OPINION: Pakistan's security threats

Islamabad (Dawn/ANN) - Externilasiation of threats remains a core flaw in Pakistan's internal security approach. The security establishment, policymakers and opinion-makers and most of society badly suffer from this fallacy, which merely affords them an escape from responsibility but no cure for the menace that haunts Pakistan.

The terrorists take full advantage of the approach, and despite their heinous acts a big segment of society sympathises with their agendas. Several public opinion polls suggest that the majority considers that a foreign hand is involved in the current spate of violence in the country. The security establishment appears to believe the same.

From Karachi to Gilgit-Baltistan, the threat is aggravating as Pakistan faces multiple forms of terrorism: global jihadism, sectarianism, separatism, ethnic and communal target killings and criminal and tribal clashes. The terrorists have applied old and new tactics, guerrilla warfare, suicide attacks, ambushes, target killings, bombing and other organised attacks on the security forces and state installations.

Pakistan seems to have become a fertile ground for terrorists to invent and employ new operational tactics.

Statistics show that insecurity is increasing alarmingly in the country. Pakistan was among the most volatile countries in the world in 2011 and the first quarter of 2012 shows a similar trend. Some new threats have also emerged while the dynamics of some of the old ones continue to evolve.

Contrary to the common perception, Afghanistan had proved less prone to terrorist attacks compared to Pakistan. Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta are still among the most volatile cities in the world.

Afghanistan, is considered a 'war-torn' country and despite ethnic and sectarian diversity and tensions on certain levels similar to those in Pakistan, these factors are not triggering violence there. A comparison between the two countries demonstrates that Pakistan has multiple violence triggers, which the terrorists exploit.

Despite the complex challenges, Pakistan has not developed a comprehensive internal security strategy. Law-enforcement agencies respond to threats, with mixed results, as these responses are not part of a broader strategy.

The focus has so far been on countering the militant insurgency in the tribal areas, mainly through the use of military force, raising the local communities to confront the militants, and engaging the militants through talks. Although the state also claims development to be a key pillar of its counter-insurgency campaign, a proper development strategy remains lacking.

Most of the development funds have been spent on those displaced as a result of the anti-Taliban military operations. Little attention has been paid to countering urban terrorism, which poses a critical threat to the country. Law-enforcement agencies have consistently failed to keep up with the emerging challenges, not least because inadequate ideological narratives have prevented them from expanding their vision.

The government has also failed to establish a substantial counter-terrorism narrative or force and, as far as the latter is concerned, is relying largely on existing human and logistical resources. The Pak Institute for Peace Studies has been emphasising since 2006 that law-enforcement agencies can only cope with the new challenges if improved investigation, intelligence-gathering and intelligence-sharing mechanisms are put in place and a rapid-response system developed.

Accurate threat perception is the key to effective response to the sort of terrorism Pakistan faces today. A clear approach based on a distinction between the challenges of tribal insurgency and urban terrorism is required at the policy level.

Prompt promulgation of anti-terrorism laws is another neglected area. Certain amendments in the anti-terrorism law are pending in the Senate. Expediting those would certainly help. The absence of the requisite legal provisions deprives the state of certain powers that are crucial for dealing with terrorism, such as a bar on banks and financial institutions to provide any financial support to members of proscribed outfits.

Successful prosecution is not possible without sufficient evidence, which has been hard to compile against suspected terrorists. It is also important to train the police better in investigation and crime scene examination.

The government has taken an initiative with the help of the US and a few European countries to set up a Special Investigation Group (SIG). The group was trained by US and European experts, but even four years after its establishment, it is yet to prove its utility. That is so in no small part because of a prosecution system that allows little room for innovative approaches.

At the same time, an effective witness-protection programme remains missing. Without that, witnesses crucial to the prosecution's case find it prudent not to testify and put themselves or their families in danger. Although military authorities had asked the government to make appropriate changes in the law of evidence, but the issue is still pending.

There is an urgent need to review counterterrorism strategies and evolve new approaches in view of the changing nature of threats. This is essential not only at the level of security agencies but also for policymakers, civil society, the media and other stakeholders.

The federal and provincial governments need to focus more on providing police with better training and equipment. There is a pressing need to utilise the SIG effectively. Apart from intelligence-sharing and coordination among the various agencies, a cohesive legislative framework to deal with terrorism is indispensable. Parliament needs to take up the issue immediately.

Legislation alone can never be an effective tool to deal with terrorism until the capacity of the legal system, including the judges, lawyers and the prosecution, is enhanced. Apart from transparency and appointment of capable judges to anti-terrorism courts (ATCs), the Supreme Court and the high courts should monitor the functioning of ATCs in accordance with the Supreme Court's judgment in the 1999 Sheikh Liaquat Hussain case.

These are the broader policy framework components, but these cannot be implemented until the security establishment develops accurate threat perception and does away with the fallacy of externalisation.

The journey to a secure and peaceful Pakistan cannot be initiated without addressing internal threats also.

The writer is editor of the quarterly research journal Conflict and Peace Studies.

COPYRIGHT: ASIA NEWS NETWORK

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