In the recent years, the menace of terrorism has emerged as a global phenomenon and the most daunting challenge to world security. Pakistan is also not immune to this curse and has been caught in the tentacles of this monster since long. The recent surge in terrorist incidents in the country points toward the urgency of reinvigorating the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). With a dedicated person like Lt Cdr (retd) Ihsan Ghani, who has a vast experience in countering terrorism, at the helm, it can be earnestly hoped that NACTA will become the state’s most potent tool in eliminating terrorism from the Pakistani soil.
The fateful incident of 9/11 was a turning point in the world history. This marked the advent of an era where the incidents of terrorism soared unprecedentedly and many countries, especially some Muslim states of Middle East and South Asia, were thrown into the inferno of terrorism in which they are still burning. Countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and, more recently, Syria have seen massive destructions and colossal losses of life and property at the hand of various terrorist groups especially the self-styled Islamic State (IS).
The case of Pakistan is unique in the sense that in spite of being the most-allied ally of the United States and a frontline state in the global war on terror, the people of Pakistan have been indiscriminately targeted by terrorists of various kinds and factions. The most heinous acts of terrorism have been perpetrated against the innocent people; mosques, imambargahs, churches, temples, schools, markets; nothing has been spared by these bestial elements. Although successive governments — civil and military alike — in Pakistan launched various military operations like Operation Al-Mizan (2002-2006); Operation Zalzala (2008); Operations Rah-e-Haq and Rah-e-Rast (2007-2009); Operation Rah-e-Nijat (2009-2010); Operation Black Thunderstorm and Operations Khyber-1 and Khyber-2 (Oct 2014-July 2015), in country’s tribal areas to flush out anti-state elements, the hydra of terrorism could not be slain yet. The terrorists regrouped and, after rejuvenating their strength, re-emerged as a more potent threat than ever before.
It was also frequently witnessed that despite intelligence leads about a possible attack, country’s security agencies could not take timely steps to neutralize the impending threat. It was because there was no platform available where all intelligence agencies could share the information, they had gathered, under a unified command. Hence, establishing such an institution was the most pressing need of the time. It was especially important when we had before us the examples of developed countries that established such agencies and successfully thwarted any acts of terrorism. Following are some pertinent examples in this regard:
United States Department of Homeland Security established in November 2002
Mandate: The Department works in the civilian sphere to protect the United States within, at, and outside its borders.
US National Counterterrorism Centre (NCTC) set up in August 2004
Mandate: To serve as the primary organization in the US government for integrating and analyzing all intelligence pertaining to terrorism possessed or acquired.
The British Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) established in 2003
Mandate: To provide advice to the British government and firms within the Critical National Infrastructure on terrorist threats.
The Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) created in 2007
Mandate: To lead the work on counter-terrorism in the UK, working closely with the police and security services.
The Australian National Counter-Terrorism Committee (NCTC) constituted in 2002
Mandate: To provide strategic and policy advice to the government, coordinating nation-wide counter-terrorism capability and developing jurisdictional interoperability.
All these entities draw up national counterterrorism strategies — American ‘4Ds’ (Defeat, Deny, Diminish and Defend) and the British ‘4Ps’ (Prevent, Pursue, Protect and Prepare), for instance — to give an impetus to the counter-terror efforts of their respective states.
The government of Pakistan, though belatedly, recognized the need for establishing a counter-terrorism agency that would not only “receive and collate data or information or intelligence, and disseminate and coordinate between all relevant stakeholders to formulate threat assessments” but would also “develop action plans against terrorism and extremism”. Consequently, an entity with the name of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) was established in January 2009 by the PPP-led government. But, unfortunately, like many other policies, the matter of invigorating NACTA was also put on the backburner. Pakistan kept on bleeding and the wounds inflicted by terrorists on the Pakistanis kept on festering. In the meantime, the United States launched Operation Geronimo in Abbottabad whereby it claimed to kill the world’s most wanted terrorist Osama bin Laden; turning the world opinion against Pakistan and the country was seen as a breeding ground for terrorism.
