THE military commanders have spoken. The message is loud and clear. The war against terrorism will go on.
“It was reiterated in unequivocal terms that a comprehensive strategy will be followed by the armed forces to combat the terrorist threat being faced by the country,” the principal military advisory body proclaimed after the recent Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee’s quarterly meeting. This military policy statement comes in the wake of two important developments. One, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) withdrew its peace talks offer on account of what it called the “non-serious attitude of security forces and the government”.
Second, while the federal and provincial chief executives were involved in a political tug-of-war over the establishment of caretaker governments, the military chose to fill this political void by raising a forceful voice against the threat of internal terrorism, in the process indirectly conceding that there was a serious civilian-military disconnect in pursuing a concerted policy and strategy on internal security issues during the last few years.
There is a clear message for the new caretaker governments that the armed forces want to pursue a “comprehensive strategy”, and that “all elements of national power would be utilised to combat and root out terrorism from the country”.
Another announcement by the military commanders pertains to their commitment to support and assist the Election Commission of Pakistan in the forthcoming elections.
It is an important promise that needs to be kept, especially in the wake of the TTP’s warning to the public to stay away from electoral activities as it regards elections as “un-Islamic”. It has also indicated that it will target “secular” politicians in the coming days.
Against this tense and grim scenario, the recent military declaration to combat and root out terrorism from our midst will come up against many road blocks and unexpected turbulence. This will happen especially if all the elements of national power are not engaged in this decisive phase against the terrorists and non-state actors who want to unravel the state of Pakistan.
Therefore, in the absence of political expediencies and compromises during the tenure of the interim caretaker governments, all state stakeholders dealing with national security need to forge a comprehensive policy framework. They must translate their resolve through determined and sustained counterterrorism operations so that the coming elections are not marred by violence and bloodshed.
All security agencies must realise that the great effectiveness multiplier in the use of state power against violence is the allegiance and support of the public.
It is hugely symbolic that 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai has returned to school in Birmingham for the first time after she was shot in the head by militants last October. She represents the resilience of a young spirit and a beacon of hope for our society that is willing to incur sacrifices in the battle for the true spirit of faith.
Security experts firmly believe that capturing, killing, or imprisoning criminals who commit violent acts is possible only if the identification of perpetrators or targets is guided by precise intelligence.
The recent arrest of Qari Abdul Hayee, allegedly involved in the 2002 murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl, in Karachi is a case in point. The security and intelligence agencies finally succeeded in nabbing him through precise technical and human intelligence. The slain journalist’s family has hailed this arrest in a message from Los Angeles.
Similarly, intelligence-driven operations have led the Karachi police to apparently account for one of the killers of the respected social activist Parween Rahman and also trace and identify the culprits responsible for the sectarian carnage in Abbas Town.
Counterterrorism is primarily the responsibility of the police. Civil armed forces like the Rangers and Frontier Corps, intelligence agencies like Inter-Services Intelligence and the Intelligence Bureau, and the military play a basically supporting role.
The police can prevent and control terrorism in three ways: one, by protecting vulnerable people and places on the basis of assessments of the likelihood of attack i.e. target hardening; two, by investigating, arresting and prosecuting terrorist suspects, thus providing deterrence against future attacks; and three, by taking pre-emptive action designed to stop attacks before they occur on the basis of intelligence.
The protection of people and places should be ensured by specially trained armed police. Their protective ability will be increased substantially if the public itself takes protective measures, such as being alert to suspicious activity, monitoring access to premises and installing surveillance equipment.
Neighbourhood watch schemes and additional deployment of private security companies can be helpful. Police need to be able to work cooperatively with the private sector, coordinating activities and sharing information.
The key to the successful prosecution of terrorist suspects is reliable testimony from perpetrators, accomplices and witnesses. Recent legislation should make the police less dependent on public assistance as now they are allowed to submit evidence collected by covert means. However, supervisory officers need to make sure that no human rights violations take place while collecting such vital evidence.
Specialised counterterrorism segments of both the federal and provincial police departments should now play a greater role in achieving success against the terrorists.
The National Counter Terrorism Authority should achieve better coordination among all the state agencies dealing with terrorism. The ISI should have a legal framework to monitor and foil the designs of terrorists using our soil for refuge or to launch nefarious activities.
Joint interrogation teams should be notified by the interior ministry and home departments to assist the provincial crime investigation departments in finalising investigations against those accused of being involved in acts of terrorism.
All the law enforcement agencies, especially the police, can gain public trust and support on account of their professionalism, integrity, courage and total impartiality if the war against terrorism is to be won. Failure is not an option if we are to survive as a nation.
The writer is a retired police officer.