PAKISTAN’S counterterrorism policy and its objectives continue to lack clarity as the civilian government belatedly embarks on formulating a political roadmap — directed by the army (evidence: the decision to establish military courts) — in the aftermath of the Peshawar school attack last month. However, given the short-sighted policies that have shielded non-state militant actors so far, such a strategy can prove to be a game-changer only if stakeholders realise that Pakistan’s militant threat requires a firm national action plan that has political consensus and military support.
Pakistan’s ties with domestic militant groups have long served its strategic depth policy objectives in connection with Afghanistan and India. This has led to accusations of the state playing a ‘double-game’ by providing sanctuary to militant groups that cross into Afghanistan to attack foreign and Afghan forces. But in the period between 2002 and 2007 these groups turned inwards, promoting an anti-state agenda with newer sectarian organisations joining their ranks and expanding their activities.
Edited by Moeed Yusuf, Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Challenge offers a collection of analytical essays looking closely at the fast-spreading militancy challenge. Contributors including Anatol Lieven, Muhammad Amir Rana, Ejaz Haider, Savail Meekal Hussain and Mehreen Zahra-Malik explore why the state is perceived as troublesome; why selective terror groups are targeted through counterterrorism operations; and the consequences of the absence of a coordinating anti-terror body and the lack of a cohesive counterterrorism strategy that could be implemented by the civilian government with military assistance.
The analysis presented in this volume supports the need for a political and military nexus, pooling counterterrorism resources, and sharing intelligence. It is not hard to see that political leaders have failed to stop the proliferation of home-grown terror groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad, and the historic support offered to them by the state; it is also clear that members of the Haqqani network have turned on their supporters, joined anti-Pakistan outfits and coordinated attacks within the country. In the absence of a coherent policy, a dormant National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta), weak civilian governments, and the spillover of the Afghan war, the Pakistani Taliban and their cohorts have survived as a hardened fighting force with foot soldiers drawn from aligned regional (Afghan Taliban, Arab, Uzbek and Chechen militant fighters) and local militant and sectarian organisations.
In his opening chapter, Yusuf’s historical overview sets the stage for the rest of the book, also working as a reminder of the overall militant challenge in the context of internal and regional dynamics. He notes that Pakistan’s armed forces not only lacked access to the right kind of equipment when compelled to intervene militarily in Fata for the first time in 2002, but were also not trained for semi-urban guerrilla warfare and counter-insurgency against their own people.
Between 2002 and 2007, operating as an ally in the ‘war on terror,’ Pakistan managed to become an incubator for an assortment of ‘jihadi’ groups including the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda and its affiliates. Further, the Lal Masjid siege in July 2007 served as the propaganda campaign of the Pakistani Taliban: young men joined the fight, sympathisers contributed financially and the frequency of anti-Pakistan attacks increased.
After 2007, the TTP became ever more entrenched, building alliances and planning attacks with groups that targeted Shias, while establishing roots and a lucrative criminal enterprise in Karachi. Meanwhile, politicians in Punjab publicly tried to appease the Taliban by allowing them space in return for not attacking the province where they have their main support base. Political parties advocated negotiations with the Taliban in part to stave off even higher levels of violence in Punjab and other populated areas.
The authors of this volume take a direct and practical approach, noting that the state’s objective should be nothing short of eliminating all terror safe havens (Punjab included), re-establishing their writ in Taliban-held tribal areas, strengthening and training the police, implementing anti-terror legislation, revamping the criminal justice system, and choking the financial resources of militant groups. Most importantly, garnering overall public support for this war is critical to our survival as a nation as it will promote zero tolerance for terrorism among local populations.
The writers also point out that doing away with a selective approach towards militant groups will only reassert state authority. Although the government’s lack of preparedness and abysmal record of fighting internal terrorism complicates the challenge, with urban terrorism threatening further destabilisation, backing for an army-directed anti-terrorism plan appears divided at this stage among opinion makers. Ejaz Haider’s essay, ‘Counterinsurgency: The Myth of Sisyphus?’ is the only chapter detailing major military operations in the past decade. He talks of why Pakistanis increasingly questioned a war that cost thousands of civilian casualties and billions in economic losses ($70 billion in direct fighting and national economic losses). Discussing Pakistani military action compared to the US war efforts in Afghanistan, Haider notes both are fighting a conflict in which zones of war and peace are not demarcated and where success is dependent on the support of the local population. This implies that a COIN strategy (clear, hold, build and transfer policy), if implemented long-term, prevents militant groups from resurging.
The case with the Pakistani army, Haider notes, is that it is fighting its own people, not just in the northwest, but also in urban centres. And since the 2002, the military has been ill-equipped to “fight the kind of war it has since had to fight,” he writes. Recommending a counterterrorism strategy complemented with a holistic COIN approach focused on the ideological, socioeconomic and political causes of the rise of Islamist militancy, Haider notes that this method could win over the population and effectively stop the spread of militancy in Fata and its surrounding areas.
Although the army deployment in Fata was a tactical counterterrorism effort that managed to kill high-value targets, Haider notes that Al Qaeda and its foreign affiliates (Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and East Turkestan Islamic Movement) entrenched themselves among the local populace. Al Qaeda also managed to finance and influence local tribes like the Mehsud, Dewar and Wazirs. Holding ground, building and rehabilitating are critical to preventing a militant resurgence.
