Pakistan’s counter terrorism efforts
PAKISTAN is fighting war against terrorism for the last fourteen years, for which the nation has rendered a huge cost in human and economic terms, which is more than any other country in the world. It suffered more than 60000 causalities of civilian and armed forces personnel and economic losses worth US$ 108 billion so far. Moreover, terrorism has adversely affected social fabric of Pakistan. Despite these sacrifices, menace of terrorism has subsided but not completely eliminated. Barbaric attack on Army Public School (APS), Peshawar, by TTP on December 16, 2014 brought nation to a watershed moment in its long fight against terrorism.
The death of about 147 school children and teachers shook the conscience of the nation. This incident forced the political leadership to review their previous actions and strategies; and identify the loopholes and gaps in their counter terrorism measures that were exploited by terrorists to launch attacks against the innocent people. The APS tragedy united all political parties and military leadership of the country to unanimously condemn the APS attack and make a National Action Plan (NAP) to eradicate terrorism. Thus, a powerful national narrative emerged: “A line has been drawn. On one side are the coward terrorists and on the other stands the whole nation,” stated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. In his televised speech on December 24, 2014, he outlined 20-point NAP where he promised to eradicate the mindset of terrorism by defeating extremism and sectarianism in the country. The 20 points of NAP appeared as a national narrative against terrorism and all forms of extremism. After adoption of the NAP by All Parties Conference and its subsequent implementation, which is being overseen by the apex committees of the provinces, major improvements have been witnessed in overall security situation of country.
As outlined in the NAP, religious extremism is on top of the list considering that terrorism is a consequence of religious extremism. One of its kinds is sectarianism, which not only harvests hate and intolerance in society but also causes sectarian strife and terrorism in the country. Accordingly, special measures have been taken in 20-points of the NAP to control sectarianism. It includes banning of sectarian organizations under new names, countering hate speech and dissemination of extremist material, ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organizations through print and electronic media and punishment on the wrong usage of loudspeakers.
Moreover, measures to choke internal and foreign funding and freezing their accounts are also included in the NAP. The central bank has frozen almostRs.1 billion of 126 accounts linked to proscribed groups. Law-enforcement agencies have also recovered Rs.251.2 million being transferred through ‘Hawala’. In addition, security agencies have arrested a number of culprits, who are involved in money laundering. Parallel to this, the National Assembly passed an AntiMoney Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 2015 that would help the government to ensure that finances and property involved in money laundering are effectively detected, investigated and prosecuted. Another measure taken against terrorism is regarding supervision of madaris and their registration. The state-level registration and supervision of all madaris is now indispensable to curb the anti-state activities. This action is bound to cause general satisfaction, reflecting overall national narrative. The dismantling of terrorists’ communication system such as internet and social media is an important factor in war against terrorism. The federal government has ordered the Ministry of Information &Technology to remove all websites of terrorist organizations so that the miscreants are deprived the means to spread violent and poisonous propaganda.
Previously, there was a perception that frontier region of Pakistan was the sole epicentre of terrorism. Other parts of the country where terrorist network were potentially established were, by and large, ignored in the counter terrorism strategy. Now other suspected areas including urban belts of the country are also included in the NAP. It was decided that Karachi operation, which had started in September 2013 under the supervision of Police and Rangers was reinforced with special powers such as investigating powers, etc. Likewise, to control security situation in Balochistan, not only enough resources and powers have been allocated to Provincial Govt but its capacity-building is also being enhanced.
Priority is now given in the award and execution of sentences to terrorists. It was decided that sentences awarded by judiciary to criminals found guilty in terrorist cases, should be immediately executed, besides establishing military courts for rapid trials. In this regard, a total of 11 military courts were established and 142 cases referred to them, out of which 55 cases have been decided, 87 cases are in process, besides convicting 31 hardcore terrorists. The centuries-old socio-economic and political structures of frontier region and insurgency in Afghanistan have been the prime factors in making the FATA an epicentre of terrorism. Some individuals of the community became involved in acts of terrorism and other criminal activities. They got opportunities to promote their terrorist activities due to lack of an effective legal system. Therefore, the NAP included the development in the region on priority bases and equal rights and opportunities be granted to the people to bring them at par with others in the rest of the country.
It is evident that since the initiation of NAP, there has been a decline in violence in the country. The year 2015 witnessed the lowest number of terror attacks since 2007. Phenomenal successes have been achieved after the launch of Operation Zarb-iAzb. Terrorists’ backbone has been broken, dismantling their main infrastructure and disrupting their nexus with sleeper cells. According to ISPR, 3,400 terrorists including 183 hardcore were killed, 837 hideouts destroyed, and 21,193terrorist were arrested. In this context about 488 officers and men of Pak Army, FC and Rangers sacrificed their lives and 1914 were injured in the operation. Successes in this operation have created space for decisive surge against terrorists in urban areas as well.
Whereas, there are commendable achievements in implementing the NAP, there are some shortcomings as well. Still, more needs to be done. The reality of the situation is that this battle will require more than just hangings, killings, blocking finances and illegal mobile SIMSas well as banning public hate speeches. These factors are enablers but not producers of terrorist violence. This is a mindset that has become embedded in our society due to decades of inaction. Unless primary causes such as poverty, unemployment and illiteracy are addressed, everlasting results could not be achieved. —The writer works at Islamabad Policy Research Institute, a thinktank based in Islamabad.