However, in 2013, Mian Nawaz Sharif came to power with a vision to rid the country of terrorism and to put it back on the road to economic progress and development. Soon after his inauguration as Prime Minister of Pakistan, he established a special committee to hold negotiations with the Taliban in order to establish peace in the country. But, unfortunately, these efforts could not succeed as the terrorists saw those as a sign of government’s weakness and continued carnage in almost all parts of the country. It is to be remembered that the terrorists had got weakened by intermittent military operations, but in order to eliminate them forever, a coup de grace came in the form of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, launched in June 2014.
Under the valiant leadership of the current Chief of Army Staff, General Raheel Sharif, Operation Zarb-e-Azb has achieved extraordinary successes, and numerous terrorists have either been exterminated or they have fled the country and have hidden in Afghanistan. But, one would hardly disagree that the successes gained in a military operation cannot long last unless they are reciprocated by civilian government’s prudent polices. In this regard in February 2014, the first comprehensive National Internal Security Policy (NISP) was announced wherein comprehensive policy measures were given. But, then came the day of 16th December 2014. On this Black Day of Pakistan’s history, an appalling, awful tragedy befell the nation when the terrorists attacked Peshawar’s Army Public School claiming the lives of more than 150 innocent schoolchildren. By orchestrating such a heinous attack, the terrorists earned the wrath of the nation and the whole nation got united to do away with the terrorism and the terrorists once for all.
The government chalked out a 20-point National Action Plan wherein all political parties and country’s civilian and military leadership showed a consensus on “strengthening and activation of NACTA” — an entity that has been dormant since its inception. However, a positive development was seen when on 31st December 2014, the first meeting of the NACTA executive board was held to develop measures for counterterrorism.
Although more than a year has passed since then, no substantial outcomes of NACTA’s policies have been seen yet. In addition, terrorist incidents in January 2016, especially the one on Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, have shocked people and the issue of effectiveness of NACTA under NAP to ensure internal security has again come into limelight.
The resurgence of terrorist activities calls for a review of counterterrorism and counter-insurgency policies especially the resurrection of NACTA. As mentioned earlier, the Authority has remained largely inert since its inception, and was seen as merely another redundant body with little say in the formulation or implementation policies related to extremism and counterterrorism; However, it is high time that the government reinvigorated NACTA as this can be the most effective arm of the government in countering terrorism.
A major impediment to making NACTA effective was the lack of leadership at the top level as well as the induction of staff. The matter has been resolved now as the induction of staff has been approved. Moreover, the government, after months of dillydallying and making experiments by appointing different people as NACTA head, finally took a prudent step and, in August 2015, appointed Lt Cdr (retd) Ihsan Ghani — former IGP Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — as national coordinator of the Authority. The appointment of Mr Ghani is being widely hailed as a good start as he is a very talented officer with impeccable credentials. Having rich experience of curbing militancy and extremism and in dealing with security and law-enforcement at his credit, Mr Ghani was the most suitable man to lead this organization.
A cursory look at the contemporary world would reveal that the terrorism has become a global phenomenon. From Palmyra to Paris, from Kabul to Istanbul, from Sinai to Beirut, from Sana to San Bernardino; the self-styled Islamic State has launched attacks in almost all parts of the world. In Pakistan, too, this monster is showing its presence — though the government claims otherwise — through incidents like Safoora Goth attack on Ismaili community. Hence, the most daunting challenge before the new NACTA chief would be to defeat IS.
It is to be understood that the IS is a transnational terror group as it has attracted even well-off, highly-qualified youth from all parts of the world. According to a renowned anthropologist Scott Atran, who has interviewed terrorists in the days leading up to their executions, there are two broad categories of IS recruits:
The first one comprises terrorists born in Iraq, Syria and the Levant who fight for the cause locally. They have nothing to do with Islam or Islamic teachings as Atran noted:
“None of the ISIS fighters we interviewed in Iraq had more than primary school education … When asked ‘what is Islam?’ they answered ‘my life.’ They knew nothing of the Quran or Hadith.”
The second type is of the terrorists of a different breed. They are the foreigners who are well-educated, and emotionally stable people who “fall within the mid-ranges of what social scientists call ‘the normal distribution’ in terms of psychological attributes like empathy, compassion, idealism and wanting mostly to help rather than hurt other people.”
