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A must-win war

December 16, 2018

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The writer is a security analyst.
The writer is a security analyst.

TODAY is fourth anniversary of the heartbreaking attack on Army Public School (APS), Peshawar. The Supreme Court had recently constituted a judicial commission to thoroughly probe into the factors behind the attack, which will probably present its findings soon. It will somewhat help in healing the wounds of the families of the victims. But Pakistan needs to have a solemn review of what it has gained and lost in its war against terrorism, in particular over the last two decades.

Certainly, there has been a gradual improvement in the internal security situation of Pakistan. The country’s annual security reviews for 2018 are projected to post a 30 to 35 per cent decline in terrorist attacks from the previous year. This continuing declining trend in acts of terrorism has already injected a great deal of optimism among security institutions, that believe that if this trend is sustained for another two to three years, Pakistan could declare a complete victory in the war against terrorism.

The counterterrorism framework that evolved after the APS incident has certainly yielded results. But this should not raise our optimism to a level where we do not feel the need to sustain and improve that framework.

In the September board of governors’ meeting of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority, its head, Khaliq Dad Lak, not only proposed to roll back Nacta but also advised abolishing the Joint Intelligence Directorate. Interestingly, the JID was initially conceived as the backbone of Nacta. While it has remained nonfunctional so far, the national coordinator has now advised the prime minister to shut it down completely. The country’s intelligence agencies had never supported the idea of the JID. They perceive it as a plot to bring them under the monitoring of civilian institutions. The prime minister had formed a committee for reviewing the role and functioning of Nacta. However, the fate of this committee is not known yet.

Pakistan needs to solemnly review what it has gained and lost in its war against terrorism.

The National Action Plan was an outcome of the nation’s resolve against terrorism, but it too has not been fully followed. During last four years, no institution has taken responsibility for NAP’s implementation. Its ownership also remained disputed among Nacta, the interior ministry, National Security Committee and different apex committees.

Apart from institutional hiccups on counterterrorism responses, the visible success in the war against terrorism is a result of national resolve, where each institution and segment of society has contributed. The sacrifices of the army, paramilitary forces, police, political leaders and workers, media, civil society and even the religious community have contributed in achieving relative peace in the country. While the security and law-enforcement agencies fought at the front, parliament and the civilian leadership took political ownership of the war, while civil society and the media helped in developing counter-narratives against terrorism. It is a result of these collaborative efforts that the narratives of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, 11 years old this month, has lost its attractiveness and is facing problems in developing a new support base in the country.

And what have we lost during these years? For one, a new generation has grown up under the shadow of fear, and extremism of varying degrees has taken root in individual and institutional behaviour. Pakistan has suffered at the hands of militants, who were once deemed the custodians of Pakistan’s national interest inside and outside the country.

It is ironic that the state is still reluctant to admit its faults, which is imperative in order to erase the confusion that still persists in public and policy discourses on countering terrorism and extremism. The judicial commission to probe the APS attack could have been formed earlier. An open trial of the terrorists was also necessary, but the state institutions preferred discreet trials through the military courts. A recent judgement of the Peshawar High Court has ruled that the “recent terrorism convictions by the military courts in the province were wrongful and were based on ill-will and not evidence”. The judgement is based on 75 recently accepted petitions of the military courts’ convicts.

Besides the judgment, political parties and civil society have also expressed concerns about the transparency of these hidden trials. At the same time, the media, civil society and rights-based movements like the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement haunt the establishment more, and this mindset has been nourished on the fears grown during the last decade and a half. The success in the war against terrorism boosted the confidence of the establishment to squeeze civil liberties in the name of the writ of state. Despite developing the norms of rule of law, the state is promoting a controlled-regime mechanism. The rule of law is a democratic concept that involves transparency and accountability of the law enforcers. In contrast, the notion of the writ of the state is hegemonic in its orientation and demands complete impunity for the law enforcers, which they are already enjoying.

It was supposed that conventional law-enforcement mechanisms would increase in strength during the war against terrorism, including the capacity of police to counter unconventional threats. However, the opposite happened, with conventional law-enforcement structures having been weakened during the last few years and paramilitary forces gradually taking over the role of policing in many parts of the country. The police, already facing the challenge of politicisation, have further come under the pressure of the premium security institutions.

While there was a need to review practices of the state institutions, which have been vindicated in the war against terrorism, the state institutions are indeed consolidating these practices. Any mechanism or body that could help in correcting these practices is viewed with mistrust.

The successes in the war against terrorism are commendable, but this war has not been won yet. The anniversary of the APS attack should be seen as a source of inspiration to correct our future course of action.

The writer is a security analyst.

Published in Dawn, December 16th, 2018