Lessons learned

Published January 19, 2021
The writer is author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.
The writer is author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.

HAD perfection been the reality in intelligence and law enforcement, attacks like 9/11 would have been averted and the world may have not experienced the damaging, costly war on terrorism.

Initially, militants exploited flaws in our apparatus and incubated in weakly governed areas. Dedication, volunteerism and unpredictability worked to their advantage. Technology, innovation and mobility further intensified violent extremism. Only states opting for a diagnostic indigenous approach and tailored strategies on learning from past failures were successful. What lessons did we learn?

In the initial onslaught of militancy, our legal framework, capacity, CT apparatus and intelligence sharing were weak, and police responded to threats on a case-by-case basis. Improving legal, institutional and coordination responses took another decade. Four accords struck with militants (2004-08) proved to be appeasement, in which peace was the casualty. This policy’s failure reduced the scope of soft approaches and led to successful military operations. The consequences of such operations were not worked out well in advance.

Militants persistently changed tactics and targets. Groups re-emerged with different names, and to put restrictions on such entities Pakistan proscribed 78 organisations. Militants transited from suicide attacks to VBIED attacks, from target killings to IED attacks, and from a blow-and-kill to a fight-and-die strategy. Targets changed from hard to soft, and from tribal to rural and finally urban areas.

To invest in policing is to invest in peace.

During a surge in sectarian extremism, Punjab’s response was commendable; a dedicated CT department was established in 2010. To collate data and intelligence, and coordinate among stakeholders, Nacta was established. The APS attack and increasing attacks on civilians resulted in the National Action Plan and National Internal Security Policies 2014-18 and 2018-23. The establishment of provincial apex committees also speaks of improved civil-military coordination and responses.

After 9/11, the criminal justice system remained dependent on military assistance. Flushing militants out of Karachi, Fata and parts of KP and Balochistan would not have been possible without the collaboration of the army, FC and Rangers. For speedy disposal of terrorism cases and improved conviction rates, military courts were established. Of the 10 constitutional amendments enacted since 9/11, four related to Fata reforms and military courts. In the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, 87 changes were made (48 in 2013-14), which shows our reactive approach. Australia, which did not experience any significant terrorist attack, enacted 82 anti-terrorism laws.

Before 9/11, the ruling elite considered policing a non-developmental affair and was reluctant to invest in it. A surge in attacks on politicians increased the threat level and their understanding of its gravity. Governments generously enhanced financial allocations. To share the extra burden, one per cent of the divisible pool of the NFC award was earmarked for KP. Balochistan and Punjab enacted laws for relief and rehabilitation of civilian victims, which warrants more transparency and a centralised databank of human and financial losses.

Terrorism cannot be eradicated through sole application of soft or hard approaches. For one, the state is obligated to provide free, compulsory education under Article 25-A, but to bring over 22 million out-of-school children back requires a practical plan.

Communities must also be empowered. Persistent attacks on police infrastructure led to KP Police improving and standardising the design and security of its stations. But a militarised outlook negatively impacted community relations. An effort was made to improve this by incorporating public liaison councils, regional police complaint authorities, and public safety commissions in the KP Police Act, 2017, yet besides PLCs these bodies remain non-functional.

At the height of militancy, Lady Reading Hospital treated about 80pc of those injured in terrorist and drone attacks in KP and Fata. The KP Emergency Rescue Service Act, 2012, was passed. KP’s Rescue 1122 has since responded to 689 terrorism-related calls. The improved response strengthened police-public relations.

Though Pakistan has developed the institutional infrastructure for counterterrorism, gaps within the legal and institutional framework of counter violent extremism need to be addressed. Ambiguity on the part of the state works to the advantage of non-state actors, while reactive law enforcement erodes public confidence. Internal security is our first line of defence, so to invest in policing is to invest in peace. As a front-line state in the fight against terrorism, we should share our successes with friendly states in the form of training.

Though many of us are not fond of learning from history, repeating it is not a viable option. Creating history is better.

The writer is author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.

Twitter: @alibabakhel

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2021

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