Putting a rupee figure on the tens of thousands of lives lost to the militant menace is impossible. We do, however, have some idea of how much money has been spent fighting militancy. According to recent testimony given by Finance Minister Rana Afzal to the Senate, the state has spent close to Rs300 billion in our war against terrorism in the last decade. A portion of this spending was supposed to be covered by the US but of the $132 million that was pledged for counterterrorism efforts we have only been given $111 million. Now that the Trump administration has suspended most security aid to Pakistan, the country will have to bear an even greater cost in fighting militancy.
Much of the money has been spent in the form of military operations like Zarb-e-Azb and in procuring equipment, with a significant portion also allocated to the rebuilding of Fata and the rehabilitation of those who were displaced by the fighting. For all our successes in defeating militant groups, we should not expect any significant drops in counter-terror expenditures in the next decade. Militant groups have shown that they are still capable of striking at any time. If anything, Pakistan may have to spend even more on security for all potential militant targets. As high as the Rs300 billion figure is, it does not amount to even a fraction of the price the country has paid in fighting the war against militancy.
The Pakistan Economic Survey for 2016-17 estimated that the loss of life, damage to the country’s infrastructure and lost economic opportunities since 9/11 cost Pakistan’s economy an astounding $123 billion. This represents nearly 40 percent of the country’s total GDP, giving a scale of just how badly we have been hurt by militancy. This figure alone, more than any pressure from the US or any international resolve, should steel our resolve to be rid of militancy once and for all. Any notion that actors in the state may have of dividing militant groups into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ categories needs to be rejected. Every militant group that has the ability to operate on Pakistani territory – even if they are concentrating on Afghanistan – will eventually turn its guns on us. The lesson we should have learned from the 1980s and 1990s that turning a blind eye to or even supporting militant groups as a way of advancing what we believe to be our interests is not a sustainable policy. Eventually it will end up costing the country dearly, both in lives lost and money squandered.