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A national counterterrorism policy

AFTER 9/11, Pakistan has been beset by the twin menace of radicalisation and terrorism.

A national policy to deal with the menace of terrorism is a dire necessity, something which is one of the mandated tasks of the nascent National Counter Terrorism Authority of Pakistan (Nacta).

A national counterterrorism strategy has to be drafted and shared with the public, with civil society taking an active part in the deliberations.

This comprehensive strategy should not just have law-enforcement agencies and the military, but should also involve others, for example educationists, who could be required to evaluate outmoded curricula and replace them with more tolerant non-sectarian versions.

Scientists can be involved to jam illegal FM transmissions; the media can generate public-service messages and programmes promoting tolerance. The strategy should remain within the ambit of the rule of law, or it has the potential to become a monster almost as big as the insurgents.

The rule of law needs representative governance. With the arrival of civilian government representing this in 2008, the situation has gradually moved towards a national consensus against terrorism. Democracy must be nurtured in Pakistan, as this is the only way forward for nations to put their affairs in order.

Threat priorities need to be established for the future of the war on terror not only in the Pakistani but in the global context as well. One solution has been the establishment of a counterterrorism environment created by politicians through legislation, budgets and policy decisions.

Legislation will be a part of the directing tangential forces of counterterrorism. In Pakistan, this legislation resonates in the anti-terrorist acts passed by parliament, which need to be constantly reassessed with the changing dynamics of the situation on the ground.

The inherent global challenge would be balancing the rights of citizens and fundamental constitutional guarantees against the increasing threat from terrorism.

This is the delicate balancing act that counterterrorism in the future will continue to face, especially for the security agencies directly involved in these operations, and which perhaps affects the police the most.

Huge challenges for counterterrorism in the future will include coordination which seems to be exponentially increasing.

Future efforts in counterterrorism will require complex investigations involving multiple countries, a variety of types of communication and numerous sources of intelligence. Collectively, there will be an ever-evolving need for more sophisticated forms of counterterrorism and greater resources.

Long-term polices resembling the Blair government‘s CONTEST strategy in the UK need to be in place. The four areas identified as prevention, pursuit, protection and preparedness gain another dimension in the Pakistani context — that of containment, since we have been beset by an insurgency in our northern areas.

This has been reinvented according to our own situation under the government’s policy of dialogue, deterrence and development as the main area of thrust in Pakistan.

The pursuit of improved intelligence, the disruption of terrorist activity and better coordination with international forces fighting terrorism will require improved cooperation. Protection of homeland security installations will require improved domestic security of ports and public transportation systems.

Preparing for the threat of confrontation will require an ever-increasing readiness to respond to terrorist attacks.

The complete elimination of terrorism may not be possible, but adequate containment is the path to be followed. A sincere effort must be made to study individuals prone to radicalisation and who are thus potential recruits for terrorist groups.

Rather than just firefighting, we need to find out the causes: why is there terrorism, why are people becoming radicalised, how are they radicalised? Only then can we deal with these issues.

The future of counterterrorism will also be shaped to a certain extent by the relationships among the various organisations involved in the war against terrorism, which of course stands true for Nacta as well.

While the new threats resulted in the grant of emergency powers to governments to get more powers and additional resources, sometimes the evolution of coordination has been too reactive, short-term and politicised.

This has occasionally caused slow governmental responses to increase resources going into counterterrorism. Police forces are critical in the counterterrorism future, due to their presence on the ground and their ability to carry out arrests.

The key to long-term containment of terrorism, beyond tactical policing and security measures designed to detect and defeat zealots, is to reduce the supply of terrorists. It must be recognised that terrorism requires a small core of radicalised individuals bent on carrying out acts of violence.

What government policy must ensure is that these individuals are kept marginalised within their own communities. They must not be allowed to lead others along the path of violence. If they are isolated then they can be contained, either by the state or by their own communities. Without a support network, they pose a much smaller threat.

Summing up, successful counterterrorism in the future of a democratic society requires trust and confidence in the efficacy of the security forces because public cooperation is essential.

This can only be done after capturing the so-called hearts and minds of the citizens, particularly in those communities where terrorists are to be found, confronted and contained.

This winning of hearts and minds is what constitutes the core of counterterrorism in the future, not just in Pakistan but across the globe as well, and will continue to do so for times to come.

We have the resolve to fight terrorism, but not the entire panoply of resources needed.

Pakistan is a resilient nation, and will overcome these problems eventually. However, the road ahead needs to be paved with the soundest of policies bolstered by the international community in order to bridge the resource gap failing which, one would expect to see militancy problems continuing in the country.

The writer is head of the National Counter Terrorism Authority, Pakistan, and a former inspector-general of police.