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Security for the people

May 13, 2013

ONCE in power, these are some of the immediate counterterrorism and extremism priorities the new prime minister can consider.

As a first step, the National Counterterrorism Authority should be allowed to play the role it was originally intended for as a civilian-run body, and be made the central repository of all information on terrorists, their organisations, acts of terror, etc.

Mechanisms should be devised for sharing this information with the provinces. Despite the elusive nature of terrorist groups operating in Pakistan, certain patterns are discernible. Similarly, those elements which enable terrorist organisations to operate in a certain environment can also be mapped.

A Pakistan-specific threat assessment mechanism is needed to create frameworks for devising informed policy responses. These frameworks should attempt to map the terrorist landscape and patterns of behaviour, and contextualise them so that the vulnerabilities of terrorist groups are identified and an adequate policy response can be generated.

This should also be linked to creating and effectively using a system that prioritises certain levels of threats. The framework would also have to have the capacity to adapt according to the changing threat assessment.

Such assessments are vital to developing a national counterterrorism strategy. However, in our case this will not be possible in the short term. Radicalisation and terrorism have a cause-and-effect relationship; increased radicalisation seriously affects counterterrorism efforts. Currently, radicalisation is the major challenge that needs to be addressed.

The next government would need to focus on a national counter-radicalisation strategy, though this would also follow from an initial, well-thought-out threat assessment landscape.

There is always some confusion among Pakistanis whether they want to follow common or religious law, and this confusion is providing loopholes for extremists to slip through.

Although legal frameworks such as robust counterterrorism laws are needed, ideological sanction is also important.

While fatwas have earlier been given by the Council of Islamic Ideology, the role of the latter needs to be reinvigorated as the official religious stakeholder of the government.

Other ministries, even the devolved ones and the moribund religious affairs’ ministry, too can be galvanised. Once an Islamic counter-narrative against terrorism is evolved, this should be taken up as part of a strategic campaign to communicate the narrative.

The consensus resolution passed by parliament in 2008 set up a Parliamentary Committee on National Security (PCNS). However, the agendas — especially those of strengthening national security through dialogue — were never implemented and the committee never really proved effective. A sister parliamentary committee should be set up to reinvigorate this process.

Further, the cabinet should be tasked with having in-camera briefings pertaining to recommendations from the committee on issues of national security at least once a month.

The new PCNS can then start tackling the really thorny issues such as engaging with the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Pakistan-US relations in the ‘war against terrorism’, drone strikes and national security strategy, etc.

Rural districts in southern Punjab seem to have become sanctuaries and training areas for banned terrorist groups, some escaping Fata in the wake of military operations there.

Grinding poverty, corruption, extremist religious seminaries and socio-economic inequities have been a recipe for disaster, with the populace living well below the poverty line in southern and western Punjab.

Moreover, the borders of south Punjab share certain topographical features with the tribal areas which make the permeation of militants easy even if — and this is debatable — entry points from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Punjab can be manned effectively.

Any step which does not generate agreement on this most sensitive of political issues can lead to a hue and cry, negating any effort to reach workable solutions.

An incremental solution is preferable, with a parliamentary committee formed to try to reach some agreement on south Punjab issues. This has to be representative of the government and the opposition.

Since legislation in the form of the Fair Trial Act 2012, and the new amendments to the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 now exist; all that is needed is the enabling of provincial counterterrorism departments and law enforcement agencies to start functioning with the cooperation of the interior ministry.

There is a forensic lab in Balochistan, but it is antiquated and non-functional, and the police must send samples to Karachi — which takes time. Anti-terrorist cases are rejected in the meanwhile.

A local and independent forensic laboratory has to be made functional in Balochistan for effectively processing terrorist cases.

This does not really need to be as state of the art as the Punjab forensic science laboratory, but should still be able to handle most cases. Similar entities in Karachi and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa have to be reinvigorated or built from scratch.

These measures are by no means exhaustive, but a start has to be made now at all costs, pending which no amount of political slogans will result in security for us common Pakistanis.

The writer is a security analyst.