What failed Pakistan in the fight against terrorism?
On July 13, around 132 people were killed and 180 injured in two separate terrorist attacks during election-related activities in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
A suicide attack on an election gathering in the Mastung area, some 60km south-west of Quetta, killed 128 people including Nawabzada Siraj Raisani, Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) candidate for a provincial assembly seat, and injured more than 150 people.
A bomb blast in Bannu killed at least four and injured 32 people in a convoy of former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister Akram Khan Durrani who is contesting the election on NA-35 (Bannu) against Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) chairman Imran Khan on a Mutahhida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) ticket.
Three days back, a suicide attack in Peshawar killed 20 people including Awami National Party’s (ANP) leader and slain Bashir Bilour’s son, Haroon Bilour.
These terrorist attacks tell two things. One, the war is not over. Two, Pakistan has gained only limited success (if any) in eliminating the menace of terrorism. So, the question arises: what failed the country in its war against terrorists?
Two things. Firstly, its militarised counter-terrorism strategy and secondly, its failure in building a counter-terrorism narrative.
Though Pakistan’s ad hoc and militarised counter-terrorism strategy gained some success following an attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in 2014, it largely remained ineffective till the attack. Even after the Army Public School attack, when a National Action Plan (NAP) was introduced, the strategy lacked clarity and hence failed in completely eliminating the terrorist networks from the country.
This is because the strategy was entirely militarised, and it pushed every civilian institute into the background. For instance, the military courts replaced the regular judiciary of the country depriving it from building its capacity by ruling over cases including the cases related to violence and terrorism, gaining confidence by providing open and fair trails to everyone including terrorists and, therefore, emerging as a professional institution — which could have stopped it from nonprofessional adventurism; “building damns.”
The police that was never built or trained to fight against terrorists remained ineffective in maintaining law and order, and wherever an attack happened, the situation was handed over to the armed forces. Too much dependency over its armed forces played a part in destroying the country’s police which, if enabled and appropriately equipped, could have played a very vital role in the fight against terrorism. This militarised counter-terrorism policy also pushed the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) into the background, and the irony is the institute from its birth to this day remained completely dysfunctional.
Further, the strategy has impacted the military itself very negatively. The increased burden forced the military to ask for more funds, and when the government failed to meet the demands, a clash erupted, resulting in a very bleak situation in the country that could lead to chaos. The situation divided the nation into pro-civilian and pro-military groups, which can be disastrous for any future government as well as for armed forces.
Pakistan is a nuclear power; it doesn’t need a second layer of security. It doesn’t need irregulars anymore, even if it did in the past
The other half of the answer lies in the country’s failure in building a counter-terrorism narrative. If terrorism is an ideology, Pakistan needs a counter-terrorism ideology. If it’s a narrative, the country needs a counter-terrorism narrative. If it’s a thesis of hate, violence, and anarchy, then Pakistan needs an antithesis of love, peace, and order.
But unfortunately, the country failed in introducing and incorporating a counter-terrorism narrative that would have deconstructed radical thoughts and curbed the support for extremism. Such a narrative would have established state’s legitimacy and exclusivity on power. It would also have addressed public anger and agitation if authorities had stayed by it and declared that whoever kills innocent people (citizen) is a terrorist — regardless of its historical role and present affiliations — and the state will seek revenge of these killings.
However, experts believe that Pakistan will never go for a comprehensive, all-encompassing counter-terrorism strategy coupled with a grand counter-terrorism narrative because it fears that such an advancement could weaken its external security. It is said that an effective counter-terrorism narrative, in long-run, can de-radicalise the Pakistani society, ending the possibility of re-emergence of such groups which the country/state perceives as a second layer of security.
In such a scenario it is very likely that the country will keep its ad hoc and inconsistent counter-terrorism policy without introducing a counter-terrorism narrative, which may look successful, but it will not be. As long as Pakistan fails in countering terrorism on ideological fronts — bringing reforms in the syllabus and religious seminaries — it will fail to combat terrorists militarily. Because it’s not about eliminating the terrorists but eliminating the cause that produces such an effect.
The way forward is clear. Pakistan is a nuclear power; it doesn’t need a second layer of security. It doesn’t need irregulars anymore, even if it did in the past. And as far as bringing India to the negotiating table is concerned, it needs out of the box solutions. After all, the two countries have China — the country which is going to be the world superpower — willing to mediate their differences ranging from water issues to the Kashmir dispute. And both are a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which many speculate is going to become the new United Nations.
The writer is a freelance journalist and PhD Scholar at National University of Modern Languages Islamabad. He is the co-founderof prismey.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in Daily Times, July 18th 2018.