Latest for The Friday Times

Recently, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, elaborated on the losses incurred by the country in fighting terrorism, while making a policy statement in the Parliament. He cited 3,700 major terrorist incidents that took place from 2005 to 2007 across the country, which resulted in 3,500 casualties. The Minister added that during the period 2008-2012, 8,514 incidents of terrorism claimed the lives of 9,600 people, leaving another 25,000 injured. An estimate (by South Asia Terrorism Portal) suggests that since 2003, Pakistan has lost over 22,838 innocent lives.

Financially, Pakistan, has suffered losses around $100 billion according to different reports. The actual figure may be lower but given the destruction and loss of livelihoods this may just be close to the actual figures. This devastating estimate spans twelve years since 9/11 and Pakistan’s subsequent support to US efforts in Afghanistan.

In the recent years, the lack of a detailed, viable counter-terrorism policy by Pakistan has often been called into question. Successive governments have failed to adequately deliver on security concerns, while the military still exists in a stasis about terrorists in Afghanistan or local, radicalized organizations such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba or the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi – outfits that were deemed vital to Pakistan’s geopolitical concerns.

As Ayesha Siddiqa has noted, “Pakistan’s counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan is rife with inherent contradictions, caught between an inclination to fight militant forces and yet having to partner with some to strengthen its future bargaining position” (The Washington Quarterly, Winter 2011). Therefore it can be deduced that Pakistan’s juggling of its multitude of concerns – a future in Afghanistan that offsets India’s efforts in the country, a stable relationship with the US and the geostrategic significance of Kashmir – all play into the state’s muddled foreign policy framework.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), set up in 2009, is being tasked as the primary counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency body under the new National Security Policy (NSP). The NACTA works under the Interior Ministry and this reduces its autonomy and denudes its driving role. Zahid Hussain has argued that the move to place NACTA under the Interior Ministry, “…curtailed whatever little autonomy NACTA had, but also relegated the status of the country’s supposedly premier counterterrorism organisation to that of an ordinary government organisation. This non-serious attitude has dealt a grievous blow to our already weak stance on dealing with militancy and terrorism” (Dawn, December 4, 2012). Pakistan’s political leadership continues to be indecisive on the issue of terrorism for a variety of reasons from a fear of incurring the wrath of localized radical and extremist networks to obfuscating the issue by misdiagnosis.

The (draft) NSP suffers as a result, linking terrorism in FATA to NATO troops in Afghanistan, and claiming that NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan will lead to the Taliban moving back. This ignores the myriad complexities prevalent within the Pakistan Taliban and treats them as a monolithic entity, while simultaneously ignoring the TTP’s desire for power and Sharia within the country. It also, as a result, ignores organizations like the LeJ and LeT – both of which are a substantive threat to minorities in the country.

Historically a narrow view of ‘security’, rather than trade or prosperity, has been the primary driver behind Pakistan’s foreign policy goals, which has also meant that Pakistan’s all-powerful military has taken it upon itself since the 1980s to construct the country’s foreign policy. Though Pakistan’s politicians manage enough sway to avoid interference from the military in domestic politics, there are nevertheless spillovers (particularly with regards to organizations like the LeT).

This security policy is inherently, tied to Pakistan’s foreign policy goals – namely keeping India at bay. Often the country’s political executive clashes with the military in this regard which subsequently leads to tensions if not outright coups. Pakistan’s policy of supporting insurgency movements in Kashmir (if not starting them) is one such anomaly that seems to render Pakistan insecure (as the radical organizations supplying the jihadis start looking inwards). This approach also threatens any chance Pakistan might have of a prosperous economic relationship with India.

Perhaps the most important feature outlined in the draft of the NSP is the establishment of a Joint Intelligence Secretariat. This will comprise all civilian and military intelligence agencies, with the primary job to coordinate intelligence and sources of information.

