WE’RE past the 100-day mark, and as they’ve told us, they’ve been busy. But the recent Chinese consulate attack in Karachi begs the question whether they’ve been busy enough on the security front. The attack was alarming owing to its target, timing, and the tragic loss of life. Still, it should not come to dictate the PTI’s internal security policy.
The attack was arguably among the highest-profile carried out by Baloch separatist militants against the Chinese. Following the August suicide bombing targeting a bus carrying Chinese engineers in Dalbandin, also claimed by the Balochistan Liberation Army, the attack sets the tone for what’s to come — further attacks against CPEC-linked projects.
All stakeholders — the Chinese government, the PTI administration, and the military — sang to the same song sheet after the attack: condemning the incident, praising the police’s and paramilitary forces’ effective response, and assuring that such incidents could not harm Sino-Pak ties.
A holistic approach to managing the security threat is needed.
But another message was also clearly conveyed. Following the attack, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman requested that Pakistan take steps to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals and assets. This is not surprising. We know that China does not take well to its citizens and investments facing security threats. Recall that the Lal Masjid operation was instigated under Chinese pressure following radical clerics’ harassment of Chinese nationals.
Certainly, the government has to take all measures to ensure security of CPEC. But this cannot dominate internal security policy. Efforts to secure Chinese interests must be part of a broader security approach and prioritised accordingly. After all, stability in Pakistan is as much about civil service reform and foreign policy as it is about security responses.
Baloch separatists are among the weaker militant groups operating in the country owing to the ongoing military crackdown since 2006. A continued securitised response to Baloch militancy will only achieve so much. Ultimately, this is a political problem, and the resolution will come through redressal of Baloch grievances, and major socioeconomic and development interventions aimed at overturning decades of exclusion and marginalisation.
The suicide bombing in Orakzai that occurred the same day as the Chinese consulate attack served as a reminder that Pakistan continues to face threats from Islamist militant groups. In this case too, the military response has achieved what it can, and the next step must be political: a strong joint counterterrorism policy with Afghanistan that meaningfully addresses threats of cross-border militancy on both sides of the border.
Pakistan also continues to face challenges resulting from the alleged presence of anti-India militant groups on its territory. These groups impelled lobbying efforts that resulted in Pakistan’s FATF grey-listing, and they remain a point of contention that undermines Pakistan’s position on the international stage.
The PTI government is currently developing its internal security policy. As part of this it has planned a revamp of the National Action Plan. It remains unclear what version 2.0 will offer, but initial reports indicate an emphasis on cybercrimes, and attempts to plug the gaps created by the first incarnation of the policy.
In its manifesto, the PTI had also laid out an ambitious plan for tackling terrorism, the 4 Es: enforcing NAP, continuing security operations against militant groups, winning over ‘passive’ militants, and spreading counter-narratives, including through madressah reform.
These initial policy drafts indicate that the PTI recognises that the antidote to Pakistan’s domestic security challenges does not lie in military operations alone. Two elements its plan, in particular, are key: strengthening civilian law enforcement, starting with police reforms, and rescuing Nacta from its bureaucratic mire to ensure that it is functional and effective.
Other aspects of the PTI’s agenda are seemingly unrelated but also essential to a robust internal security approach. For example, the administration’s plans to revive the Foreign Office will contribute to Pakistan’s ability to find diplomatic solutions to regional security challenges.
It is high time a government actually implemented a holistic approach to managing internal security challenges. On paper, the PTI has started to set the right tone. In reality, its kowtowing to the TLP and U-turns on several issues ranging from geopolitical relations to minority rights indicate that it will struggle to deliver. It would be a shame if the timing of the consulate attack, and related pressure to prioritise cracking down on Baloch militancy, overshadows more nuanced thinking on security policy. As the past decade has shown, this approach has not made us that much safer.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2018