IT is for the world to do more as Pakistan had done a lot to fight terrorism, said the prime minister at the recent Islamabad International Counterterrorism Forum, and asked the international community to play its role in addressing the causes leading to terrorism and extremism. Our national security adviser went a step further and blamed the world for treating us as children of a lesser god, but emphatically declared that we have almost won the war against terrorism. Interestingly, he reiterated his stance that we are a wise and morally correct nation, on the right side of history.
Such statements coming from our political and military leadership are surely meant to boost the nation’s morale by changing the narrative from ‘victim’ to ‘victor’, but I wonder if such a declaration of victory is premature given the unfinished agenda initiated through the National Action Plan (NAP) in early 2015. The question I want to ask our policymakers is this: while declaring ourselves as victors against terrorists, can we say that we have defeated religious fanaticism and violent extremism from our body politic?
The National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) is beginning to make a difference under a professionally dedicated command, and must be commended for providing an international forum for introspection about global, regional and domestic security fault lines that need to be addressed holistically. But, while asking the world to ‘do more’, are we cognisant of the social upheaval at home in the face of the widening gulf between the rich and the poor, uncontrolled population growth, scarcity of resources, and violence and lawlessness? Terrorism, organised crime, vigilante groups and hired assassins, in addition to covert intelligence operations — all assisted by technology and social media — have disrupted and dominated the national scene, creating a mafia-like governance paradigm. To top it all, religious extremism has added to the witch’s brew of social and economic discontent.
Terrorists draw their strength from a state that follows their rules of engagement.
The prime minister also invited the world’s attention to the fact that no other country had committed over 200,000 troops to eradicating terrorism while conducting numerous civil and military operations across the country. But have we honestly asked ourselves how we came to be blamed in the first place for creating safe havens for non-state actors? Whose agenda did we follow, and was it really in our national interest?
There is much talk of a ‘Bajwa doctrine’ these days but it is, in fact, mostly the continuation of a policy propounded by the then army chief in 2009. For the first time, the commander of the armed forces acknowledged that terrorism, more than India, was the greatest threat to our survival as a viable state. The operations carried out in Swat and South Waziristan from then onwards were a direct result of this military doctrine. The next army chief made his intentions known by extending the counterterrorism battlefield to other terrorist strongholds. Against the so-called peace talks initiated by the newly installed political government with Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, the armed forces hit at the epicentre of terrorism by launching Operation Zarb-i-Azb in North Waziristan in June 2014. The TTP hit back that December, claiming 144 lives at the Army Public School, Peshawar.
In its immediate aftermath, the framing of NAP reflected our national resolve against terrorism. NAP has two clear components: short-term kinetic measures by the state’s security apparatus and long-term measures to counter violent extremism. Under the present army chief, Operation Raddul Fasaad widened the net of counterterrorism operations and, more importantly, has demonstrated zero tolerance for non-state actors, including erstwhile ‘strategic assets’.
This is where the present strategy appears different and more effective, by removing the distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ militants. In my four decades of service as a professional police officer grappling with militancy, I have maintained that no non-state actor can survive without internal or external support from security and intelligence agencies. I am therefore watching with bated breath for the ‘Bajwa doctrine’ to succeed against militants of all hues as elaborated at the recent Nacta conference.
Some of the conference’s participants expressed concern about the militarisation of our internal security strategy, and called upon the government to bring about much-needed reforms in the criminal justice sector. The short-term measure of establishing military courts through constitutional amendments (valid until next year) does not reflect well on the capacity of the state to meet the CT challenge through a rule-of-law approach.
It is now time to put together an effective national internal security policy after learning lessons from the largely unimplemented NISP (2014-18), and to encourage the provincial governments to launch road maps for strengthening criminal justice institutions. The Supreme Court, through the Law and Justice Commission, and the high courts, through the provincial justice committees, need to actively ensure that perpetrators of terrorism and organised crime are dealt with in accordance with laws that safeguard their fundamental rights. Killing terrorists through staged encounters does not solve the problem; on the contrary, it brutalises society. Terrorists draw their strength from a state that follows their rules of engagement.
Without gaining public trust, the long-term counterterrorism battle cannot be won. Community policing initiatives were strongly recommended in the Nacta conference, with participants stating that during this election year, poor governance and lack of justice were factors that led to violence and crime. The police are the first line of defence in any meaningful measures against terrorists and extremists.
Therefore, utmost priority should be given to enacting the following reforms: depoliticise the police through institutional safeguards like apolitical public safety commissions; establish independent complaints authorities to check police corruption and human rights violations; ensure operational, administrative and financial autonomy of police command (recent verdicts of the Sindh, Punjab and Balochistan high courts in this regard are welcome developments); enhance professionalism through functional specialisation to improve investigations; promote community and problem-oriented policing to gain public trust and tackle existing challenges posed by terrorism and extremism.
Edward Gibbon said that “the winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators”. Pakistan needs able and wise navigators.
The writer is former IG Police and author of The Faltering State.
Published in Dawn, April 13th, 2018