NSC Strategized Pakistan’s counterterrorism policy
The politico-economic crisis in Pakistan, coupled with the upsurge in terrorist attacks, has multiplied the worries of the common man. The political elite and establishment acknowledge the increasing internal security challenges but seem incapable of addressing them systematically and satisfactorily. The prevailing pessimistic situation has exposed the current counterterrorism strategy. For instance, Pakistan lost over 280 security personnel in 2022 while fighting terrorist groups. Now the question arises whether it is the scarcity of resources or the lack of vision that is obstructing the efforts to curb the menace of terrorism permanently.
The trends in global geopolitics indicate that proxy war tactics could be employed to bleed the adversaries. The anti-Pakistan forces have been using Afghan soil to cause subversion in the country. Currently, both Baloch insurgents and Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have sanctuaries in Afghanistan, and besides that, the Taliban government is not agreeable to ending its patronage of TTP despite repeated appeals from Islamabad.
Ironically, despite Islamabad’s immense support to the Afghan Taliban government since August 2021, the latter is not taking any action against the TTP and its forces involved in border incidents. The Afghan government protested over Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah’s statement regarding cross-border action against the terrorists’ hideouts in Afghanistan if Kabul failed to control them.
Admittedly, the Taliban government cannot take effective military action against these militants due to resources and emotional limitations. They have fought alongside them against the United States-led NATO forces during the two decades of operation to seek freedom in Afghanistan. Both consider each other as comrades in arms. Nevertheless, the Taliban government is in a position to refrain the TTP from perpetrating terrorist activities inside Pakistan.
Pakistan is in a dire need of political stability and a realistic multipronged counterterrorism strategy to counter both separatist and religious militancy. Besides, the government needs to strengthen the capacity of civilian law enforcement agencies to permanently uproot the terrorist threat frightening Pakistani society.
Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal
The government is cognizant of the repercussions of increasing TTP attacks and their sanctuaries in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s defense and interior ministers categorically claimed that Afghan soil was being used against Pakistan.
The National Security Committee (NSC), the highest civil-military forum for decisions on matters about national security, reiterated on January 2, “Pakistan’s security is uncompromisable and the full writ of the state will be maintained on every inch of the (sic) Pakistan’s territory.” Earlier, on December 28, during the Corps Commanders Conference, the Army reiterated its “resolve to fight against terrorists without any distinction and eliminate this menace as per the aspirations of the people of Pakistan.”
The determination of the armed forces to counter terrorism is encouraging but the disturbing factor is whether the civilian administration will be capable of sustaining the dividends of the military operations. The review of the post-military Zarb-e-Azb operation years reveals that without revamping the counterterrorism authority and improving the civilian agencies’ counterterrorism capacity, the success of the military operations will be a temporary relief. Therefore, it is imperative to impart better counterterrorism training to civilian law enforcement agencies.
The NSC signaled to the Taliban government that Pakistan would not “permit” it to provide sanctuaries and facilitation to terrorists against Pakistan. The threatening tone could deteriorate the Kabul-Islamabad bilateral relations. However, without taking firm action against the militants, the government cannot re-establish the writ of the state in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and address the worsening economic situation in the country.
The NSC’s decision to restore the provincial apex committees and improve the fighting capacity of law enforcement agencies, particularly the provincial counterterrorism departments, is a right step in the right direction. The recent incident at the counterterrorism department’s interrogation center in Bannu exposed the weaknesses and unprofessional apparatus of Pakistan’s civilian law enforcement agencies.
The improvement in fighting skills through professional trainers and modernization of the equipment of the civilian law enforcement agencies will not only relieve the burden of armed forces in countering radicalized militancy but also ensure a sustainable rule of law.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif expressed his ownership and firm support for counterterrorism operations. He underscored that the federal and provincial governments as per the national action plan, following the national internal security policy, will lead the war against terrorism. The political ruling elite’s ownership assists in the narrative building against the religiously radicalized militants and also quashes their public support. In addition, it will have a moralizing effect on security personnel, who are putting their lives on the line to protect Pakistan.
To conclude, at present, Pakistan is in a dire need of political stability and a realistic multipronged counterterrorism strategy to counter both separatist and religious militancy. Besides, the government needs to strengthen the capacity of civilian law enforcement agencies to permanently uproot the terrorist threat frightening Pakistani society.
- Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal is an Islamabad-based analyst and professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, Quaid-i-Azam University. E-mail: [email protected] Twitter: @zafar_jaspal