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Need to re-tool our counter terrorism effort

Patience of the nation is running out on frequently churned out counter terror visions and policies. Devil lies in details and implementation; and this is where we lack and lag. Whenever those responsible for counter terrorism claim success, terrorist make their presence and power felt through increasingly ferocious attacks. People want to know how it could be done and want to see it done. Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif has said that India is carrying out terrorist activities and supporting terrorists and militants to destabilize Pakistan. According to a local TV channel, Asiya Andrabi has also said that India is responsible for terrorism in Pakistan. The Karachi Corps Commander’s unprecedented public comments on much that ails country’s economic capital is a statement of facts. He talked about the vested interest, political expediencies, sponsored militancy, patronage and perceived parallel centres of power in political and administrative spheres—all these inadequacies are an open secret, and there are no two opinions about this state of affairs. All governments, both military and civilian have been thoroughly plagued by these “realpolitik practices”. Karachi has reached this state due to the complete neglect of successive governments—letting internal and external disruptors gain space and consolidate. Solutions put forward by the young general are too theoretical and also too well known; the questions is: how to implement these? The politicians have to realize that there is a limit to their succumbing to expediencies; and the Army too needs to be keep in view that its counter terrorism campaign has to succeed within the constraints that be; and systemic shortfalls are not an excuse for not succeeding. Everybody needs to contribute to get rid of all terrorists, criminals and exploiters. And for this, all have to walk the talk. Patience of the nation is running out on frequently churned out counter terror policies and vision. People want to know how it could be done and want to see it done.
While one understands the complexity and enormity to terrorist activity, matching counter terrorism effort is glaringly missing. In the forefront is lack of will to implement the policies at the middle and lower levels of Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs). Every time there is a high profile attack, new laws are made, LEAs and trial courts are given additional powers, politicians hold meetings under pomp and show and rhetoric is uttered; for a couple of days bureaucrats run from here to there, but end result is zero. Within weeks, another high profile incident takes place, and the previous one is passed on to distant memory. This cycle is going on at least since 2008.
Over the years, LEA’s, bureaucracy, political parties, religious outfits and other state and private institutions have become complacent and take acts of terrorism as a matter of routine. Number of deaths of personnel of law enforcement agencies far exceeds the fatalities suffered by terrorists, which indicate poor professional skills of LAEs. Likewise number of deaths of noncombatants is phenomenal. This clearly indicates that something is seriously wrong somewhere and national counter terrorism effort needs a revisit at professional and technical levels. Mere empowerment of these entities, without compatible structural reforms, won’t lead the country anywhere.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad has recently said that Indian RAW is involved in terrorist activities across Pakistan; he disclosed that matter had been taken up a number of times at the highest level with India through diplomatic channels. This position should have been taken by the foreign office a long time ago; now time has come for issuing demarche not only to India but also a number of other countries involved in similar acts. During Prime Minister’s visit to Afghanistan on May 12, Pakistan has told Afghanistan that RAW should not be allowed to operate against Pakistan from Afghan territory; by now, this has been done so many times that repetition is nothing more than a joke. At appropriate time, after collecting solid and irrefutable evidence, the matter may also be taken to the United Nations Security Council. Involvement of RAW and other external factors in fermenting acts of terrorism in the urban centres is all too well known. However, this can’t be put up as an excuse for our failures to counter them. Rather it exposes gaps in our counter intelligence effort. By now effective measures should have been in place to neutralize RAW and associates.
Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif has very pertinently emphasized the need for a more proactive and coordinated role of intelligence agencies for an effective counter-terrorism campaign, and to counter hostile agencies’ moves to destabilize Pakistan. One could agree with the army chief that most of the achievements and successes of intelligence agencies go unnoticed, but this is how it is supposed to be. Their activities are not meant for attracting immediate glamour and hit news headline; but they never go unregistered and unrewarded. Need of the hour is to strengthen all intelligence agencies at professional level so that they anticipate actions of RAW and other affiliated outfits and prevent their plans from translating into horrible acts of terrorism; this is what professional intelligence agencies are expected to do. Attributing the acts of terrorism to enemy agencies, ant yet being unable to counter them is certainly an indicator of failure of own boys. Once on ground results are good, the appreciation would automatically come. Likewise, all front men executing the plans of external agencies are local Pakistanis. Which itself speaks about inability of non-military intelligence agencies in carrying out their surveillance related functions. Certainly, ISI is doing good job in preventing numerous terrorist attacks, however the number of attacks taking place is good enough to radiate a perpetual feeler of insecurity amongst the public at large. More attention should be paid toward locating and destroying the sleeping cells of foreign intelligence agencies. This is certainly not an easy task; but we may not succeed in stemming out acts of terrorism without accomplishing this tedious potion of the intelligence job.
While the US-Pakistan relationship is on an upward trajectory, especially in the context of counter terrorism; effort is on to discredit and derail it. Some biased writers continue to churn out speculative pieces to degrade the prevailing environment of goodwill between the two countries. Seymour M Hersh in his expose published on the London Review of Books website has claimed that Bin Laden was a prisoner of the Pakistan military, whose leadership not only knew of his location, but were keeping him under house arrest and accepting funds from Saudi Arabia for his upkeep. Likewise, Christina C Fair in her article “America’s Pakistan Policy Is Sheer Madness” recently carried by “The National Interest” has ridiculed the necessity of recent congressional approval of counter terrorism specific arms/munitions sale to Pakistan by claiming that: “The items that Washington has conveyed to Pakistan have little utility in fighting insurgents and terrorists; rather, they enable Pakistan to better fight India… Fearing that Pakistan is too dangerous to fail, pusillanimous members of Congress, as well as officials in the White House and the Departments of State and Defense, are wary of moving away from the status quo… One thing is certain: their failure to act now will ensure more terrorism and more death in the future”. This is despite the fact that success of ongoing military operation Zarb-e- Azb in the last bastion of militants in Pakistan—North Waziristan—has earned acclaim from everywhere including American military and political leadership.
Terrorism confronted by Pakistan is being sponsored by many sources, each having its own objectives; we cannot follow a cut and dry approach to counter it, made of cobbled pieces from here and there. There is a need to evolve Pakistan specific counter terrorism policy right from concept to implementation level. Communities and LEAs have to work together to achieve the end objective—Pakistan free from the fear of terrorism. It was inspiring to listen from the Corps Commander that several myths of invincibility of crime had been broken and all criminals and networks of their facilitators were being challenged with an enormous effort. However, people are not ready to buy this preposition unless they see and feel the tangible results.

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