The NSP aims to establish a Counterterrorism Rapid Deployment Force at the Federal level, which will be later replicated at the provincial levels. Full of serving and retired military personnel, it will be 500 strong with a view to extending it to 2000 serving personnel, with the task of securing and responding quickly to terror threats. The NSP will additionally be divided into two parts – one that deals with internal threats and another that deals with foreign threats. Locally, the NSP will aim to de-weaponize Quetta and providing police in Balochistan with over 5000 SMGs and the requisite training to use them in fighting terrorist and sectarian groups.

Much of the draft NSP postulates that with NATO troop withdrawal, many terrorists in Pakistan will cease to function as effectively as they do now. This postulation sadly does not take into account the existence of sectarian and extremist networks in Punjab that have operated independently of the TTP and Afghan Taliban. Ayesha Siddiqa, a noted security expert, holds that by claiming terrorism in North Waziristan drives extremism in Punjab, an erroneous narrative is being constructed which ignores the devastating reach and impact of localized sectarian and militant groups that are propelling communities in their operational areas towards radicalization.

US exit will not reduce terrorism

In 2012, a 35-page report by the KP province’s Home Secretary had advised against the idea that NATO troops withdrawal will lead to a lull in terrorism in the country, arguing instead that the withdrawal will be seen as a victory for the Afghan Taliban and would further increase morale of the Pakistani Taliban. The report also argues that “with the departure of the US troops, the TTP and its multiple partners will pursue their ‘jihad’ with renewed vigor under the banner for setting up a true Islamic Caliphate in Pakistan.”

The report further argued that the TTP are firmly entrenched in the region and are likely to have institutional support from the Afghan Taliban, since the Taliban do not recognize state boundaries due to their desire to implement a caliphate system. Additionally, the TTP are organized and have specialized wings for training, finance, operations and justice, and are likely to pursue their stand against a Pakistani government they view as un-Islamic.

In the recent years, the Pakistani military seems to have realized the extent of the internal threat the country faces. After years of an India-centric security outlook, the high-level admissions by architects of Pakistan’s security policy indicate a vital shift underway. Yet, Nawaz Sharif’s government has seemingly has not attempted to build on this changing threat assessment and the recent All Parties Conference too has ostensibly negated its responsibility to provide the military and the intelligence agencies the much needed direction.

The state apparatus including the federal and provincial governments seem oblivious to the necessity of a clarified, united policy on militancy and militant groups. The non-state actors are now looking inwards and building on the sectarianism that was ingrained through them. India is no longer their priority target – Shias, Ahmedis and other minorities are. Pakistani intelligence services however still maintain the importance of these groups with respect to India, which is why normalizing relations with India is an imperative for Pakistan’s internal security. Analysts such as Zahid Hussain have stated that these militant organizations are also being used to implement the state’s security policy within the country as well, particularly for containing the Baloch insurgency ( Dawn, June 18, 2013). This leaves us with a chaotic view of the world. The policy of tolerating the sources of ‘insecurity’ and their narrow usefulness needs to be reviewed. Sadly, the politicians are yet to take a clear stance on this problematic aspect of our de facto, unstated security doctrine.

Reforming security institutions

One of NACTA’s primary objectives as outlined in the draft NSP is the collection, coordination and sharing of information gleaned from Pakistan’s multitude of intelligence agencies. Pakistan has a plethora of intelligence bureaus, which compete for budgets and resources while maintaining little coordination or undertaking intelligence sharing as their rent-seeking behavior takes precedence.

Reforming the intelligence apparatus is arguably a reform that is much required in order to curtail the weaknesses with respect to intelligence analysis within the country. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies suffer from considerable institutional deficiencies (technical expertise, oversight and accountability), which need to be tackled on an emergency basis. No worthwhile attempt at reform too can occur without restructuring the ISI and its role within Pakistan’s politics and security policy.

