COUNTERTERRORISM strategies across the globe and Pakistan’s own experience inform us that the use of force only succeeds in disrupting, dismantling and weakening terrorist networks when supported by an effective counter-narrative, accurate data regarding the progress of an anti-militancy campaign, and a well-trained, well-equipped police force.
With the launching of Operation Zarb-i-Azb by the army in North Waziristan, the militant landscape in Pakistan seems to be getting more complex. The absence of the expected backlash in Pakistan’s urban centres has triggered some critical questions for the public and especially for those affected by the military operation.
The first set of questions relates to the lack of factual information regarding the progress of the military operation. Data is provided by a single source and is not verifiable by other sources perhaps because of the military’s hesitancy to make public its strategy. Whatever the reason, the poor flow of information has created confusion and suspicion among those directly affected by the operation. A common question in both KP and Fata is: ‘where is the command and control structure of the militant network now?’ The other question is: ‘what will the government do to disrupt the militant network in urban centres?’
The recent security conference in Islamabad, chaired by the prime minister, was a positive step as the political leadership was taken into confidence. It is advisable that both houses of parliament be similarly informed on the progress of Operation Zarb-i-Azb. The cabinet committee that was formed to oversee the military operation and handle IDP issues appears to be dysfunctional. One reason could be attributed to the tensions engendered by the ‘long march’ and ‘revolution’ activities. These are at best diversionary tactics that can have grave consequences.
There is no alternative discourse to counter the militants’ narrative.
Pakistan’s politicians, media and academia have so far failed to help construct a counter-extremist discourse. The absence of one has complicated efforts to understand the intricacies of religiously-motivated violence in the country. The absence of a backlash so far should not be read as lack of capacity of the militant network to inflict damage on state and society. Unfortunately, the media discourse and educational reforms to construct a pluralist narrative are missing despite this situation.
The absence of an alternative to what the militants are propounding is evident at many levels of society, and has resulted in shrinking space for independent thinking. It has had a negative impact on the role of women in society and has made the environment for ‘minorities’ ever more insecure. The lack of a discourse that counters extremist ideas has also impacted negatively on issues of empowerment, equal distribution of resources and the efficient delivery of social services.
An important factor in the fight against militancy is the presence of a well-trained, well-equipped and skilled police force in all the provinces, especially KP. One of the reasons for the poor resistance to the social control of militants in Fata, KP and elsewhere is the absence of proper law-enforcement under the civilian authority. This is borne out by the extent of the socio-cultural and socio-political space captured by the militant network in these areas.
The militants do not need to launch large-scale, expensive attacks when they are able to dominate society through their narrative. Once they have assumed control, they go for targeted killings. In addition, the network also develops extortion chains. There are credible reports that targeted killings have increased by 30pc and the number of cases of extortion has also gone up substantially in KP, especially in and around Peshawar.
Successive governments in KP have paid an acceptable level of attention to training, equipping and imparting skills to the police force. The sacrifices that have been rendered by the police force have been rightly praised by both ordinary people and ex-police officials. The present and previous KP governments have had plans to establish a police directorate of counterterrorism, to separate investigation and prosecution, and create a proper department for intelligence. Still, there is much left to be done.
One assumes that there must be an analytical wing at the intelligence department to sift through and scrutinise coordinated intelligence reports to come up with a strategy and to form accurate threat perceptions. It is hoped that the analytical wing works closely with experts on the subject. One also expects that information gathering is updated and modernised so that crime, extortion and targeted killings are pre-empted.
It is also important for Pakistan to coordinate with its neighbours in the task of dismantling the militant network. Pakistan needs to demonstrate an inclusive, cooperative approach if it is to neutralise the formidable threat of extremist violence in the country.
The writer is a political analyst based in Peshawar.
Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2014