Challenges to peace

February 07, 2013


TERRORISM, militancy, extremism — the challenges to peace in Pakistan are many and myriad, and require being answered at multiple levels.

One of the main challenges faced is that those who perpetuate violence, whether terrorists or militants, keep changing their tactics. This requires the police and other law enforcement agencies to also keep changing tack. Further, these agencies and departments also face legal, financial and capacity-related issues. Terrorist and militant organisations, on the other hand, appear to have ample resources at their disposal.

After the operation undertaken by the security forces in Malakand, radical changes were evident in the strategy adopted by the militants and the targets they chose. In the earlier phase, they had targeted mainly law enforcement and security agencies but after that operation, their sphere of operations widened. Similarly, the battleground has also expanded from just the tribal areas earlier to now the settled areas.

Despite the efforts on part of the country’s law enforcement and security, the havoc wreaked by these groups and organisations has not been brought under control. Yet success has been seen from time to time. For instance, last year saw a 27 per cent decline in suicide attacks as compared to 2011; according to a recent report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, there were 33 suicide attacks in 2012 as compared to 45 the year before.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa faced the brunt of the violence with 54 per cent of the attacks. Even so, last year’s statistics show an 11 per cent decline in incidents there.

Nevertheless, there have been a series of attacks, including those on Bannu Jail, the Mehran airbase and others, that indicate that the perpetrators are moving from micro to macro targets. At such attacks, they have tried to create hostage situations and in response, the law enforcement personnel have had little choice but to kill the perpetrators. Making arrests is a remote possibility in such situations, which adds another challenge: it becomes doubly difficult for investigators to trace the planners, facilitators and handlers involved in the attack.

Another change in the militants’ strategy has been to turn to technology such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs). During the last four years, IEDs and hand-grenades were used in 782 attacks. The police leadership will have to build up the technical capacity of the force, despite the dangers involved. Such personnel can serve as the shield between innocent civilians and a planted bomb; bomb-defusing expert Hukam Khan saved hundreds of lives over the course of his career before he laid down his life in the line of duty.

In another nefarious move, militants and terrorists have taken to causing a first explosion that is low intensity with time-fitted or remote controlled devices, which is then followed by a second, high-intensity, blast. Such a tactic results in higher casualties, and it is what recently caused carnage at Quetta’s Alamdar Road.

After an incident has occurred, the challenge faced by law enforcement personnel is not just to secure circumstantial evidence but also ensure safety for themselves and everyone else at the scene. Such management is not possible without the cooperation of the public and media personnel, who need to be better sensitised in this regard. Journalists need to understand that in their blind competition for breaking news, safety procedures and protocols must not be set aside.

An increase in targeted killings and sectarian violence adds another layer to the complex security situation. Last year saw significant sectarian attacks in Karachi, Quetta, Gilgit and Kurram Agency, and preventing these is a real challenge for the country’s police. This requires intelligence-led policing and better coordination with other security agencies. Meanwhile, the police chiefs of the areas in which targeted killings are common should employ the preventative and detecting strategies once employed by the Punjab police in the mid-1990s.

The onslaught will have to be resisted in the education and women’s development sectors, too, where infrastructure continues to be destroyed and fear has spread. Over the last four years 839 schools have been destroyed in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. According to the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, 2012, Pakistan already has 5.1 million children out of school, making it second from the bottom in the world’s rankings. While the law enforcement departments must work to counter the situation, the communities and education departments also have a part to play. The same goes for turning around the situation on the polio front, where workers have been attacked and harassed.

To finance their operations, the terrorist-militant network  has found bank robberies and kidnapping for ransom to be  attractive avenues. They have used the proceeds for weapons purchases and other expenses; during 2010, a 50 per cent surge in bank robberies was recorded in Karachi alone. In the current environment of insecurity, criminals have also found lucrative opportunities in militant or terrorist organisations, where they often prove very helpful during acts of sabotage.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta), which was passed by the Cabinet last year, may prove a valuable institutional mechanism in Pakistan’s struggle. With these patterns of violence having been in evidence for over a decade, it has been realised that an institutional network and coordination are missing links in our counterterrorism strategy. Fire-fighting is effective immediately after an incident but what is needed is a long-term, research-based vision. Nacta could provide an intellectual forum to develop a systemic and sustained response, while the recently passed ‘fair trial’ legislation may also prove useful. Meanwhile, our security and law enforcement agencies face a gigantic task.

The writer is a deputy inspector general of the police.