time Wednesday Jan 04 2023

Pakistan's fight against terrorism

An Army vehicle patrols, past police officers stand guard along a road, near cantonment area in Bannu, Pakistan December 21, 2022. — Reuters
An Army vehicle patrols, past police officers stand guard along a road, near cantonment area in Bannu, Pakistan December 21, 2022. — Reuters  

The 40th meeting of the National Security Committee concluded on Monday with a resolve to have zero tolerance for terrorism in Pakistan. It was heartening to note that due emphasis was placed on protecting the people, especially the youth from the devastating effects of the ongoing economic crisis. The state also resolved to implement the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2018 and agreed to prioritise people-centric socio-economic development as its central plank.

One hopes that the NSC huddle noted the over 50% rise in attacks in Pakistan since the takeover of Afghanistan by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Afghanistan (TTA). This has resulted in the loss of over 500 lives and the return of the fears of plunging back into the dark days of exploding bombs and suicide attacks on an almost daily basis with staggering human and economic costs.

The worsening situation is a result of multiple lost opportunities and policy blunders during the last four years. First and foremost, the situation puts a question mark on Pakistan’s Afghanistan Policy which had misplaced expectations with regard to cooperation from the Afghan authorities under the rule of the then-labelled ‘reformed’ and ‘more pragmatic’ Taliban. The policy erroneously blamed Pakistan’s security challenges entirely on the ‘Ashraf Ghani-India nexus’ and claimed to have defeated India in Afghanistan at the ouster of the US-backed Ashraf Ghani regime.

In fact, a number of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leaders were killed by drone strikes in Afghanistan during the previous Afghan government. Further, hundreds of TTP militants detained during the Ashraf Ghani regime were freed by the TTA soon after taking power. Pakistan has had to reluctantly consider taking the unprecedented and undesirable action of targeting TTP militants in Afghanistan as a result of frustration caused by the TTA’s actions.

Despite hostile action and multiple rounds of negotiations, the TTP has found reprieve in Afghanistan, which is now run by its ideological brethren. The TTA has continuously refused to reprimand the TTP and instead demands the government of Pakistan negotiate with them. The chances of any settlement or a decisive victory against the TTP are slim without meaningful support from the TTA, which is not forthcoming.

The extremist/militant forces have taken heart from the TTA’s victory in Afghanistan and revived hopes of achieving a similar feat in Pakistan. As such, Pakistan faces a grave threat from the large anti-Pakistan constituency in Afghanistan that the TTP is tapping into to continue a long-drawn war in Pakistan.

More worryingly, there is news of greater linkages and collaboration between Afghan-based extremist religious anti-Pakistan outfits and Baloch insurgents. The adoption of suicide bombing tactics by the Baloch insurgents is one example of this collaboration.

The worst economic crisis in the history of Pakistan coupled with political polarisation is increasing the number of unemployed, hopeless youth that are vulnerable to falling prey to extremist/anti-state tendencies. Inequality and uneven development with overlapping ethnic boundaries are a recipe for disaster in a diverse polity like Pakistan.

On the internal front, since the Army Public School (APS) attack in 2014 and under the leadership of then prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the then army chief Gen Raheel Sharif, the country had evolved a significant consensus that the ‘enemy lies within’ and we must put ‘our house in order’. The country had come out of the state of denial that ‘no Muslim can resort to terrorist acts’ or provide lame excuses for it. A stark realisation had emerged that extremism was an indigenous ‘existential threat’ and that no economic growth or development could take place under its looming persistence.

Unfortunately, this consensus was hurt during the last four years through consistent ‘externalisation’ of threats and reverting to a state of denial. The fact is that independent non-state actors with indigenous sources of support and a fluid personnel base operate in the region and without tackling the local networks and causes for their sustenance, overplaying the hand of a ‘foreign enemy’ is not going to resolve the problem.

Second, the precious time bought by the state by adopting a kinetic heavy approach from 2014 to 2018 to consolidate the gains and tackle the structural root causes of insecurity through soft measures, was lost during the last four years. Despite formulating an impressive National Security Policy, at the sectoral level, the previous government failed to implement the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2018, which was developed with consensus among all stakeholders and provided a comprehensive framework and practical steps to enhance internal security through improved law enforcement, building a national narrative and socio-economic uplift of troubled areas.

Now, while bearing the brunt of misplaced Afghanistan as well as internal security policies, it is important to do thorough and dispassionate stock-taking and break the cycle of writing good policy documents without implementing any of them.

On the internal security front, therefore, the solution today lies not in reinventing the wheel but in taking forward the process from where it stopped in 2018 – albeit without the luxury of having the breathing space that was then carved out. As rightly mentioned by the NSC, NISP 2018 should be adopted and implemented in its letter and spirit and extended to the 2022-26 period.

Despite the pressure of dealing with the symptom – the violence inflicted by the extremist/terrorist outfits – its ideological and socio-economic causes must not be ignored and left untreated. NISP 2018 diagnosed the key sources of insecurity in the country as i) youth alienation and frustration; (ii) exclusionary identity/ideological narratives; (iii) lack of social justice and rule of law; (iv) regional disparities; (v) lack of accountability and inclusion; and (vi) foreign interference. No prescription will work unless this diagnosis is taken into consideration.

Lastly, the ground situation in Afghanistan poses a serious challenge to Pakistan. In this regard, Pakistan must collaborate with the international community to forge a joint front. Pakistan went too far advocating concessions for the Taliban regime without securing their cooperation on the security front.

Any assistance rendered to the Taliban regime must be conditional on the practical actions they take to curb militant groups of all hues and colours operating on their soil. Failure to do so should risk all possible leverage available to the neighbouring countries and beyond to be used to isolate them. The time has come for decisive talks with the Taliban regime so that Pakistan knows whether they are ‘with us or against us’ when it comes to dealing with threats like the TTP, BLA, Daesh and others.

The writer tweets @adnanrafiq and can be reached at: [email protected]