“WHAT can Khyber Pakhtunkhwa learn from Punjab to effectively counter the threat of terrorism?”
A Peshawar University student asked this question during a recently-held seminar in the presence of lawmakers, academia, and security experts. At the time, none of the speakers took the question as seriously as they should have, given the worsening security situation in KP.
In the past year alone, terrorists belonging to the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Gul Bahadur group, the Islamic State-Khurasan (IS-K), and others with similar objectives have perpetrated at least 165 terrorist attacks in the province, which is an increase of 48 per cent from the preceding year. The TTP, along with its local Taliban affiliates alone, perpetrated 115 of these.
A report, presented in a recently held National Security Committee meeting, has served to showcase the weaknesses and capacity gaps in the provincial counterterrorism department (CTD).
The standoff between security forces and TTP detainees at a Bannu CTD centre, which finally ended late on Tuesday night, has fully exposed the potential of the terrorist groups and the lack of preparedness of law enforcers. These militants gained strength during the ceasefire between the government and the TTP, formally ending last month.
It may look embarrassing for counterterrorism authorities in KP that the detained terrorists snatched weapons from their investigators, took them hostage, and also took control of the CTD building.
But how can one particular department be held solely responsible for a prolonged siege of any office building by terrorists, when multiple mechanisms do exist to counter the terrorism threat?
The report cited earlier was leaked during the Bannu siege and highlights all the capacity issues which could cause a security department to malfunction. It says that the quality of human resource is very poor, drawn mainly from the existing Levies.
They are not well-trained and unable to use any modern techniques to counter terrorism. The report also criticises the provincial government, which is not taking counterterrorism tasks seriously. But then again, one can ask which provincial government is taking the task seriously?
The report’s benchmark is a comparison of the CTD KP with the force in Punjab, and it speaks glowingly of the latter, terming it the most effective counterterrorism body in the country.
The report may have answered the question raised by the student at Peshawar University, but it may not satisfy all because counterterror actions are not merely a professional duty in Pakistan, but a highly politicised issue for several reasons.
The federal government has praised the report as it criticises the provincial Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) government.
At the same time, PTI is criticising the federal government for its Afghan policy and the subsequent impact on the security landscape of KP. When CTD and police officials in KP province question the peace process with the terrorists, they mainly indicate a strategic border aspect, which creates doubts in the minds of the counterterrorism officials.
Whenever the security situation worsens, people start questioning the National Action Plan (NAP), which is now almost a ‘dead initiative’, even after its revision last year.
The police in the country and KP, in particular, remain on the frontline of the fight against terrorism and have have borne the brunt of that. According to data from the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, police have faced 1,116 terrorist attacks since 2006, and KP police alone have faced 650 attacks that have claimed the lives of 538 personnel, including officers.
After the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, TTP has perpetrated 83 terrorist attacks against police in KP, which reflects that police are among their top targets.
The CTD departments remain high-value targets for the militants because they are mainly responsible for tracking their movements, launching raids and conducting interrogations. In fact, terrorists have targeted CTD premises 17 times in the last seven years.
The CTD in Punjab is doing a good job for all the right reasons, from managing resources to better training facilities, and is fully equipped with modern tools. Nevertheless, security of life, tenure protection, and other incentives could make the CTD a more effective force. CTDs all over the country face the same challenges in this regard as they function under the most intense of circumstances. What they fear the most is that after their tenure in CTD, officials are usually transferred to remote areas, where they become easy targets for terrorists. Such target killings are now increasing, particularly in KP, and the provincial government has to take their counterterrorism responsibilities more seriously now.
However, the comparison between Punjab and KP province is not justified, as both provinces face terrorism threats on different scales, and in most cases the nature of the threat can vary.
KP is more affected by the spillover of the situation in Afghanistan, and it is mainly the military that looks after everything, from border security to dealing with the terrorists coming from the other side of the border.
There, the CTDs have never been involved in the decision-making process and always look towards the superior security institutions — who call the shots — either to engage the militants or take coercive measures against them. This creates ambiguity among officials who came from the paramilitary forces.
The revamping of the CTD in KP province is essential, but most important is that they must also perform their duties without unnecessary interference. The civilian government must debate the issues in parliament and at public forums, which will help remove ambiguities and enhance the morale of the personnel dealing with these threats, day in and day out.
Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2022