What Pakistan needs to do for effective and sustainable counterterrorism - Herald (January 2015)
By Hassan Abbas,
“Extremis malis extrema remedia,” is how a famous Latin saying goes, expressing the idea that “extreme situations require extreme remedies”. This sounds logical on the face of it but in reality it is a myth. Over the years, I have heard from so many Pakistani friends with various backgrounds that “Pakistan needs an Imam Khomeni”, implying that nothing short of a bloody revolution, which may take thousands of lives, is going to work for the country. Those who make this argument know little about the causes that led to the Islamic revolution in Iran – or for that matter the factors leading to the French or Russian revolutions.
The idea of military courts to tackle terrorism is a similar notion based on the fallacy that the use of hard power can deliver goods under all circumstances. Military means can indeed be – and, perhaps, must be – part of the solution when it comes to counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan but the nature and extent of the terrorism problem in the country requires a much broader, comprehensive and long term solution.
In the same vein, the government’s newfound zeal to execute those convicted of terrorism is a sop to those asking for extreme remedies. Death by guillotine has never been an effective counterterrorism tool and it never will be. Radicalisation and misdirected religious zeal need a different set of solutions. Simply put, an extremist state of mind that took decades to nurture and develop cannot be cured overnight through quick-fix measure such as hangings and military courts.
Dynamics of a counterterrorism policy
It is true that Pakistani policymakers are far clearer today about the roots and dynamics of terrorism in the country than before, and denial of reality is less of a serious challenge now than it was earlier. Still, it will be a while before this developing consensus against terrorism can mature into policies and strategies that really can rid the country of terrorism. Military operation in North Waziristan targeting the infrastructure of Pakistani Taliban – as important and critical as it is – is only a tactical maneuver. Similarly, the public pronouncements after the Peshawar school tragedy are the beginning of a potential transformation in policy. On their own, these statements do not yet a coherent policy form.
For a counterterrorism policy to be effective, the government must realise that Pakistan has paid a heavy price for its lacklustre approach in facing militancy head on for too long. The security and intelligence sector, too, has been quite unimaginative when it comes to its core mission of safeguarding the country from internal threats. Its overly imaginative concerns about external threats have sapped its energy and professional capabilities. In defence circles any interpretations that point out these gaps are deemed unpatriotic and unworthy of any serious consideration. Only exposure to other narratives and open mindedness can treat this fixation.
While the eyes must be focused on future, a clear understanding and recognition of past mistakes is necessary. An open national dialogue on the subject, which is slowly taking shape thanks to electronic and print media, must continue without fear or favour.
Pakistan’s current counterterrorism resolve, indeed, has the potential to transform into an effective policy but for that to happen the country’s leadership – both political and military – will have to adjust their priorities and make some compromises. The key components for any effective counterterrorism policy to come together are public awareness about what has been going on so far as well as the possible consequences of what many happen in the future. Given that rampant insecurity in the country with negative consequences for the economy may have already started galvanising people behind a robust policy to root out terrorism, such awareness creation is likely to find a ready audience. The most important stepping stone for such an awareness campaign should be the creations and propagation of a strong narrative on who the Taliban are and why they are the enemies of both the state and the society.
*Knowing the enemy
The genesis of the Pakistani Taliban owes a great deal to the history of lawlessness, tribalism and Pakistan’s perennial neglect of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas [FATA]. Genuine political and economic grievances, coupled with Pakistan’s controversial role in the ‘war on terror’ in Afghanistan, have turned out to be the defining impetus. Their fake claim to religious knowledge allows them to bend religion the way they want, and mixing Islam up with their tribal cultural values has made it a successful enterprise…
Despite their capacity to conduct attacks anywhere in the country, including on the most sensitive of security targets, the Pakistani Taliban are not a mainstream force and are unable to develop into a wider political movement. While they face certain fractures due to the making and breaking of tribal alignments in FATA, their strength also lies in having foreign warriors, especially Arabs and Uzbeks, in their ranks. The Punjabi Taliban, which also recruit from among retired security officials and educated urban professionals, have added a lethal capability to the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban fit perfectly into the category of ‘terrorist organization’. Joining the battlefield in Syria is a new craze among its followers…
Despite some differences in approach and outlook, the various Taliban factions in Pakistan and Afghanistan share information, logistics and (at times) manpower resources. They rent weapons to each other and coordinate recruitment of suicide bombers. They also coordinate the targeting of those who challenge their ideas. Attacks on peace jirgas and assassinations of progressive elements on both sides of the Durand Line are now the norm in the area. Tribal ethos, Pashtun ethnic chauvinism, radical religious doctrine and political-cum-economic grievances provide a bond for this new generation of warriors.
