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Missing cooperation: Counterterrorism efforts

June 25, 2013

OUTRAGE, shock, condemnation, the requisite conspiracy-peddling and then back to business as usual, ostrich-like — the same tragic pattern after every new atrocity by militants is playing out once again. For a country that is increasingly suspicious of and hostile to the outside world — a reality that is very much reciprocated by the outside world — the death of several foreigners hardy enough to try and visit one of Pakistan’s most spectacular tourist sites does not appear to have caused much of a convulsion, particularly given the near-daily litany of death and violence that Pakistanis themselves have had to face. In any case, for those who are increasingly prone to seeing every foreigner in Pakistan as a spy or a Blackwater agent or a Raymond Davis, the reality of what happened in Gilgit-Baltistan on Sunday may not sink in. Surely, though, the loss of already scarce tourism rupees and dollars for a region that has few other economic opportunities should be of concern to fellow Pakistanis? It appears not.

While perceptions will take time to change and ownership of an unpopular fight against militancy may take even longer, the onus is on the government to at least provide a road map for fighting militancy. Up and down and across the breadth of the security and intelligence apparatus, there is an understanding that what is lacking is institutional cooperation inside an overarching framework in which a clear and coherent counterterrorism strategy is set out. And to achieve that, there have been few ideas as sensible and relevant as the National Counter-Terrorism Authority. In the dying days of the last parliament the Nacta Act was finally passed, seemingly bringing to an end the years-long turf war and desultory activities of Nacta. But while the new government has pledged to infuse Nacta with a real sense of purpose and direction, already it appears that the patterns of old may quickly reassert themselves, ie promises instead of action with meaningful and sustained follow-up.

The purpose of Nacta as a research, policy-formulation and coordination body is well known. Less well known are the difficulties associated with creating a new institution and finding enough elbow space for it to operate in a crowded arena, especially one where the relevant military-run intelligence agencies look down on their civilian counterparts as inferior and unworthy of serious cooperation. Without strong political will and a team to run Nacta that is both professional and independent, little will change. Still, it is not inevitable that nothing will change.