on green fields and the livelihoods of poor farmers. Imagine what will happen if local locust infestations are joined by the swarms expected to reach here from the Horn of Africa in the next week or so.
WHEN the Pakistan cricket team takes the field against England for the first of three Test matches at Old Trafford in Manchester on Aug 5, they will be up against a most unique challenge at a pivotal point in time where the game will have to adapt to changing conditions once again. Cricket, like all else, has been affected by the coronavirus, and Pakistan, like host England as well as the West Indies, will be compelled to make alterations in the ongoing series, which promises to be an exciting one. Of course, playing in empty stadiums is painful enough for the cricketers who thrive on loud cheers and thunderous applause from packed crowds. Coupled with that, there is now a ban on players using saliva on the ball to shine it, a practice as old as the game itself. Besides, the teams have to quarantine themselves for a fortnight before the matches, and are housed in hotels inside the grounds with restrictions on their movements. Regular medications, too, are mandatory for the players for as long as the tour lasts. In a nutshell, Pakistan will be tackling two fronts simultaneously; a formidable England side and new environmental norms.
Perhaps Pakistan should take heart from the fact that they are a young, enthusiastic side, and have prepared well for the stiff challenge ahead. Since arriving in England about a month in advance to observe Covid-19 precautions, the Pakistan players are by now well acclimatised and have had competitive workouts in the nets as well as in the intra-squad practice games. Pakistan players have plenty to learn from the way the West Indies have fared in their series against England. Winning the first Test quite handsomely, the West Indies have been unable to sustain their act while England have quickly found their feet to turn the tables on them. The Pakistan team need to guard against complacency and select their best-playing, fittest 11 in every game to keep their impressive record against England intact.