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 Peshawar attack, the government had no choice but to appear tough. The long list of measures announced by the PM relate to tackling the long-standing growth of domestic militancy and proliferation of extremist groups across the country.

In a rare expression of stoutness, the PM announced that violent militias would not be allowed to operate and shall face a crackdown. He also referred to regulating the madrassa network and arresting the sources of hate speech that create violent mindsets and provide the faux-theological basis for asserting sectarian agendas. One of the key announcements came in the shape of setting up military courts. Human rights groups have expressed concerns and reminded that even a remote chance of a miscarriage of justice will only lead to more brutalisation and radicalisation of society.

Pakistan’s justice system is heavily flawed and has been unable to respond to the enormous task of punishing those accused of terrorism. The conviction rates are no more than five per cent and the outdated prosecutorial system is clogged by severe capacity constraints. There is a consensus in the country that without major judicial reform and improvements in prosecution services, the regular criminal justice system cannot deliver.

This is not a new debate. In 1999, the Supreme Court (SC) in the Liaquat Hussain case declared military courts unconstitutional. The SC also provided guidelines to deal with the menace of terrorism, which remain unimplemented. Key guidelines issued were: keep anti-terrorism courts exclusively for terrorism cases and assign one case at a time; daily hearings; announcement of decisions in seven days. Directives were also issued that the challan of a particular case should only be submitted once the prosecution had ensured that all witnesses could be produced. High courts were asked to nominate judges who could review the speed and outcomes of the judicial process. The SC was also meant to appoint a judge who could review the implementation of its own verdict. And, the judgment also mentioned that the government could seek assistance of the armed forces under Article 245 to ensure the security of judges, advocates and witnesses.

Like Pakistan’s repetitive governance failures, this judgment was also forgotten. Fifteen years later, we are in the same situation, except that terrorism has grown beyond belief and extremist narratives have captured public discourse. This is a collective failure of Pakistani society. Deja vu, once again? General Musharraf in 2002 embarked upon a similar path to fight militancy and extremism. In January 2002, this is what the General said: “If any madrassa (religious school) is found indulging in extremism, subversion, militant activity or possessing any types of weapons, it will be closed. All madaaris will have to adopt the new syllabi by the end of this year …”

None of what Nawaz Sharif said is new. It was the agenda of his nemesis Musharraf, too, and the latter happened to be far more powerful than Sharif currently is. But even Musharraf’s resolve remained unimplemented. In fact, the country witnessed proliferation of private militias and the emergence of the deadly Pakistani branch of the Taliban movement right under the nose of the moderately enlightened general.

Musharraf failed because the establishment continued to view certain banned outfits as ‘strategic assets’ in its competition for regional dominance against India; and continued to treat Afghanistan as the strategic arena. Most of the banned outfits reappeared under new names. Few turned into ‘welfare charities’ with militant wings. An alliance with the religious parties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa meant that madrassa regulation could not be achieved. By 2008, when a civilian government took over, the tide had reversed and the al Qaeda outpost — the Lal Masjid — had become a national symbol of resistance against US-allied Musharraf. Sections of the media played an irresponsible role in stirring up this storm.

This time again, it is the army that is in the driving seat. General Raheel Sharif has been leading the operation in North Waziristan and the recent measures announced have the endorsement of the military.

The government cannot deliver on its recent promise until it manages to engage in a dialogue with the establishment on revising the strategic security paradigm that governs the military-intelligence operations. Pakistan’s foreign and security policies remain ‘India-centric’ and the perceived threat of India encircling Pakistan via Afghanistan continues. Second, if the media commentaries are any guide, the Kashmir jihad militias are unlikely to be touched. Third, the autonomous actors within the intelligence outfits need to report to the civil-military authorities concerned. Fourth, the bail of alleged 2008 Mumbai attacks mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and the impending release of Malik Ishaq are signals that run contrary to the declared intent of the state.

