Strategy to counter terrorism

January 31, 2016

There is policy confusion over what the state policy is towards some of the terror outfits

Strategy to counter terrorism

"Terrorists’ backbone is broken, main infrastructure dismantled, nexus with sleeper cells largely disrupted, Intelligence Based Operations (IBOs) continue to burst the remaining sleeper cells, overall improvement in security/law and order owing to Operation Zarb-e-Azb, national events celebrated, stability being achieved," said a press release issued by the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) on December 12 last year.

But, the third week of January 2016 is considered as the bloodiest when terrorists struck thrice in two provinces within three days, killing at least 36 people.

It goes like this. January 20, 2016: Bacha Khan University was attacked in Charsadda, KP, 20 people lost their lives, including students, teachers and policemen. January 19 2016: Karkhona Market at the junction of Peshawar and Khyber Agency was rocked with powerful bang of suicide blast, killing at least 10 people, including a journalist and Khasadar force personnel. January 18, 2016: Frontier Corps Balochistan was targeted in Margat area of Quetta where six FC men were killed.

These three uninterrupted, simultaneous, and consecutive strikes have sparked a heated debate about the military-led operation Zarb-e-Azb and National Action Plan (NAP). Some say terrorists are striking with a broken back.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb kicked off on June 15, 2014 in North Waziristan tribal region. It was expanded to the entire Pakistan in the form of IBOs. After the massacre at the Army Public School (APS), Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mian Nawaz Sharif, had addressed the nation on December 24, 2014. It was through his speech, the nation learnt about the 20 points of NAP.

"There is a serious civil-military imbalance in the country, everyone understands it. And the presumption is that there is a difference of opinion between them on key issues," says Babar Sattar, senior lawyer and analyst

Pakistan unveiled its first National Internal Security Policy (NISP) on February 26, 2014. National Anti Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) was an important component of NISP for quality communication and coordination capability between provincial and federal governments, the armed forces and intelligence agencies.

Dr Shoaib Suddle, who has served in Balochistan and Sindh as Inspector General of Police, points out, "In the rest of the world the menace of terrorism is dealt with by the police but that is a different police unlike ours where recruitment is done on parchis. There is no mechanism of proper training and officers get posted as per their choice."

Read also: Dealing with a radicalised society

The Police Order 2002 has been abandoned where there was no room for political interference in the department, a safety board comprising retired police officials and some members of civil society was responsible to both post and oust an officer.

"We have seen bigger operations during the 1990s in Karachi but what happened? There was no sustainability. We launched another operation in September 2013 and that met the same fate, too," says Jameel Yousaf, former Chief of Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) Sindh.

On Aug 13, 2013 the Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan had said while addressing a press conference in Islamabad, "I want a functional NACTA and a skeleton of Joint Intelligence Directorate in place within two to three months."

"NACTA kept functioning without having formally appointed staff for six years," State Minister for Interior, Baligh-ur-Rehman, said on the floor of the Upper House of Pakistan on November 11 last year.

As per NACTA rules, the head of NACTA, the National Coordinator (NC), reports directly to the prime minister. The Prime Minister, never called its meeting.

After more than two years of his statement, Nisar once again reiterated on the floor of the National Assembly on December 17 last year that "Joint Intelligence Directorate was our dream; budget has been allocated and funds have been disbursed, within two to three months Joint Intelligence Directorate will be a reality."

"You can understand how serious the government is in the establishment and functioning of NACTA," says Dr Suddle, expressing dissatisfaction while referring to the budget and recruitment delays of the organisation.

Registration and regulation of madarssas is one very important point of NAP. The government faced stern reaction from religious parties when some measures were taken. "Instead of asking them about personal details which you can gather through your intelligence apparatus, the state needs to monitor and keep checks on a modarris (teacher of a seminary), his background, qualification and, most significantly, his ideology because students are inspired by the teachers and adopt their teachings," says Azmat Abbas, senior journalist, who has done extensive work on seminaries in Pakistan.

"The seminaries were allowed to operate as a separate entity and to establish their monopoly on religious studies. Who stops the state to offer Quran, hadees and fiqh as subjects in colleges and universities? The graduates of these institutions will become religious teachers and scholars and they will be more tolerant; if their (seminaries) monopoly is not over, no matter how many NAPs you launch, nothing will change," he warns.

Lal Masjid cleric, Maulana Abdul Aziz, is free to roam around in the heart of the capital and that shows the willingness of the federation to counter hate speech and extremist material, the fourth point of NAP.

Female students of Jamia Hafsa posted a video in December 2014, inviting terrorist organisation, the Islamic State (Daesh) to avenge Operation Silence that was carried out against Lal Masjid in 2007 but no action has yet been taken.

Banned outfits are operating freely; they don’t even need to change the name of the organisation. In broad daylight, Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) carries out its activities. According to the list of Interior Ministry’s National Crisis Management Cell, which is available with TNS, the outfit was banned on February 15, 2012. This also shows that the seventh point of NAP, ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed osrganisation, is still dormant.

"What is not appreciated fully is that now it is also an ideological war; it is not just a strategic battle to dismantle some of the erstwhile assets of the state, the ideological nature of those weapons doesn’t go away so those also need to be extinguished," explains Sattar.

"Besides an outfit, there should be a ban on its office bearers as well. Like the corporate world, security clearance of office bearers should be mandatory for any religious organisation," suggests Jameel Yousaf. "There should be a list of individuals who should be barred to form any organisation," says Abbas.

"There are two contexts of NAP, one is related to Zarb-e-Azb, which mainly deals with the army in Fata, and the other is the civilian side and because of their performance (civilian leadership) military actions are affected," says Suddle.

Are civilian institutions weak to cope with the current situation? Sattar says there are two viewpoints on this: 1) military steps in because there is a vacuum and, 2) through a structural design the civilian institutions have been kept weak and that is a conspiracy aspect of civil-military debate. "The internal security essentially has been handed over to the army so whatever space was available for the police and other civil agencies has been squeezed and that, too, aggravated this imbalance," says Sattar.

In the past, police officers in Punjab who carried out operations against militant organisations would be vulnerable. Officers are reluctant to operate against such elements because they are aware of their fate.

"The ‘credit’ of creating non-state actors is given to the military establishment but it was later controlled and backed by political parties to safeguard their interest of various kinds, including land grabbing, extortion, etc. We are becoming a polarised society and it is the responsibility of the civilian setup to end this polarisation and change this narrative through legislation; towns, cities and countries can be secured, not installations, and for that you need will of the legislators," says a high ranking intelligence official on condition of anonymity.

Sattar believes it is not just a question of the will or capacity; there is a serious policy confusion and doubts as to what the state policy is towards some of these outfits.

Strategy to counter terrorism