In Pursuit of Counter terrorism Policy

The happenings during the holy month of Ramadan showed yet another time, if, at all, any further reminder was needed, that Pakistan’s internal security challenge still remains the most daunting. As a newspaper report highlighted, more than 350 people have lost their lives since the new government took office in early June.

As if the Bannu jailbreak was not enough to open the eyes of the provincial administration of KPK, the militants’ attack on DI Khan central jail and the ease with which they got over 200 of their comrades freed speaks volumes about their hardihood and brazenness. On the eve of Eid, a series of terrorist attacks rocked the country, claiming dozens of lives. This alludes to the lethality of the monster of terrorism for the Pakistani state and society. The terrorists, emboldened by the absence of any clear-cut counterterrorism policy, went on with their barbarity without any respite.

Pakistan has lost thousands of precious lives besides suffering the loss of billions of dollars after it joined the American bandwagon of ‘War on Terror’. Wasting away over 12 years into still an inconclusive and asymmetrical war, there appears no light at the end of the tunnel. While most nations came up with enhanced homeland security measures and policies soon after 9/11, Pakistan’s security establishment is still bewildered and is unable to fathom the depth of this grave problem that has been, and is, eating shaking the very foundations of our state and society. Of equal and notable concern has been the absence of civilian ownership and leadership for war on terror.

It is only after the inauguration of present government that we are witnessing some serious and concerted efforts to connecting the dots and evolving a pragmatic counterterrorism policy. However, ironically, this initiative of the government is being marred by delay, policy confusion, inaction, and a lack of political ownership and political will. Throwing light on the broad contours of the counterterrorism policy, the Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, promised that the policy would be presented to the federal cabinet in two weeks. He also stated that the incumbent government would go ahead with the implementation of the policy even if other parties don’t own it up.

By the time this article appears in the magazine, the said policy would have been adopted. Irrespective of what prescriptions the policy would spell out on internal and external security challenges, a few facts are in order:

The cause behind an inordinate delay in formulating the counterterrorism policy is explained by the warped nature of debate on the most serious and urgent threat to our stability. While militants are roaming throughout Pakistan without their nefarious designs being frustrated, the political leadership couldn’t be on the same page to create a consensus on decisive policy against this cankerworm. There is a pervasive tendency to link Pakistan’s terrorism problem to the developments in Afghanistan. It is widely held that as soon as the US drawdown completes by 2014, the TTP would be deprived of the justification to wage a war against Pakistan and it would provide Pakistani authorities with greater breathing space to bring Taliban to terms. This viewpoint looks at terrorism and militancy as having been propped up by the circumstances away from our geographical boundaries, and whose solution lies elsewhere.

 While most nations came up with enhanced homeland security measures and policies soon after 9/11, Pakistan’s security establishment is still bewildered and is unable to fathom the depth of this grave problem
 Tied to this debate is PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s interpretation of terrorism in the country. He has been linking the spread of terrorism to drone strikes in FATA, which implies that once the drone strikes stop, Pakistan would be free of scourge of terrorism and militancy. I believe that confining debate on terrorism to the issue of drone strikes represents a short-sighted and a myopic view on this menace. The idea that terrorism would die down following the US drawdown is erroneous, to say the least. What we need to understand is the fact that the war is driven by ideological nay sectarian agenda. Without failing to notice this all-important aspect, no counter terrorism strategy, if at all one is agreed to, stands the chance of success.

It needs to be understood that all terrorists and miscreants strike at the state symbols just to spread panic among the people and undermine the morale of security forces. It is unfortunate that there is nothing on the offer from the state except meaningless talk couched in equally meaningless terms. In the absence of any counter-narrative, the terrorists are getting more audacious.

The terror incidents that rocked the country in Ramadan show that our terrorism challenge is more daunting, deeply complex and extremely complicated than what we make it to be. It is high time our leadership, particularly Imran Khan, think beyond drone strikes and the planned US withdrawal. True and real prognosis of the disease will help treat it well and on time too. Confusion regarding nature of problem promotes policy paralysis which the country can ill-afford now.

There is an urgent need to recast and reformulate the narrative against terrorism and extremism. This brings us to the need of deciphering the sources of extremism and terrorism and taking actions to stem them. An ostrich-like approach will serve us no good.

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