THE monster has been unleashed. Terror has struck Karachi, yet again. Police, as the frontline institution of the state, has been targeted all over the country. The brazen attack by the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on the Karachi Police Office has indeed caused a ‘violent jolt to the system.’
The road to perdition is being paved with blood. Representing the sentiments of the police officers, we can say they are angry and resent the policy of appeasement pursued by the powerful elements of the state, especially after a Herculean effort post-2014 Peshawar APS attack, that resulted in 70 per cent reduction of incidents of terrorism in four years from 2015 to 2019.
However, we must reiterate that despite huge sacrifices, police are fully determined to combat this new wave of terrorism. What they need is the support of all the elements of national power. The present situation points to the failure of the state.
Karachi, unfortunately, was engulfed in both ethnic and sectarian violence during the 1990s. After 9/11, it became a haven for the jihadi militant outfits, including Al Qaeda. Being the commercial and industrial hub, the militant organisations thrived through extortion and violence.
Many sleeper cells of terror networks got safely ensconced in the urban jungle. At the peak of militancy, we witnessed political will to combat terrorists through an operation launched in September 2013.
Police played the leading role, ably assisted by Intelligence Bureau (IB), along with the support of the civil armed forces, particularly the Rangers and the military acted as the ultimate punch to knock out the militants who were responsible for murder and mayhem.
From 61 incidents of terrorism in 2013, such atrocious acts were reduced to merely four in 2019; 373 terrorists were killed and 521 arrested in four years of sustained intelligence-based operations.
Police faced the major brunt: 450 officials were killed during that period of effective state response; highest casualties of 163 police officials martyred in 2013 came down to six fatalities in 2018.
CT (counterterrorism) National Action Plan of Dec 2014 had especially tasked all the stakeholders of the state to get rid of violence and terror in Karachi. National resolve manifested through political will restored the writ of the state.
However, the return of the Taliban to Afghanistan in Aug 2021 facilitated the re-emergence of the TTP, which launched a new wave of violence against Pakistan’s security forces. Against the backdrop of euphoria of the Taliban victory, the Pakistani state, spearheaded by military and intelligence leadership, endorsed by the political government, started a peace process, nudged by unrecognised but de facto Taliban regime in Kabul.
As a goodwill measure, 130 hard-core militants were set free from prisons in KP, without realising that previous 12 peace agreements had been unsuccessful. The negotiation time and space spurred the return of the militants and their families from Afghanistan in large numbers.
Protests broke out and people of KP and erstwhile Fata strongly reacted to the shenanigans of the security establishment. With the successful repatriation of the militants, negotiations faltered and broke down.
The TTP claimed or was blamed for the numerous attacks that took the lives of nearly 400 security officials, mostly police officials, soldiers and members of other LEAs during the crescendo of violence in 2022. Sadly, the Taliban regime appears to be uninterested in effectively blocking terrorist groups and taking decisive action against the TTP.
Police officers resent policy of appeasement pursued by powerful elements of the state
Apart from the terrorist threat posed by TTP, the increased militancy by Al Qaeda and IS-Khorasan cannot be ignored. However, another significant threat is that of the sub-nationalist militant groups (SNMGs).
They have also intensified attacks against the state and in terms of lethality have started resorting to suicide attacks, not only in Balochistan but beyond, like the female suicide bomber belonging to the BLA who blew herself up in 2022 targeting a van carrying Chinese teachers from Karachi University, killing three.
Such terrorist attacks have significantly increased since 2020 and showing sustained rising trend in 2022. Only a few days back, CTD Balochistan arrested another female terrorist with explosives meant to target a high-profile state institution.
There is a typical blame game going on in the present acrimonious political environment. Former PM and his human rights minister blame the last army chief for suggesting and supporting repatriation of TTP militants.
Present PM and his HR minister blame former PM and the then spymaster for pursuing the appeasement strategy to placate the Afghan Taliban. The fact of the matter is that Afghan policy has been spearheaded by the military and intelligence establishment. Instead of indulging in point-scoring and blaming one political dispensation or the other, all eyes are on the new army chief.
He has done well to reach out and personally visited the injured police officials after both the Peshawar Police Lines blast and KPO attack. Police officers have genuinely appreciated his response and empathy.
“Pakistanis have always rejected and defeated terrorism and extremism in all its manifestations. Together, we shall prevail upon this menace for a shared prosperous future,” he said during his visit to Karachi a day after the KPO attack.
He correctly stated that “no nation can overcome such challenges with kinetic actions only as it needs mutual trust, will of the people, and synergy between all stakeholders.” He must walk the talk. Amidst political bickering and blame game, the prime minister has not been able to channelize national resolve against emerging terrorist threats by holding an all-parties moot — so much for synergy between all stakeholders.
NAP focused on kinetic measures. Fourteen military courts were established that dealt with 650 cases; awarded death penalty to 344 accused, of which 56 were executed. Military operation in erstwhile Fata was an urgent but temporary strategy by invoking emergency under Article 245 of the Constitution.
We had urged all along that capacity of the law-enforcement agencies and antiterrorism courts had to be built further and strengthened as countering terrorism is a law-enforcement domain within the criminal justice system. Military operations and kinetic approaches are essentially last-resort measures in the overall battle against militancy.
It is time now to implement revised NAP-2021. Sustained and relentless action against the terrorists is required by all the elements of national power, including the political parties.
Here are the key recommendations that need to be implemented immediately: One, Nacta must be brought under the chief executive like IB and ISI. Two, a task force on counterterrorism must be launched with its secretariat in Nacta. It should steer all CT efforts in coordination with the relevant stakeholders, including the provinces. Three, capacity of all the civilian LEAs must be strengthened.
Four, the CTDs of Sindh, KP, Balochistan and Islamabad should be brought at par with the CTD Punjab. Five, antiterrorism courts should ensure speedy trials as envisaged under the amended ATA 1997.
Six, protection of judges, investigators and prosecutors must be ensured while trials must be held in high-security prisons. Seven, a specialised sub-cadre of CT specialists, crime scene experts, intelligence analysts and investigators should be created in all the provinces so that exclusive attention is paid to meet the terrorism threat.
They must be inducted from the existing LEAs as well as recruited on merit according to the expertise required. Their professional training must be given top priority.
In conclusion, let us assure the citizens and the state of Pakistan that police services are fully capable of handling the emerging threats of insecurity and militancy. They have done it in the past and have made huge sacrifices. Their morale is high. All they need is full support and resources to make a difference. They will never give up. We wish them Godspeed.
The writers are former Inspectors-General Police of Sindh & Balochistan, respectively.
Published in Dawn, February 21st, 2023