Anti-terrorism measures By Moonis Ahmar - Sunday 27th March 2011

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COUNTERING terrorism refers not just to a forceful response to acts of terror but also a comprehensive combination of hard and soft power. In order to effectively deal with the threat of terror, the application of substantial political will, and recourse to social, psychological, economic and political means, are also essential.
Pakistan has experienced incidents of terror that have claimed thousands of lives. Despite this, there is no coherent policy to counter terrorism.
With a population of 180 million people and vulnerable to external and internal factors that augment violence and terrorism, Pakistan’s predicament as a nation-state has two dimensions: first, the insurgency in Afghanistan has dangerous security implications for Pakistan; second, state and society are fragile, which tends to promote non-state actors attempting to establish their own order by force.
To counter terrorism there are political, social, educational, economic, military, intelligence, judicial and media measures, the first including political reconciliation, accommodation, empowerment, tolerance and coexistence. In case of social measures, one way to deal with extremism and radicalisation in society is to promote social harmony, mobility and interaction among different social groups. By promoting literacy and better education, one can defeat the elements that take advantage of ignorance and illiteracy and promote extremism, militancy and terrorism.
In a similar fashion, economic measures are key to counter-terrorism because violence has more space when there is poverty, unemployment, under-development and backwardness. Military measures include targeting militant and terrorist hideouts and sanctuaries, cutting off their command and controlling set-ups such as supplies. Intelligence measures can help counter the planning and operations of terrorist groups while judicial measures can ensure prompt hearings and the award of punishment to those found guilty of acts of terror. Finally, media measures include raising awareness levels in terms of threats of militancy and terrorism.
So far, Pakistan has not been able to reach a consensus with Washington on countering terrorism, particularly in terms of drone attacks and the launching of a military operation in North Waziristan. Then, when US officials remind Pakistan to ‘do more’ in combating terrorism the stalemate in Pakistan-US strategic ties is strengthened.
Yet, the problem in Pakistan is that its military force is now overstretched, involved as it is in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. The opening of another front, a military operation in North Waziristan, would invite more pressure as well as domestic backlash. The re-emergence of banned terrorist groups under other names worsens the predicament of the country’s authorities.
Countering terrorism in Pakistan is different as compared to doing so in other countries. First, no other country has, in the past four years, witnessed so many terrorist attacks. The targets of the terrorists are not just the security forces and government installations; mosques, madressahs, shrines, shopping centres and churches have not been spared. Is there any effective anti-terrorism mechanism in operation in Pakistan? Why is the role of Pakistan’s clergy, in terms of effectively countering terrorism, not that significant? How do external factors impede counter-terrorism measures and how can better coordination among the Saarc countries help curb terrorist acts?
In the realm of countering terrorism, the role of the state is crucial because it is responsible for the protection and safety of its citizens. An important segment of the state that plays a major role in counter-terrorism measures in Pakistan is the military.
To what extent can the military deal with the elements that, over a period of time, take advantage of the situation in Afghanistan and use religion for political purposes, thus deepening their influence in the state and societal structures of Pakistan?
The successes and failures of Pakistan’s counter-terrorism policy can be analysed from four perspectives. First comes the state perspective which is divided into the military and civilian dimensions. One has yet to see a firm control over national security affairs by the civilian leadership. The military made sure that national security policy must also represent the country’s interests, whether it was the issue of supporting particular groups in Afghanistan or supporting the Taliban regime.
The same was true in the case of India, as the military establishment resolved that it was in the national interest of Pakistan to use jihadi groups against Indian-held parts of Kashmir. The permeation of the jihadi culture, violence and terrorism in Pakistani society were the direct consequences of equating national security with national interests.
Second is the societal perspective, which is divided because of a fragmented civil society. When extremism, militancy, radicalisation and terrorism become part of the culture and there is to a large extent silence on the part of the majority of the people, it means that counter-terrorism efforts have failed.
The third prism is the political perspective, how far political parties are serious about dealing with the threat and the challenge of terrorism. In fact, religious parties are unwilling to categorically condemn acts of terrorism, particularly suicide killings. So-called secular parties lack the courage and political will to take on fanatic religious groups. And finally, there is the economic perspective: sustained violence and terrorism has caused serious damage to the country’s economy.
Since Pakistan will have to live with the phenomenon of terrorism for a long period, it is time a plausible and pragmatic counter-terrorism strategy was formulated and implemented.

The writer teaches international relations at the University of Karachi.

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