Can the civilians drive these policy changes? Sadly not. Since July, Nawaz Sharif has lost his grip over power largely due to the protests and media-generated frenzy, which some attribute to the meddling of the famed invisible hand in Pakistani politics. The recent all-parties conference once again displayed the weaknesses of Pakistan’s compromised political elite and their lack of capacity, preparation and imagination. By signing on the military courts, they have effectively endorsed a 21st century coup. This follows the follies of Imran Khan, where instead of strengthening the democratic process, he has allowed for greater space for the “umpire” he had been keenly inviting to meddle. Decision-making with respect to security remains firmly in the hands of military commanders.

This is why the next few months are a test of General Sharif’s leadership. The public looks at him as the tough general who can deliver on the menace of terrorism. Given that they are in charge de facto, it might help the commanders to seek civilian input into their strategic worldview. The constitutional requirement of undoing all private militias may serve as a guide here. Dismantling the private jihad infrastructure — from feeder madrassas to education curriculum to militant networks — is the first step to secure Pakistan. The TTP are just the tip of the iceberg. Public hangings and military courts are akin to prescribing aspirin for a cancer that is consuming Pakistan.

Don’t expect a miracle to happen

The ignoble massacre of children and teachers in Peshawar has led to unprecedented anger and grief across the country. The state has responded by ending the moratorium on the death penalty and convicted terrorists are now being hanged. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced that the days of differentiating between the good and the bad Taliban are over. A parliamentarians’ committee is reviewing counterterrorism measures that need to be adopted. The military leadership has undertaken the diplomatic-security initiative to engage with Afghan authorities on potential action that can nab the Taliban leadership based in Afghanistan.
All these measures are important and noteworthy. The ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb is here to stay and perhaps, is likely to be extended to other areas. But the central question is, whether these tactical moves are sufficient to tackle the hydra-headed Frankenstein’s monsters that Pakistan’s flawed national security policy has created, sustained and nurtured, sometimes with outside support and on occasions totally on its own. There is a name for this Frankenstein’s monster and it is known as jihad — a narrow, self-seeking interpretation of an otherwise lofty and ethereal religious concept. The struggle embedded in jihad — according to most scholars and not semi-literate clerics — is self-improvement. Instead, this has turned into a spectator sport where private militias carry out state objectives in the region and within the land of the pure.
This trajectory is an old one. It did not happen overnight nor was it a ploy of the Unites States and other powers to get Pakistan into a royal mess. In 1948, ‘jihadis’ from the tribal regions started with the battle of Kashmir that continues to date. Conventional wars or private ‘jihad’ efforts have brought neither glory to Pakistan nor relief for the Kashmiris, most of whom are sick of India and Pakistan treating their land and rights as national fiefs. Continue reading “Don’t expect a miracle to happen”

Six ideas for Pakistan to defeat the Taliban

There’s a lot Pakistan could do to root out terrorism. But will it?

Raza Rumi3

 

It is being seen as a watershed moment in Pakistan, the December 16 massacre of 142 children and teachers in Peshawar. Pakistan’s civilian and military leadership has vowed to act against the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. The first policy response was to lift the moratorium on the death penalty. Human rights campaigners say this may not be the appropriate response to the challenge that Pakistan faces. There are over 6,000 inmates on death row in Pakistani jails.

A committee of parliamentarians met on Friday to discuss the way forward. Earlier this year, Pakistan’s cabinet and the National Assembly endorsed an internal security policy that, among other measures, called for intelligence coordination, a special counter-terrorism force and steps to de-radicalise society. The policy has not been implemented because political turbulence since July has prevented the Nawaz Sharif government from focusing on policy decisions. Fearful that the Imran Khan-led political agitation has the backing of sections of the military-intelligence complex, Sharif has been busy just finding ways to survive.