He notes that because military operations (and drone attacks) have squeezed Fata’s militant groups, they have moved to urban centres to “fight the next phase of this war.”
Another point to reflect on is the role played by the media in changing public opinion, especially when it exposed the brutality of the Taliban, says Haider. Three areas where the urban, civilian-led counterterrorism strategy requires attention include police reforms; terrorism-related laws, including those to deal with terrorists captured during operations and raids; and, most importantly, a national security policy identifying threats and formulating a strategy. Identifying Nacta and its operations as a national intelligence-sharing commission to coordinate the efforts of civil and military intelligence sharing, Haider and other authors have noted reluctance to share information on the part of different intelligence organisations.
Police officer Suhail Habib Tajik, who has served in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab and studied for six years in Waziristan, looks at the role of civilian law enforcement and intelligence agencies in connection with counterterrorism operations. He focuses on police constraints when dealing with urban terrorism, explaining why the police have failed in implementing counterterrorism strategies. Tajik also looks at what is required to reform the system, including structural challenges which may not be “police-specific issues” but which hinder the police when exercising their authority.
Tajik identifies three blind spots as Fata, the Malakand Division in the Provincially Administered Tribal Areas (Pata) and Swat, and certain areas of Balochistan where the state’s authority is practically non-existent due to poor policing infrastructure. As Fata does not come under police jurisdiction and shares a border with Afghanistan, it is difficult to control terrorism with militants seeking sanctuary in Afghanistan. For instance, TTP leader Fazlullah conducts attacks inside Pakistan from across the border. The absence of the applicability of the Criminal Procedure Code, the Pakistan Penal Code and other laws in the autonomous tribal belt which is administered under the Frontier Crimes Regulation has resulted in a legal, constitutional and administrative vacuum which attracted Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters who fled Afghanistan after the US invasion in 2001. Although militant heavyweights were killed in Fata, these fighters managed to displace the traditional system of governance of the tribal elders or maliks, the political administration, and the Scouts with parallel justice and taxation systems.
Inescapably, the lack of policing resources results in weak counterterrorism efforts, as Tajik notes. He was part of the investigating team into the Benazir Bhutto assassination case and says that the team was not provided “a single penny to probe the incident.” Some of the gaps are lack of technical capabilities such as DNA analytical skills; crime scene units; explosives laboratories; ballistics experts; and firearms databases.
Tajik’s analysis should be considered for his first-hand experience and the recommendations he provides. Inconsistencies in legal and criminal procedures result in suspects being acquitted by the courts. Intelligence agencies are unable to prosecute militants in courts while protective measures under the current legal system for witnesses, police investigators, prosecutors and Anti-Terrorism court judges are inadequate. Tajik’s recommendations include bridging the disconnect between various civilian and military-led law enforcement agencies regarding information sharing; overhauling the police to extend across Pakistan to establish a joint terrorism task force; removing military interference from civilian law-enforcement; and providing the police with training, technology, data and capacity to perform counterterrorism operations that would strengthen policing and the counterterrorism structure.
Security and political analyst Amir Rana’s chapter, ‘Choking financing for militants in Pakistan,’ documents the various sources of militant financing, revealing the adeptness of terrorist organisations in developing mechanisms to access funds and resources. Militant groups use the guise of welfare services and charitable fronts such as schools and clinics to boost their public image, expand their support base and receive donations. Rana notes that the Pakistani Taliban rely on multiple financial resources: levying fines, receiving zakat, raising money through criminal activities such as abduction for ransom and smuggling, and through direct private donations within and outside of Pakistan.
Also routine is using the media as a tool for generating funds, recruiting and spreading propaganda, while jihadi literature and pamphlets are sold or distributed freely after Friday congregations outside mosques or at madressahs. The new money generating avenue — in urban centres like Karachi — is reliance on crimes such as kidnapping, smuggling and narcotics trafficking. Coordination with regional partners is needed to choke the channels but there is no state policy to curb sources of funding for the Taliban or dry up their funding avenues.
From the start, the Pakistani Taliban connected with other jihadi outfits and have shared their vast ambitions to launch ruthless attacks against the state and the military which have left the civilian government in a state of paralysis and at the centre of world attention for their deliberate inaction. This volume notes the failures of a national counterterrorism policy by examining the many facets of counterterrorism planning, formulating a national implementation plan by identifying loopholes and offering some very valid recommendations from short- to long-term policies. Although there is overall consensus that post-9/11 developments in Afghanistan posed challenges to the Pakistani state and transported militants into Fata, the state is yet to change its policy of keeping some of the militant groups as proxy tools.
A 2013 Pew Research Centre survey stated that 93 per cent Pakistanis believe terrorism to be one of the major problems in the country. The compelling question of the moment is why the state has failed so far to take steps against people for inciting violence? It is here that public opinion and support for the effort against militancy can be seen as an alternative way of denting the image and capabilities of the Pakistani Taliban. What can be said is that there isn’t an outright campaign against the Taliban — except for pockets of civil society activists and politicians — because these militant groups portray themselves as anti-American and pro-Muslim and the state is yet to mainstream an alternative narrative of peace.
Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Challenge
Edited by Moeed Yusuf
Georgetown University Press, 2014