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THE PTI-led coalition government will take office in relatively peaceful times, compared to the terrorist threats that perpetually confronted the previous two political governments. Yet it will have to deal with some critical challenges linked to countering terrorism and violent extremism.

The good thing is that the government will inherit some clear policy guidelines on internal security — formulated by some state institutions including the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) — but implementing them will be the real test. At the same time, it will be important to see how the PTI government evolves its own approaches to deal with core security challenges, building upon the blueprint the party provided in its election manifesto.

To counter terrorism, the PTI promises a four-fold strategy comprising the four ‘E’s’: the first component is ‘exposing’ the links between active and passive terrorists and winning over the latter; the second component is about ‘enforcing’ the National Action Plan (NAP) as well as Pakistan’s international treaty/convention commitments on counterterrorism; the third seeks to ‘eliminate’ hardcore terrorists; and the fourth calls for ‘educating’ people by developing a counter-ideological narrative on terrorism.

To counter terrorism, the PTI promises a four-fold strategy.

Apparently, the strategy echoes the outcomes of governmental and non-governmental policy discourses of the past few years on NAP and the National Internal Security Policy (NISP), mostly held in Islamabad.

Delinking terrorists from their support bases, including financial, is the same strategy that was developed by paramilitary forces in Karachi with the consent of the security establishment; it was also used against political actors in Karachi and Sindh. However, in the current scenario, after the security forces have dispersed the terrorist networks forcing most to relocate to Afghanistan, the real challenge will be to delink the terrorist networks operating inside and outside the country.

Although the PTI manifesto talks about bringing in structural reforms, including in Nacta — by ending bureaucratic turf wars — the actualisation of such corrections will not be easy since the issue touches upon the traditionally ‘sensitive’ civil-military milieu. On similar accounts, the implementation of certain NAP provisions would be problematic.

On the whole, the issues linked to checking the operation of banned organisations, curbing terror financing, prohibiting hate literature, and dealing with sectarianism make Pakistan’s counterterrorism challenge complex. During the last two decades, the state has failed to evolve a proper strategy to deal with banned organisations and these groups are also expanding their outreach in mainstream politics. It always causes friction between civilian and military leaderships. It will be, thus, a real test of the PTI-led government to deal with the interconnected issues of NAP, without any confrontation with the security establishment.

One of the main hurdles in the way of the effective implementation of NAP has been the lack of a centralised mechanism. To deal with the issue, the previous government developed many overlapping monitoring mechanisms. It appears that the government invested much more in monitoring the implementation of NAP than directly in counterterrorism initiatives. It will also be challenging for the new government to develop a transparent mechanism for NAP implementation.

As far as the issue of a counter-narrative is concerned, the outgoing government had developed two documents. The first is called the Paigham-i-Pakistan, which is basically a religious decree-cum-declaration against extremism from a select group of religious scholars. This document has been released and security institutions are taking a keen interest in creating spaces for this message in educational institutions, including madressahs.

The second document is the National Counter-Narrative Policy, built upon extensive consultations with different segments of society, the academia, security experts and religious scholars. This document was developed by Nacta and submitted to former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar, but the fate of this document is not known yet as it was not presented in the cabinet at the time. However, the document was inclusive and had worth in addressing the threat of extremism in a comprehensive manner. The PTI government can adopt both documents as part of its national drive against extremism.

The government will also inherit Nisp, which mainly places emphasis on structural reforms of the security sector — the PTI manifesto also supports such reforms. A reformed security sector cannot be developed without bringing about structural reforms in the police. The manifesto promises a depoliticised police force and asserts that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police Act, 2017, will be replicated in other provinces and professional inspectors general will be appointed. It is not certain how this approach will reform the police and how the government will find dedicated IGs.

There is also a need to look into the matter of parallel security structures. Each province has parallel security forces to combat terrorism and similar threats. Punjab has the Elite Police Force created in 1997 to tackle counterterrorism and violent crime. But the province raised another counterterrorism force in 2014.

Meanwhile, paramilitary forces are constantly being employed to deal with conventional criminal and terrorist threats in parts of the country. The paramilitary forces have been encroaching on civilian law-and-order affairs and strengthening their institutional and moral authority. On the other hand, police have become so weak that they cannot even clarify their inaction in certain instances because of the dominant role of the paramilitaries.

An interesting idea to develop a comprehensive national security regime discussed in the manifesto is the creation of a ‘national security organisation’. Pakistan already has a similar constitutional body, called the Cabinet Committee on National Security, with the same structure as proposed by the PTI. The manifesto conceives Nacta as a coordinating body for the proposed security organisation.

But Nacta’s real challenge remains to develop coordination among different intelligence and law-enforcement departments. The establishment of a Joint Intelligence Directorate under Nacta was a long-awaited initiative but it has taken over Nacta and the civilian counterterrorism body has come under the influence of the main security institutions.

Another challenge will be to introduce accountability and transparency mechanisms for all the law-enforcement departments. Many security experts believe such measures will build the people’s trust in law-enforcement agencies, address the issue of enforced disappearances, and also help law enforcers focus on their tasks, thus developing their professional capabilities.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, August 12th, 2018