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Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism and Extremism Strategy

By Muhammad Nawaz Khan : –

Pakistan is fighting war against terrorism for the last fourteen years, for which the nation has rendered a huge cost in human and economic terms, which is more than any other country in the world. It suffered more than 58000 causalities of civilian and armed forces personnel and economic losses worth US$ 108 billion so far. Moreover, terrorism has adversely affected the social fabric of Pakistan. Despite these sacrifices, the menace of terrorism has subsided but not completely eliminated. The barbaric attack on Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, by TTP on 16th December 2014 brought the nation to a watershed moment in its long fight against terrorism. The death of about 147 school children and teachers shook the conscience of the nation. This incident forced the political leadership to review their previous actions and strategies; and identify the loopholes and gaps in their counterterrorism measures that were exploited by terrorists to launch attacks against the innocent people. The APS tragedy united all political parties and military leadership of the country to unanimously condemn the APS attack and make a National Action Plan (NAP) to eradicate terrorism. Thus, a powerful national narrative emerged: “A line has been drawn. On one side are the coward terrorists and on the other stands the whole nation,” stated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In his televised speech on December 24, 2014, he outlined 20-point NAP where he promised to eradicate the mindset of terrorism by defeating extremism and sectarianism in the country.

The security situation of Pakistan will be the key determinant of future stability in the country. After adoption of the NAP by All Parties Conference and its subsequent implementation, which is being overseen by the apex committees of the provinces, major improvements have been witnessed in overall security situation of the country. Rather, the 20 points of NAP appeared as a national narrative against terrorism and all forms of extremism.

The NAP is an awakening towards the growing and existential threat of terrorism within the country. In the past, the successive governments had failed to come to a unanimous political decision against terrorism. Earlier efforts against terrorism had several flaws. Unlike the past counterterrorism efforts, the NAP is a comprehensive document and has a consensus of all the political parties and the military to root out the cancer of terrorism in Pakistan.

Despite the fact that in the past the Pakistani nation and its security personnel had been sacrifying their lives, desired results could not be achieved due to inadequate measures taken by the successive governments against nefarious elements responsible for terrorism. After framing the NAP, the counterterrorism strategy is much more robust

as compared to the previous ones. As outlined in the NAP, religious extremism is on top of the list considering that terrorism is a consequence of religious extremism. One of its kinds is sectarianism, which not only harvests hate and intolerance in society but also causes sectarian strife and terrorism in the country. Accordingly, special measures have been taken in 20-points of the NAP to control sectarianism. It includes banning of sectarian organizations under new names, countering hate speech and dissemination of extremist material, ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media and punishment on the wrong usage of loudspeakers.

Moreover, measures to choke internal and foreign funding and freezing their accounts are also included in the NAP. The central bank has frozen almost Rs.1 billion of 126 accounts linked to proscribed groups. Law-enforcement agencies have also recovered Rs.251.2 million being transferred through ‘Hawala’. In addition, security agencies have arrested a number of culprits, who are involved in money laundering. Parallel to this, the National Assembly passed an Anti-Money Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 2015 that would help the government to ensure that finances and property involved in money laundering are effectively detected, investigated and prosecuted.

Another measure taken against terrorism is regarding supervision of madaris and their registration. The rationale behind it is based on concrete information about alleged linkages of some madaris with terrorist organizations who give terrorist training to students. They are imparting education and training to the students according to their restricted and rudimentary curriculum running contrary to the national curriculum. The state-level registration and supervision of all madaris is now indispensable to curb the anti-state activities. This action is bound to cause general satisfaction, reflecting overall national narrative.

The dismantling of terrorists’ communication system such as internet and social media is an important factor in war against terrorism. The federal government has ordered the Ministry of Information & Technology to remove all websites of terrorist organizations so that the miscreants are deprived the means to spread violent and poisonous propaganda.