Decades of institutional and policy neglect have left many state institutions ill-equipped to deal with the increasing radicalization of Pakistani society. A serving police officer, Zulfiqar Hameed in a Jinnah Institute publication ‘Extremism Watch’ (2013) has argued that Pakistan’s police forces and the judiciary lack the capacity to track, successfully apprehend and prosecute extremists, all the while facing political interference, continued threats and budgetary concerns. Issues of police capacity need to be addressed immediately, and there should be an emphasis on providing technical means and manpower for police forces to carry out their duties, and to ensure that they have support from their parent departments and the state itself in investigating and carrying out operations against extremist organizations.

After the Bannu and DI Khan jailbreaks, Pakistan’s prison security system needs overhauling as well. Sohail Tajik, another senior police official, noted in Express Tribune (August 6, 2013), DI Khan jailbreak “once again exposed the ‘protocol-oriented’ conventional ‘peace-time’ security that has consistently failed while facing the militants’ tactics of fourth generation warfare.” The DI Khan jailbreak highlighted the jail system’s multiple deficiencies in planning; security coordination with military forces garrisoned in the areas, lack of intelligence analysis, inability to properly vet people working within the prison and the lack of equipment that security forces within the prison had to deal with.

The federal and provincial governments, therefore, need to address prison reform with the utmost importance. They must, to start with, commit to the abolition of torture within the system, as well as ensure the provision of free legal aid to detainees. Overcrowding too can be addressed by more than just construction of more prisons – by enforcing bail laws as well as developing other means of punishment (such as community service, fines, psychological and drug treatment) non-violent prisoners can be released back into society without fear of further spiral into crime.

Deradicalisation and integration

Beyond punishment or imprisonment, many involved in extremism or terrorism undergo reintegration or de-radicalization programs after serving their sentences. In Pakistan, such programs are functioning at a basic level. Many of these programs deal with people that the Taliban counted on for auxiliary support, or as is in the case of ‘ Sabaoon‘, would-be child suicide bombers.

Sabaoon is a government initiative in Swat that attempts to de-radicalize children and juveniles who were caught in raids on Taliban training camps. Recidivism rates are a worry in the tribal areas, and though not much can be done for more fundamental militants, Sabaoon attempts to reduce the risk of these children going back to the Taliban.

Though Sabaoon has been doing good work, it deals less with outright terrorists than children who haven’t fully experienced radicalization. That said, even the staff at Sabaoon realize that reintegration involves more than just de-radicalization, and it is important to ensure that graduates of the program are able to find employment and some semblance of economic stability, as well as a chance to add productive value to their communities.

Faced with overflowing prisons and the multitude of complexities behind terrorism, many countries around the world have adopted de-radicalization programs (Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Yemen, to name a few). Over the years however, vague outlines and success stories rooted more in obfuscation have led to a marked decline in their popularity.

De-radicalization programs need to be revisited. Professor John Horgan, an academic at UMass Lowell, seeks to reinterpret them as ‘risk reduction’ programs, seeing as how their job is to reduce the risk of recidivism. (, 16th August 2013). Important too is the presence of vocational training; primarily to ensure that some semblance of economic independence exists so as to lessen the pull of terrorist organizations offering food and shelter, but also so as to help reintegration into society by means of providing an opportunity to contribute constructively. Risk reduction programs are more effective to address the need for patience – recidivism rates or reintegration into society cannot be judged on days, or weeks, or months. A program’s success, therefore, is not easily determined.

Globally, post-release monitoring has been emphasized to better understand the social structures and frameworks within which the former militants work. Doing so would help in better psychological assessments of the jihadist construct.

In short, Pakistan’s NSP and its implementing agency the NACTA should study the available results from global deradicalisation programs and avoid the common mistakes – lack of transparency – being one of them.

Pakistan’s counter-terrorism and security prescriptions must come out of the populist domains, simplistic formulations that hold external actors, responsible. There is an opportunity with the new government and its popular base in the Punjab province that can address some of the systemic and structural issues. The search for a new security paradigm cannot be delayed any longer.