ISLAMABAD: The PML-N government’s yet to be unveiled counter-terrorism policy renews the commitment to fight terror, but contains no radical shift in the strategy for dealing with the problem other than a rare acknowledgment that ‘enabling environment’ existed in the country for growth of extremism and terrorism.
The proposed strategy advises the government to use imprisoned terrorists and former militants for opening dialogue with terrorist groups which may be ready to renounce violence.
A brief of the draft policy titled National Counter-Terrorism and Extremism Policy, shared with Dawn, shows that it would have five elements — dismantle, contain, prevent, educate and reintegrate — as against the 3Ds — development, dialogue and deterrence — a strategy adopted by the previous PPP government for curbing militancy.
It is said that the PML-N government will move from the “mono-faceted approach” that relied exclusively on the use of force, to a more comprehensive strategy which would deal with the issue from different angles.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected to share the blueprint of the strategy with national leaders at an all parties conference (APC) on July 12 in an attempt to develop a consensus on challenges posed to national security by the tightening grip of militancy and extremism that has claimed over 48,000 lives and cost the national exchequer more than $60 billion over the past 10 years.
The draft document puts the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta), set up in 2009, at the centre of the strategy as the “national coordinator” tasked with execution and monitoring of the new policy.The Nacta has so far remained dysfunctional because of lack of clarity about its status. Initially it was placed under the interior ministry but certain stakeholders had opposed the arrangement and wanted to see it directly controlled by the prime minister.
The first strand of the proposed policy called ‘dismantle’ has elements ranging from strengthening security forces and anti-terror laws, police reforms, improved intelligence sharing and border management and putting in place robust threat assessment mechanisms to integrating military action in restive areas with civilian follow up.
In an oblique criticism of military operations conducted so far, the document says that there was an extra focus on ‘clear’ phase, but ‘hold’ and ‘build’ stages were not properly undertaken.
Describing this as a “serious flaw”, it proposes that civilian follow-up should pave way for withdrawal of military from the cleared areas.
The second and third pillars namely ‘containment’ and ‘prevention’ have provisions for beefing up security infrastructure, improving emergency response in the event of terrorist attacks, victim management, speedy justice, revision of curricula and a review of foreign policy, particularly with reference to relations with neighbouring countries.
The ‘education’ part is mostly about countering extremist propaganda, promoting an alternative view to “blinkered and bigoted” interpretation of Islam and media campaigns against violence.
On talks with militants, the proposed strategy suggests dialogue with jihadi organisations that are ready to renounce violence. For this purpose, the government is advised to engage former militants and terrorists lodged in jails. This makes the fifth element of the strategy, which has been named ‘reintegration’.
The draft explains the reasons behind the rise of militancy in the country, blaming the United States for sowing the seeds of “jihadi networks” during the CIA war against communism in the ’80s. Extremist ideology preached at madressahs, media propaganda and proxy wars carried out by foreign spy networks have been listed as other causes.
The element that merits the greatest attention is the list of the causes that have catalysed the growth of the twin phenomena of terrorism and extremism. Though many of the causes are well known, it is unusual for them to be officially accepted.
The factors mentioned under the label of environmental causes include acceptance of violence in the society; indifference of political parties to the problem; existence of terrorist sanctuaries in the country; inappropriate role of religious forces (Ulema) and international linkages.
“Continuous growth of the phenomena and increasingly fast sprouting of (militant) organisations at various levels were the products of the enabling environment,” the policy paper says.
Explaining the international linkages, it alludes to “jihadi movements abroad”, but without specifying whether it means uprisings in Palestine and Kashmir or the insurgency in Afghanistan. Moreover, it blames a segment of Pakistani diaspora that subscribes to extremist views for fomenting the problem.
Russia, Iran, India, Afghanistan and unnamed “hostile foreign intelligence agencies” have been mentioned as the regional powers that supported the growth of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan. There is importantly no mention of Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states, which were accused in US diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks of bankrolling militancy in Pakistan. Furthermore, US drones are missing from the list of causes cited for an increase in extremism and terrorism, though Pakistani officials have in their protests repeatedly said that the collateral damage caused by CIA-run drone war is helping Taliban recruit more people and creating sympathy for them among people.
Weak judicial system, inadequate anti-terror laws, unequal application of available laws and disparities in educational system are seen as facilitating factors.
But rampant poverty and poor governance do not merit a mention though analysts consider them as major factors.
Pakistan has unsuccessfully fought terrorism over the past decade primarily because of inherent contradictions within the strategy it has pursued. A few militant groups were countered but others were allowed to survive because of “strategic requirements”.
It is unclear how the government seeks to address that important lacuna to ensure that the new policy yields better results.