Previously, there was a perception that frontier region of Pakistan was the sole epicentre of terrorism. Other parts of the country where terrorist network were potentially established were, by and large, ignored in the counterterrorism strategy. Now other suspected areas including urban belts of the country are also included in the NAP. It was decided that Karachi operation, which had started in September 2013 under the supervision of Police and Rangers was reinforced with special powers such as investigating powers, etc. Likewise, to control security situation in Balochistan, not only enough resources and powers have been allocated to provincial government but its capacity-building is also being enhanced.

Priority is now given in the award and execution of sentences to terrorists. Prior to the NAP, terrorists were not awarded their sentences due to certain flaws in prosecution law and judicial system. It was decided that sentences awarded by judiciary to criminals found guilty in terrorist cases, should be immediately executed, besides establishing military courts for rapid trials. In this regard, a total of 11 military courts were established and 142 cases referred to them, out of which 55 cases have been decided, 87 cases are in process, besides convicting 31 hardcore terrorists.

The centuries-old socio-economic and political structures of frontier region and insurgency in Afghanistan have been the prime factors in making the FATA an epicentre of terrorism. Undoubtedly, this region is a part of Pakistan but its indigenous community does not enjoy equal political, legal and social rights at par with others. The local people of the FATA feel that they lag behind in the socio-economic progress. Some individuals of the community became involved in acts of terrorism and other criminal activities. They got opportunities to promote their terrorist activities due to lack of an effective legal system. Therefore, the NAP included the development in the region on priority bases and equal rights and opportunities be granted to the people to bring them at par with others in the rest of the country.

It is evident that since the initiation of NAP, there has been a decline in violence in the country. The comprehensive counterterrorism operation Zarb-e-Azb is yielding encouraging results. The year 2015 witnessed the lowest number of terror attacks since 2007. Pakistan is making every effort to implement the NAP, but there are still some challenges being faced in this context. The Operation Zarb-e-Azb has entered into its conclusive phase to flush out terrorists from their remaining strongholds along the border with Afghanistan. Phenomenal successes have been achieved after the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Terrorists’ backbone has been broken, dismantling their main infrastructure and disrupting their nexus with sleeper cells. According to ISPR, 3,400 terrorists including 183 hardcore were killed, 837 hideouts destroyed, and 21,193 terrorist were arrested. In this context about 488 officers and men of Pak Army, FC and Rangers sacrificed their lives and 1914 were injured in the operation. The successes in this operation have created space for decisive surge against terrorists in urban areas as well.

Whereas, there are commendable achievements in implementing the NAP, there are some shortcomings as well. Still, more needs to be done. The reality of the situation is that this battle will require more than just hangings, killings, blocking finances and illegal mobile SIMS as well as banning public hate speeches. These factors are enablers but not producers of terrorist violence. This is a mindset that has become embedded in our society due to decades of inaction. Unless primary causes such as poverty, unemployment and illiteracy are addressed, everlasting results could not be achieved.

It is viewed that the heavy reliance on kinetic means – without corresponding soft counterterrorism measures – is capital-intensive, long-drawn-out and might become counter-productive. Although, the use of power is necessary but it is not the only factor of success in counterterrorism. For a sustainable counterterrorism policy, Pakistan should balance the hard and soft counterterrorism approaches to introduce smart approaches. The government should not rely only on the military for ending terrorism. Under the NAP, the federal and the provincial governments and related institutions other than security forces should also adopt more proactive approaches, which pre-empt and prevent terrorist incidents. It is basically radicalisation that produces extremist mindsets and the terrorists of the kind, who were involved in the APS attack. Without removing the sources of radicalisation and extremism, the battle against terrorism cannot be won. A similar tragedy could happen again if Pakistan slips in its commitment to taking the battle against extremism to its logical conclusion.Thus, the NAP can be successful if all measures are effectively adopted by all concerned with transparency and accountability. A combination of counter-narrative, de-radicalization programme, madaris reform, social and political reforms is indispensible.

The writer works for IPRI

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