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Former army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, while addressing a session at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday, called for a global intelligence sharing strategy to combat terrorism all over the world.

Sharif, during a session titled 'Terrorism in the digital age', said that 2016 had witnessed a significant decrease in terrorism and that "intelligence sharing is a very important component of strategy to combat terrorism."

"Terrorism is a global issue and the global community will have to get united if it wants to defeat terrorism," he said.

Discussing modern terrorism, Sharif maintained that new methods of communication give terrorists a huge advantage and that "it [terrorism] is not only a cancer, it is the most deadly form of cancer."

When the discussion moved towards the need for international measures against terrorism, Raheel Sharif said, "I think at the international level there is the need for synergy and a pact like the UN's 1373 resolution which binds us together."

Recalling Pakistan’s experience in its fight against terrorism, he added: "In Pakistan it was the ‘whole nation’ approach which paid off. When a horrendous attack like the school incident in which over 135 children were killed occurred, everyone came together."

"I think in this digital age intelligence sharing is the key to success against terrorism and it would make a huge difference," he concluded.

'There is a method to this madness'

"These terrorists have the ability to mutate, to morph and they can do it very quickly. Obviously this platform [the internet] is available to them and they [terrorists] us it very effectively; recruitment is only one thing, the financiers, the facilitators, the sleeper cells and the sympathisers, all of them are involved in [the process through the internet]," Sharif said during the discussion.

General (retd) Raheel Sharif speaks at the World Economic Forum. -AP
General (retd) Raheel Sharif speaks at the World Economic Forum. -AP

"There is a requirement for the free world to gel together and react on a fast pace. I would say we would have to go on a certain pitch to fight this menace," the former Army chief concluded.

Talking about how terrorists strategise, Raheel Sharif said: "They plan their attacks very well, they want glorification. If you see the timing if you see the targets, there is a method to this madness, and it is not someone sitting in a cave that is doing these things."

Highlighting Pakistan’s struggle with terrorism at the forum, Sharif said: “I would just like to say a few words about our Pakistan and the region, we used to have around 150 incidents [of terrorist incidents] a month and from that we came down to a single figure in 2016 and now … we have one [terrorist] incident in one or two months.”

'Freedom of speech and human rights are tricky'

While talking about international laws that protect human rights and freedom of speech, Raheel Sharif said the two concerns are sometimes difficult to handle.

"When you are dealing with hardcore terrorists like those in the school incident, there were mothers that met me and asked that these terrorists be apprehended and hanged within the school's premises. At that moment, someone brought up human rights, and one of the mothers said to me what about our human right?," he said.

"So there is a balance which is required ... there is the need to deal with these terrorists in a very firm way and, I personally feel, in a manner which creates deterrence. Obviously the laws and rules need to be followed as well," Sharif concluded.

'Military courts were the need of the hour'

"Do you think you can deter someone who is ready to sacrifice their own life and the lives of their family?" the show host asked.

Sharif replied, "Of course we can deter them if there is a proper mechanism in place and if there are courts in place to deal with these matters."

Talking about Pakistan’s firm stance on military courts, he added: "I openly admit that we had military courts, and that 170 militants were convicted and some of them were even sentenced to death."

"I must admit also that the military courts were the need of the hour, in those unusual times that unusual arrangement was required, and of course now we see deterrence for those who are slowly getting indoctrinated," he added.

2,500 individuals have been through deradicalisation centres

Talking about Pakistan’s ‘whole country’ approach, he said that since Operation Zarb-i-Azb began, 2,500 individuals have been through seven deradicalisation centres run by the Pakistan Army in the country.

Talking about the military operation in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, he told the audience that over 300,000 families were moved out of an 8,000 square kilometre area.

“We then carried out the operation [to cleanse the area of terrorists] and I am happy to announce that 90 per cent of those families have now returned to their homes in the area," Sharif said.

"We have provided those families with better schools and health facilities now, so it was not only an operation, it was a whole concept that was carried out to rid the area of terrorism and control extremism," he told the audience.

'The destiny of Pakistan and Afghanistan is linked'

Answering a question about dealing with terrorists when sympathisers exist within the population giving them shelter, Raheel Sharif said, "Circumstances in Pakistan are difficult and there are a number of challenges, for example we have over 3 million Afghan refugees and they have been living in Pakistan for the last over 30 years.

"We have a 2,400-km-long porous border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. We have inter-tribal linkages and there are villages which are divided [between the two countries] in the sense that you can have dinner in one house and lunch in the other on the other side of the border."

"Pakistan has dealt with [these circumstances] and when we started Operation Zarb-i-Azb we decided that we will establish the writ of the government in all these areas and now it has been established in the whole of Pakistan,” he added.

"There are difficulties on the other side; there are pockets in Afghanistan where a lot of these organisations still exist. So the situation is also dependant on Afghanistan so we also hope that stability returns to Afghanistan as it is our brotherly country. Ours and Afghan destiny is linked and we feel that the moment stability returns to Afghanistan things would improve," Sharif concluded.