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Charting Pakistan’s Internal Security Policy

SR368-coverFrom September 2014 to March 2015, I was a senior Pakistan expert in residence at the United States Institute of Peace. This opportunity gave me the time to take a break and do some writing. In May 2015, my report was published.

Can be downloaded here

Traditionally ruled by military or quasi-military regimes, Pakistan is struggling to strengthen its democratic governance but the military remains in charge of country’s security policy. This period of incremental democratization corresponds to the unprecedented rise in terrorism and domestic insurgencies that have challenged state capacity and taken a toll on both the morale of the country and the economy. This report reviews Pakistan’s progress in devising and implementing counterterrorism policy frameworks in recent years. In highlighting key related strategic and operational issues, it offers Pakistani policymakers ways forward on how best to ensure internal stability and security, reminding us that a balance in civilian and military institutions is vital for effective policy outcomes.


  • Pakistan’s recently announced National Action Plan focuses on combatting both terrorism and militancy and addresses endemic insecurity and radicalization. The plan follows in the wake of the National Internal Security Policy, which has been in place for more than a year.

  • These two policy frameworks underscore the commitment of the government to implement counterterrorism operations. Implementation of both, however, is affected by the civil-military divide that defines Pakistan’s power landscape and by the altered governance architecture since the onset of devolution reforms of 2010.

  • Pakistan’s historically entrenched civil-military imbalance puts the military in the driver’s seat on all issues related to national security. The current civilian government has enabled the military to take the lead on internal security arrangements as well.

  • Internal security challenges of Pakistan are directly related to its external security policy, especially with respect to India and Afghanistan.

  • Centralized management of internal security policies, however, is fraught with difficulties. It is unclear whether the provincial governments “own” the National Internal Security Policy and how far the central government is enabling reform to achieve results.

  • Progress to date remains mixed. In fact, recent decisions indicate that key counterterrorism goals, such as action against proscribed militant outfits and madrassa regulation, may have been diluted to prevent backlash from religious militias. Counterterrorism efforts cannot succeed without dismantling the militias that have operated with impunity.

  • To effectively counter internal militancy and external terrorism, Pakistan’s policymakers will need to harness both civilian and military institutions. To do so, they need to develop a multifaceted strategy that incorporates a national intelligence directorate, an internal security adviser, enhanced jurisdiction of the National Counter Terrorism Authority, parliamentary participation in counterterrorism, increased financial commitments, education reform, provincial counterterrorism strategies, and altering public narratives. Such measures need to be implemented in letter and spirit with complementary institutional reforms.


June 6th, 2015|governance, Pakistan, Published by USIP, terrorism|0 Comments

Countering the terror menace

Ten days after the ghastly attack on the military-run school, Pakistan’s prime minister (PM) finally appeared on national television and announced a set of measures that reflect the civil-military consensus on the country’s counter terrorism strategy. After a national outpouring of grief, anger and global shock in the wake of the […]

Afghanistan: no cooperation, no stability

This is a shorter version of a brief which was prepared for Pakistani Senate’s standing committee on Defence. Also published here. Full report here

Pakistan and Afghanistan are joined by geography and a complex history. A long and imaginary border drawn at the end of the colonial era runs through bonds of religion, culture, language and ethnicity. Thirty years of war, political upheaval and instability in Afghanistan have been shared by Pakistan in no small measure. Since independence in 1947, Pakistan has had an unstable bilateral relationship with its northwestern neighbour, stemming from border disputes. Afghanistan has always objected to the Durand Line as the official border and claims areas in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province as its own territory.

Despite the affinities and physical proximity, this has been a troubled relationship, worsened by British, Soviet and American ambitions.

Pakistani strategists – comprising mostly the security establishment – have always feared a hostile Afghan government since it would lead to the country’s encirclement. An unfriendly Afghan government on the western border, with traditional enemy India to the east, has been an overarching fear in conventional military estimates. The hostility towards India has therefore informed the way Pakistan views Afghanistan.

The Cold War, jihad and the Taliban

The Cold War has had the greatest impact on Pakistan-Afghanistan relations in recent decades. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 plunged the country into civil war, after which Pakistan, with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, backed the Afghan ‘mujahideen’ resistance, which eventually ‘defeated’ the U.S.S.R. ten years later. What followed was abandonment by the international community, especially the West. During the 1990s, the rise of a predominantly Pashtun religious militia – the Taliban – facilitated by Pakistan complicated matters, pitting Pakistan against non-Pashtun Afghans as the Taliban carried out atrocities against other ethnic and religious groups in Afghanistan.

The Taliban captured Kabul in 1996 and ended up controlling around 90 percent of the country by 2001. Pakistan was their closest ally, and one of just three countries that recognized their regime. There is increasing evidence that Pakistan’s intelligence establishment aided Taliban’s consolidation of power in Afghanistan in the 90s.

The U.S.-led war on terror after the September 11, 2001 attacks transformed the Taliban – who were providing safe havens to al Qaeda – into the enemies of the United States. The Taliban’s main opponents, the Northern Alliance, became the obvious favourite of the West, and was provided a generous share of power after coalition forces toppled the Taliban regime.

Pakistan had officially urged the Taliban to surrender al Qaeda and their leader, Osama bin Laden, to the U.S., but the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar refused, and vowed to defend his ‘guests’. After Kabul fell on November 13, 2001, the Taliban went into hiding.

As the U.S.-led NATO forces declared victory and started their disastrous state-building project, the Taliban movement re-emerged in mid-2000s, starting an insurgency against coalition and Afghan forces. […]

March 9th, 2013|Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, SouthAsia|1 Comment