The pace of rise of IS in Afghanistan is almost unprecedented. Many of Taliban from Afghanistan as well as Pakistan have showed their allegiance to the IS and it is fast replacing Taliban and is posing a graver threat to the stability of the region. If extremist elements or terrorists in Pakistan are not neutralized at the earliest then it is highly probable that they would be attracted by the IS and would pose a more daunting challenge to the country’s security.
Given all this background and recent scenario, the government should put in concerted efforts to make NACTA proactive, and launch nationwide campaigns to enlighten people on the true image of Islam and the real culture of our country that reject any sort of violence, extremism and terrorism and profess true values of humanity.
A blueprint of these policies and the related areas is being presented hereunder:
- To inculcate in young minds the traits of forbearance, tolerance and love for humanity to alleviate them from bigotry and hatred.
- To provide the youth with additional reading material because syllabus or course books alone can’t achieve this purpose.
- To efficiently use print, electronic and social media because today’s tech-savvy generation can be engaged in constructive activities by using these fora.
- To raise awareness on Pakistan’s true ideology of ‘peace within and peace without’ through entertainment tools. After all, if films like Phantom and Border can spread negativity about Pakistan, then why can’t we project the real, soft image of Pakistan using this medium?
- Start teacher training programmes/ capacity-building projects in order to equip teachers with techniques to inculcate ‘hatred to hate’ in young minds.
- Create state-sponsored blogs on the internet to engage today’s youth that is ever-present on social media
- Popularize vocational education that would be a key to reducing unemployment one of the biggest causes of terrorism in our country.
- Launch campaigns like “Mujhay Dushman ke Bachon ko Parhana Hai”.
- Engage academic institutions and universities to develop research-based, all-inclusive policies.
- Establish linkages between academia and the criminal justice system to draw up people-oriented policies.
- Launch Psy-ops (Psychological Operation Programmes) because in our country, there had never been serious efforts to reform and rehabilitate the terrorists under detention or in prisons.
- Provide career counselling to the students at the start of their college. In this way, we will be able to produce professionals having expertise in their relevant fields and an élan to lead Pakistan toward progress and development.
Education always increases the individual and society-wide prospects of socioeconomic and political participation as well as individual productivity and intellectual capacity. Sound country-specific conditions help these expectations to materialize, thus reducing incentives for terrorism.
Point 10 of the NAP calls for registration and regulation of seminaries (madrasas). According to a report ‘The Madrasa Conundrum — The state of religious education in Pakistan’, by an NGO, HIVE, some 3.5 million students were enrolled with 35,337 madrasas in Pakistan. Auqaf authorities put the number of students at 26,131.
While it is true that not all madrasas propagate a fierce polemic, it is well established that a substantial number among them have become recruitment centres for terrorist organisations.
In many of the madrasas, students are taught the material that further widens the already present cleavages in the society. We have to recognize that centuries-old curricula cannot be the panacea to the problems we face today. Seminaries only produce Maulvis, not scholars who could guide us in the light of Quran and Sunnah. Hence, NACTA should draw up policies to make the seminaries embrace liberal education.
- Reorganize seminaries’ curricula on the basis of true Islamic teachings
- Erase any hate material against any person, sect or religion from the course content.
- Provide students with modern education so that their analytical and reasoning abilities may develop. Once they start thinking rationally, they will start hating terrorism.
- Establish a cell to monitor the curricula, financing, etc., of madrasas.
- Ensure free education so that poor children may not fall in the hands of hate-mongering mullahs.
- Appoint teachers from public sector schools in the madrasas so that the students may be imparted modern education besides the religious one.
Resolving Identity Crisis
One may argue that most of the terrorists nabbed by law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) recently have turned out to be graduates of country’s most prestigious institutions. They belong to well-off families, then why are they being attracted toward terrorism? It is pertinent to say in this regard that identity crisis is one of the major causes behind terrorism. As noted by Dr Raza Rehman Khan Qazi, “The quest for power, identity crisis and more importantly denial of justice and anti-Americanism have been the main causes of terrorism in the country.” Resolving this acute crisis requires a comprehensive, broad-based policy.
