Categorized | South Asian Politics

THE TERRORISM CHALLENGE IN PAKISTAN

Posted on 28 January 2016 by admin

Dr. Hasan Askari

 The terrorist attack on the Bacha Khan University, Charsada, shocked the people of Pakistan who thought that terrorism was now under control. It seems that the Pakistani Taliban and their allies, dislodged from North Waziristan by the Zarb-i-Azb operation, have regrouped in Afghanistan and Pakistan to challenge the Pakistani state and society.

 The revival of terrorist activity calls for a review of counter-terrorism policies since the launching of the Zarb-i-Azb operation in North Waziristan on June 15, 2014. Earlier in February 2014, the first comprehensive National Internal Security Policy (NISP) was announced. After the terrorist attack on the Army Public School, Peshawar, on December 16, 2014, a National Action Plan (NAP), comprising 20-points, was announced for coping with extremism and terrorism.

 The Zarb-i-Azb operation was launched by the Army after the civilian federal government’s efforts to hold meaningful talks with Pakistani Taliban made no headway. When the terrorists attacked the Karachi Airport, the Army top command decided to launch the operation in North Waziristan on its own. The civilian government did not have choice but to go along with it. This operation dislodged the Taliban and their allies from North Waziristan. A good number of them succeeded in slipping out to Afghanistan, other tribal areas and mainland Pakistan. The Pakistan Taliban based in Afghanistan were beyond the direct reach of Pakistan’s security agencies. Some operations were launched in other tribal areas to nab them. These groups were weakened, not totally eliminated.

 The Pakistani Taliban and their allies who came to mainland Pakistan, had no problems in hiding as they already had their networks, supporters and sympathizers. Here, the Pakistan Army could not deal with them the way it conducted the operation in North Waziristan. In the cities and towns, it was up to the civilian federal and provincial governments and their bureaucratic and law-enforcing structures to track and contain these elements. These governments faltered in many respect, giving these elements time and space to revive them.

 The National Internal Security Policy (NISP) was a comprehensive document for controlling extremism and terrorism. It had clear objectives and a detailed organizational and institutional framework to cope with these challenges. However, no concrete steps were taken to implement the NISP. It remained dormant on its key points and objectives. Had this been fully implemented, there was no need of announcing the National Action Plan (NAP) in December 2014 for controlling extremism and terrorism.

Out of the NAP’s 20-Points, one point relates exclusively to the Army (military courts); five points related partly to the Army and party to the civilian government; and fourteen points relate exclusively to the civilian political and administrative system.

  The performance of the NAP has been uneven but better than the NISP because the military is pushing the civilian governments on the implementation of the NAP through the Apex Committees at the provincial level and the periodic meetings of the top brass of the Army and the senior federal minsters under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. These new informal structure have greatly devalued the institutions of federal and provincial cabinets.

 Despite the Army’s pressure, the civilian side of the NAP is slow, inconsistent and marked more by rhetoric than action. If the Army relents the pressure for one reason or another, the fate of the NAP will not be different from that of the NISP.

There are two sets of problems in the handling of the NAP for countering extremism and terrorism. First, the mindset of civilian leadership is divided as to who is resorting to terrorism and how should the menace of extremism and terrorism be dealt with. Divergent interpretations are given as to who is the real culprit? Whether these are Pakistan based groups, some foreign governments funding these groups, or Pakistan’s pro-U.S. policies? The disposition towards the Kashmir focused groups reflects a lot more ambiguity on the part of the civilian and military leadership.

 Second, The PMLN and other right-of-centre parties and Islamic groups face a dilemma. All these parties draw support from the section of population that demonstrates sympathy for Islamic militancy and the view that the western powers are out to undermine the Islamic states, especially Pakistan. Therefore, political consideration and the imperatives of electoral politics impede the PMLN, the PTI and Islamic parties to pursue a tough policy towards religious hard line, sectarian and militant groups. They all criticize and condemn terrorism and killings of people. However, they avoid condemning specific groups engaged in violence or talk about external conspiracies or Pakistan’s pro-U.S. policies.

 The political considerations hamper impede the civilian power elite from fully implementing the NAP. Some action is being taken but it is not being pushed to its logical end. Take the issues of hate-speech and literature, banned organizations, funding to these groups, madrassa reforms and the state narrative to counter the discourse of militancy and terrorist groups.

The principles of constitutionalism, participatory governance, the rule of law and socio-economic justice should be the hallmark of governance and political management. A credible worldview based on religio-cultural pluralism, tolerance and equal citizenship should be disseminated among the people by all political parties, parliamentarians and the elected local government members. They should warn people against the groups that use religious appeals to justify mutual hatred and violence.

 The intelligence and law enforcing agencies should track extremist and violent groups based in all provinces, especially in the Punjab, which is a home to major sectarian and other Jihadi groups.

 Pakistan’s civilian and military authorities can no longer pursue inconsistent policies for coping with internal threats to societal harmony and political stability and economic strength. The failure to control these threats makes Pakistan vulnerable to external pressures and undermine its role at the global level.

 

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