Pakistan is perhaps the only country in the world which has pushed back terrorists and defeated them. To understand what Pakistan has achieved in its war against terrorism we should look at the situation in other countries plagued with the disease of terrorism. The recent wave of violent religious extremism started in the wake of 9/11. Following the incident, the United States, with her allies, attacked Afghanistan to defeat Al-Qaeda and Taliban.
The result is that after 18 years of the campaign, U.S. is forced to negotiate with the Taliban while Al-Qaeda, its affiliates and offshoots are still present and spread in many other countries. Pakistan being the frontline ally of the United States was the ultimate victim of the spillover effect of the U.S. occupation and subsequent resistance in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s decision to join America’s war was unpopular and the result was a backlash in Pakistan’s tribal areas and ultimately the mainland as well. Militants had captured many areas of the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Swat District of Malakand Division which fell to them in 2008. As a result, Pakistan Armed Forces launched new military operations in 2008 to flush out militants from their strongholds and it took almost six years to regain the areas from militants’ control. Operation Zarb-e-Azb launched in June 2014 was the final nail in the coffin for militant occupation of any area in the country.
As per statistics of an Islamabad-based independent think tank Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies (PICSS), the number of average militant attacks per month were 155 before June 2014 with the numbers dropping to 19 in 2018, while during the first quarter of 2019, the average was recorded as low as 12 militant attacks per month. PICSS’ Annual Security Journal also shows that the number of militant attacks from 2009 to 2014 and the resultant deaths and injuries that had always remained in four digits (more than 1000), dropped to 229 attacks in 2018 (Figure 1).
Source: PICSS Militancy Database
Not just PICSS but reports from other think tanks have also shown almost the same pattern with some difference in statistics. Annual reports by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), Center for Research and Security Studies (CRSS), and National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) are consistent in showing significant improvement in the country’s security situation.
NACTA’s report has highlighted Pakistan’s comprehensive efforts in fighting terrorism and extremism. As it has been established in the National Action Plan, eradication of terrorism is not possible solely with kinetic power. This is why Pakistan has launched a multifaceted response to the threat of terrorism and extremism including intelligence-based operations, enhanced intelligence sharing mechanism, countering terror financing in-line with proven international practices, actions against proscribed organizations, adopting counter violent extremism policy guidelines, and strengthening counter terrorism departments (CTDs) across the country among other measures. Although NACTA itself has yet to become a properly functioning body due to structural problems, however, its annual report has underscored the significance of the national body.
NACTA, though still short of human resources, has taken new and far-reaching initiatives which are expected to develop into fully fledged programs. These initiatives shall be contributing towards a safer and secure Pakistan. The counter terrorism body has taken a holistic approach in dealing with the issues of extremism and terrorism by adopting long-term sustainable measures in order to win the war against terrorism. In this regard, two vital policy documents were developed in 2018. These are National Counter Extremism Policy Guidelines (NCEPG) and the national narrative. NACTA’s counter terrorism efforts have been instrumental in documenting and implementing the legislative measures pertaining to proscribed organizations and monitoring of persons in the fourth schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. With regard to countering financing of terrorism (CFT), NACTA has established a national level task force for coordinating efforts of all stakeholders for choking terrorism financing and for streamlining compliance of international regimes such as Financial Action Task Force (FATF). In the light of NACTA’s recommendations, the provincial CTDs have established counter terrorism financing units (CFTUs) to strengthen financial aspects of terrorism-related investigations. Youth engagement in countering extremism has been made a priority at NACTA. A youth conference was organized in July 2018 to enlighten the youth, which is one of the most vulnerable sections of the society with regard to extremism and terrorism. NACTA has also become a partner of Higher Education Commission (HEC) through a Letter of Intent for conducting and coordinating research on terrorism and extremism as well as for engaging young students and their teachers through various awareness activities.
Pakistan is marching on the road towards peace and stability because of the resilience of the nation and sacrifices of its security forces. Fighting terrorism and extremism has been declared as the common goal of the entire nation. The National Action Plan was adopted with the consensus of all political parties. The recruitment pools of militants comprising Pakistani youth are drying up because of the growing awareness of the issue.
Despite success in defeating terrorism, there are some worrying signs and complete peace and stability is yet to be achieved fully. The most important issue is the Afghan crisis. Unless Afghanistan attains peace and the ongoing conflicts end peacefully, the dream of having complete peace in Pakistan will remain unfulfilled. Though light can be seen at the end of the tunnel with recent engagement between the U.S. and Taliban with the support and assistance of Pakistan, however, the issue and its solution are equally complex.
Another impediment or perhaps the main problem is India’s hostile attitude towards Pakistan. India has tried to encircle Pakistan through her dirty web of proxies operating from Afghanistan and Iran. Pakistan had always enjoyed peace on its western front but India has exploited the situation in Afghanistan to her favor and for some unknown reasons has seemingly taken Iran to her side, using the soil of both the western neighbors of Pakistan for her dirty game. Balochistan and CPEC are the special focus of Indian proxies. These proxies can be gleaned from the April 18 attack on the coastal highway at Buzi Top where terrorists crossed over from Iran, barricaded the road and stopped buses, singling out passengers belonging to the security forces, offloading and killing 14 of them before returning to Iran. Pakistan has lodged protest with Iran and shared actionable intelligence. Afghan NDS is playing in the hands of India, not leaving any stone unturned in its efforts to harm Pakistan’s interests. There are other forces active against Pakistan’s interests as well.
Growing intolerance in society in the name of religion is another point of concern. As mentioned earlier, organized militant groups have been defeated to a large extent but growing mob violence and fatwas of violence in the name of religion are a serious threat to the societal norms and values. NACTA being in the lead role of fighting extremism will have to plan some serious and long-lasting actions to tackle the threat. Apart from the government’s response, in principle, the society must keep playing its assertive role against the growing threat of extremism.
The writer is an expert on militancy, national and regional security. He can be reached at [email protected]
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