- Launch massive awareness campaigns to enlighten our young generation on the values of humanity.
- Disseminate concepts such as unity in diversity or multicultural coexistence as those are very much needed today.
- Provide equal opportunities to grow and prosper to all Pakistanis alike, without any discrimination.
Draw up policies based on indigenous needs with a purpose to develop multiculturalism in the country.
These policies must also continue and the new government should not roll them back.
Criminal Justice System
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
The ineffectiveness of Pakistan’s criminal justice system has serious repercussions for domestic, regional and international security. The system protects the corrupt and the mighty while common people are denied justice through inordinate delays.
- Police reforms are direly needed in Pakistan. It is to be noted that despite doubling the number of police personnel, no significant reduction in crimes has been witnessed.
- Police are the first defence force inside a country; hence they must be provided better training, better equipment, additional resources and, above all, liberty from political interference.
- Prosecution arm of the criminal justice system must also be strengthened. If law-enforcement agencies nab terrorists, they are set free by courts due to weak prosecution. Reforming this department is also crucial to increasing the conviction rate in the country.
- Speedy and affordable justice must be provided to the citizens. A society cannot survive unless justice is ensured, and merit prevails, in all sectors of life.
Bring FATA into Mainstream
Thanks to Operation Zarb-e-Azb, FATA is far better place than it previously was in terms of security and peace. But, the need of the day is a strong and vigilant administration to maintain stability in the region, including that part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor which links Pakistan with Afghanistan and other Central Asian republics.
Thus, bringing FATA into the national mainstream would alleviate people’s deprivations and they will be more inclined to development like other parts of Pakistan. The jurisdiction of superior courts to the region should be extended and institutions like police and prosecution department should be established. In this regard, a centralised levies command system should be formed and the force should be trained to carry out their tasks as the regular police force. Later, the khasadar force will also be merged into the levies force and subsequently the police for FATA would be formed.
Enforcement of Cyber Laws
In the contemporary world, the internet is being increasingly used by terrorists for not only achieving their purposes but also for engaging the educated youth with their inhumane activities. This requires a proactive and coordinated response from the government.
Although the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Bill (PECB) is a good beginning yet there must be proper surveillance of social media so that no extremist ideologies or terrorist activities are promoted on it.
Use of Soft Power
Coined by Joseph S. Nye, Jr. in the late 1980s, the term “soft power” means the ability of a state to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. Although it is mostly used in international relations and diplomacy, yet it is also of pivotal importance in Pakistan’s local context. For Pakistan, soft power means the use of non-military measures to achieve the purpose of achieving national harmony. In fact, ‘soft power’ is the ability to persuade through some of the values humanity holds dear: democracy, art, culture, human rights, welfare, good governance and societal harmony.
Multiple existential issues such as stagnating economy, energy crisis, repressive governments, cronyism and corruption, poor governance, cross-border interventions, drug and criminal mafias necessitate drastically revisiting the traditional security paradigm.
All negative forces such as terrorism, sectarianism, fanaticism, violence and injustice must be curbed through justice and education. Without justice we cannot imagine a peaceful society and without widespread education, we cannot think of a civilized society. In the absence of justice and with ignorance and illiteracy, we cannot project the soft image of our country.
In order to implement the above-stated suggestions, NACTA should form an Advisory Board, consisting of prominent scholars, academicians and members of civil society. At present, there are no linkages between academia and the criminal justice system. Such a board would be instrumental in formulating policies aimed at freeing Pakistan from the claws of terrorism.
The government should also go the extra mile and take political ownership of NACTA so the body does not become a victim of vested interests. The interior minister has stated that within a few months NACTA will be a fully operational component of the counterterrorism apparatus as the government has already allocated additional funds and entitlement of risk allowance for NACTA employees. Indeed, NACTA can establish an effective monitoring system to counter the threat of terrorism and violent extremism in Pakistan.
If we want to achieve a terrorism-free, progressive and moderate Pakistan, we will have to resurrect and reinvigorate NACTA. At present challenges are mighty and they warrant a befitting response from the states of Pakistan.