The common thread running through the various Taliban factions is their strategy, which relies heavily on the perception of inevitability and a lack of time constraints. The funding streams of the Taliban – private donors in the Gulf, the illicit drug economy and extortion rackets in major economic hubs such as Karachi – provide them with a sustainable basis of support that not only enhances their capacity for insurgency and terror, but also connects them across the region….
Streamlining counterterrorism strategy
Along with narrative creation and awareness raising, the government must take concerted steps to streamline sectors such as judiciary and policing. Many other states have gone through terrorism related challenges and Pakistan should not shy away from learning from them. One document that can provide a broad outline for an effective counterterrorism policy is the Rabat Memorandum on Good Practices for Effective Counterterrorism Practice in the Criminal Justice Sector. This memorandum was developed in a February 2012 meeting of the Global Counterterrorism Forum, a multilateral “platform that focuses on identifying critical civilian [counterterrorism] needs, mobilizing the necessary expertise and resources to address such needs and enhance global cooperation”. The forum comprises 29 countries, including Pakistan.
As a participant in the Rabat Memorandum, Pakistan should diligently put into practice the following recommendations by the forum:
1. Protect victims, witnesses, informants, undercover agents, juries, investigators, prosecutors, defence counsel and judges in counterterrorism cases.
2. Encourage cooperation and coordination among domestic government agencies that have responsibilities or information relevant to counterterrorism.
3. Provide a legal framework and practical measures for electronic surveillance in counterterrorism investigations.
4. Provide for the lawful exercise of pre-trial detention of terrorist suspects.
5. Develop practices and procedures to encourage international cooperation in counterterrorism matters.
One thing that these guidelines make clear is that there is no shortcut to developing a sound counterterrorism strategy. Military and intelligence services can play a vital role in supporting the civilian law enforcement organisations in following these guidelines. But, as a Rand Corporation study, titled How Terrorist Groups End, states, effective police and intelligence work, rather than the use of military force, deliver better counterterrorism results.
By following a policing and judicial system that according to reputed think-tanks and global forums, are necessary for counterterrorism, Pakistani government can set the ball rolling for bringing about peace in the country. At the same time, however, it will have to focus on five additional critical factors that can enable it to devise a functional and sustainable counterterrorism policy. These factors are as follows:
1. The roots of militancy and extremism in Pakistan are inextricably linked to regional conflicts and, therefore, there is no denying the fact that any effective policy will have to cater to regional dynamics as well. Pakistan, however, must start by setting its own house in order. The terrorism problem in Pakistan is the most serious one in the region.
2. Pakistan’s military establishment arguably is now more focused in achieving its counterterrorism objectives than it was in the past and, in the process, it is trying to stop distinguishing between “good Taliban” and “bad Taliban”. The political and bureaucratic elites, which have developed their own priorities likewise to remain relevant to the domestic power politics, will also need to make such a shift.
3. In parallel to countering terrorism through criminal justice system, deradicalisation programmes through economic and, especially, educational measures will be critical. There is no readymade formula available for the Pakistani situation. The government will have to invest in scholars and researchers from the relevant fields to figure out the most suitable model. Only professionals should lead deradicalisation projects.
4. Pakistan will need international support in this endeavour and the area where this international support is needed the most is forensics. The government must send its law enforcement officials to international training institutes for the purpose at a scale at least similar to what is available to the armed forces for training opportunities abroad.
5. Merely arguing that Pakistani Taliban, al Qaeda and the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) are distorting Islamic teachings and beliefs is insufficient for counterterrorism purposes. A counter narrative crafted by progressive and educated religious scholars, challenging the credibility and devious messaging of extremists, is another urgent task awaiting state support.
Bureaucrats – both civilian and military -- have a tendency to assume that they have answers to every situation provided they are given the authority and resources. That has been a bane of Pakistan. For developing and promoting a counter narrative to extremism and bigotry, the fields of art, culture and literature are far more powerful mediums than bureaucratic and administrative measures. Pakistan has no dearth of talent in these fields.
In the religious sphere also, many poetic and literary works of Sufi saints are available that can pose serious theological challenge to the extremist narrative. It is ironic how Pakistan has failed to utilise such treasures not only to defeat extremism but also to promote pluralism and religious harmony.
*An excerpt from the author’s book, The Taliban Revival