After the December 16 massacre, however, the Pakistani public is asking for concrete action. It is looking to the government to deliver. Will it rise to the occasion? There are six key policy planks that the civilian government will have to decide on, and take the military on board for them to be implemented. Without a civil-military compact, such changes may not be possible. Continue reading “Six ideas for Pakistan to defeat the Taliban”

Will Peshawar attack change Pakistan’s policy on terror?

Pakistan’s predicament is a sad tale of domestic Islamist identity enmeshed with the regional dynamics.

The latest strike by the Pakistani branch of the Taliban movement has jolted the globe. It was not the first attack on civilians. Earlier, Pakistani markets, religious processions and Hazara settlements have been targeted, killings hundreds. But the barbarity of targeting children – killing 132 innocent students – has swung the public opinion in Pakistan. Pakistan’s military has been fighting the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) for the past few years. Since June this year, it launched a major offensive in North Waziristan region, claiming to have killed more than 1,000 militants and reclaiming nearly 80 per cent of the territory that they were holding. For the TTP to strike at an army-run school, killing 132 children and nine school staff, indicates that the network is far from being eliminated. Military sources think that this was an act of desperation on the part of the Taliban. Others view this as the ability of TTP to regroup and find softer targets.

The prime minister of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, in the wake of these attacks, called an emergency all-party conference where he vowed to fight terrorism, once again. The moratorium on death penalty has been lifted; because of it hundreds of convicted militants had not been punished. Human rights’ campaigners doubt it will work but there is widespread public support for hanging the terrorists. The second important decision announced by the PM is that Pakistan no longer distinguishes between the “good” (those who don’t attack Pakistan and are focused on Afghanistan) and the “bad” (anti-Pakistan) Taliban.

This is a crucial announcement even if its translation into policy is unclear and perhaps unachievable. Pakistan’s strategic view of the region is based on the threat perception from India and an Afghanistan that may allow Indian influence to grow on its western border. This is well documented in the defence literature and also articulated by strategic thinkers all the time. Will this worldview be revised or adjusted is something that remains to be seen.

Ahmed Qazi sprinkles rose water on the fresh grave of his mother Tahira Qazi, the principal of Army Public School who was killed in Tuesday's attack by the Taliban, after her burial in Peshawar

Essentially, the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban share the same ideology and tactics and they have supported each other in the past. In fact, the emergence of the TTP shows the “strategic depth” doctrine has backfired. Continue reading “Will Peshawar attack change Pakistan’s policy on terror?”

Peshawar attack: Pakistan’s 9/11 moment?

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Pakistan faces a challenge largely of its own creation and only political processes can correct it, argues Raza Rumi.

The attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School and the killing of more than 130 children creates a new watershed in Pakistan’s battle against terrorism.

Maligned globally as a ‘hub’ of terror, Pakistan has suffered immensely in the past decade. More than 50,000 of its civilians have been killed and over 15,000 security personnel have laid down their lives.

Pakistan’s policy choices of the past have been far from sagacious and its purported self confessed identity as an Islamic State has not helped matters. More than that it is the curse of geography that has haunted the nation.

For 30 years, it has been an active participant in Afghan wars directly and indirectly and the perceived threat from the larger neighbour India is almost an article of faith.

December 16 also marks the anniversary of the humiliation that Pakistan suffered when in 1971 East Pakistan with India’s support became independent.

In 1947 the country’s founder called the country he created s ‘moth eaten’ and ‘truncated’ and since 1971 the insecurity has only grown.

How far is that an imagined construct, how much of it is to continue to run it as a martial State has been subject of unresolved debate — yet to be resolved.

The Afghan policy of the 1980s and patronage to the Taliban movement in the 1990s is part of that insecure worldview. National security has been defined in limited terms and the reliance on non State actors to work as support system for the formal security apparatus remains a policy tenet. Yet there are signs of change.

One such shift was the decisive operation against the militants launched in June. Thus far the operation was cited as successful with the regaining of territory and eliminating militant hideouts. Continue reading “Peshawar attack: Pakistan’s 9/11 moment?”