Countering the Terror Threat in Pakistan

Posted on 11/17/13
By Ikram Sehgal | Via The News International
(Photo by Helmand Blog, Creative Commons License)
(Photo by Helmand Blog, Creative Commons License)

Consider the theatrics of the absurd by some political clerics at the killing of the terrorist responsible for slaughtering thousands of innocent Pakistanis. Indeed pathetic that the fundamentally moderate Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) should label Tehrik-e-Taliban-i-Pakistan (TTP) chief Hakimullah Mehsud a “Shaheed” (martyr)!  To safeguard their fiefdoms, politicians and clerics often turn to appeasement of militants.  The Army did well by immediately reacting to what potentially can erode the morale of the rank and file. And so did PM Mian Nawaz Sharif, burying 15 years of self-created bad blood with the Army by a maiden visit to GHQ soon after the JI leader’s outrageous remarks, he rightly called the Army’s martyrs as “our benefactors”. 

Appeasement should never be an option, the militants have the blood of too many innocents on their hands.  A brutal minority cannot be allowed to dictate to the “great silent majority” through the barrel of a gun under any circumstances.  Those not so squeamish should see the ghastly video of this so-called “Shaheed” murdering one of the ISI heroes of the Afghan War, Col (Retd) Sultan Amir Tarar, nom de guerre “Col Imam”, in cold blood.

With civil society breaking down because of blatant injustice and discrimination, insurgency and terrorism have become endemic in South Asia. After two decades of horrendous strife Sri Lanka successfully crushed the Tamil insurgency which had converted the island Paradise into a hell by using terror as their primary weapon.  As thieves do when fighting over the spoils, Indian Research and Analytical Wing (RAW) trained Tamil Tigers (LTTE) ultimately turned with a vengeance on the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) which had landed (by forcible self-invitation) to relieve them from the besieging Sri Lankan Army.  How tragically ironic that in return for his bulletproof jacket that he had personally presented LTTE Supremo Prabhakaran with, Rajiv Gandhi got a garland of explosives.

More than a dozen insurgencies are eclipsed by the largest terrorist group in the world operating across a broad swath of territory in India.  Collecting government revenues from more than 70 districts operating in 17 Indian States, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh calls the Naxalites an existential threat to India.  Nepal has seen its share of Maoist terrorism, RAW-crafted incidents aside Bangladesh faces intermittent terrorism of the Jehadi-kind.

After Tora Bora in 2002 the Al-Qaeda hierarchy went to ground in South Waziristan protected by an outer core of Mehsud tribal mercenaries.  Their presence on our soil made us the “ground zero” of terrorism. The Army went into FATA in 2003 without the requisite numbers, equipment, training, logistics, etc, Al-Qaeda turned their guns into Pakistan and created the TTP.  We have only ourselves to blame for giving this menace the time and the space on our lands to prosper.  Far worse, we actively collaborated with others in fighting their proxy wars on (and from) our soil.

The CIA drone strike that took out the TTP chief derailed the “peace talks”, the “soft sell” mechanism for countering terrorism. This was further complicated by his replacing by the outright murderer Maulana Fazlullah.  That Fazlullah had “guest” status in Afghanistan after being run out of the Army from Swat was never a secret, however the capture US Special Forces of Deputy Latif Mehsud being escorted by National Directorate of Security (NDS) agents on his way to meet Karzai in Kabul really exposed the Afghan government double-dealing.  Afghan intelligence (with help and guidance from RAW) have been supporting TTP’s terrorist activities helping kill Pakistanis while posing holier-than-thou condemning the insurgents fighting the civil war as Pakistan-supported terrorists.  Karzai’s loud protests to the US for not releasing his “guest” only underscored the Afghan regime’s perfidy. It was only Latif Mehsud who could give Hakeemullah’s exact whereabouts to the Americans.  With a US $ 5 million bounty on his head, the Americans finally had a shot, they took it.  Good for them!

Sophisticated psychological warfare must make the population aware of the dangers posed by terrorists.  Unless accompanied by socio-economic measures, it can backfire. Terrorism can be multi-layered, issues in Pakistan include conflict of ideologies; whose brand of Islam is right and how to impose this brand on others? US intelligence failures leading to the 9/11 atrocity prompted ratcheting of security, making the laws stricter and highly pro-active fighting the scourge of terrorism. Providing against “clear and present danger,” the fail-safe line dividing the rule of law from criminality can be crossed sometimes.  However, one cannot agree that the only way to counter terror is by terror.

Foreign Exchange (FE) meant for charity must be scrutinized for terrorist funding while processing through scheduled banks, not through FE dealers and “havalas”.  Without adequate resources or even a technological base third world countries like Pakistan tend to react to terrorist threats rather than pre-empt them, electronic forensics and technologies must be developed to anticipate possible future threats. NADRA’s electronic identification process has indeed been an unimaginable “giant leap forward” for Pakistan, a success story beyond compare.

National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) in Pakistan is mandated to “coordinate counter terrorism and counter extremism efforts evaluating the nature and magnitude of the terrorist threat; and to present strategic policy options to the government for consideration/implementation after scientifically studying the phenomenon of extremism and terrorism in historic and professional perspective.” A well-equipped, well-trained and well-led Counter-Terrorism Force (CTF) can isolate and destroy the terrorists’ potential to spread destruction and grief, utilizing any resources for operations, wherever and whenever necessary. Induct only the very best without any political interference or maneuvering. Beware of the evil nexus between corruption, organized crime and terrorism, politicians and powerful people on criminal payroll will always be averse to the CTF becoming effective.

The touchstone of success lies in being fair to all, without fear or favour. If any community is discriminated against because of their lineage or political leanings, the battle will be lost.  Urban guerilla warfare cannot be sustained without the support of the people, conversely no counter campaign can succeed without the support of the people. We have to re-think our electoral process.  Our present bankrupt version will never allow democracy to function at the grassroots level, without participation of all the stakeholders the moral basis of a democratic society is eroded.  The vested interests of PML (N) and PPP in Punjab and Sindh notwithstanding, despite Imran Khan’s passion for real grassroots democracy even the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) model in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) has discrepancies deliberately tilting for feudalism.

An insurgent may be wrong but he believes his cause is just, his motives are unselfish and his actions target combatants.  From time to time insurgents do use terrorism as a weapon of war. A terrorist uses a cause to justify his motives, the difference is that he mostly targets non-combatants with maximum prejudice.  The mindset of a terrorist is that of a murderer, both callous and brutal. To terrorize the population the new TTP Chief Fazlullah duly had video-taped his beheading of the unfortunate in public during his reign in Swat.  The commitment, will and determination of the “great silent majority” to fight this murderous criminal mindset can only be aroused by giving them participation with power at the grassroots level.

The write is a Pakistan-based defense analyst.

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