The continuing wave of terrorist attacks in Pakistan demonstrates not only that terrorists retain the ability to strike across the country despite a major military offensive, but also that they would not suspend their attacks. On the contrary, it seems that they want to intensify the impact of the natural disaster, by launching attacks across the country aimed at destabilising the country at a time when the state is at its most vulnerable and struggling with the massive destruction and large-scale human displacement. The hyped-up attacks also serve to flaunt the terrorists’ resilience.
The number of terrorist attacks across the country and the resulting casualties continue to rise at an alarming rate. Statistics compiled by Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) show a 48 per cent increase in terrorist attacks in 2009 over the previous year’s figures. The statistics for 2010 also show a similar spike in attacks. A nexus of al Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and militant groups in Pakistan is behind the wave of terrorism. A proliferation of militant groups has made the task of countering the threat more difficult for law enforcement agencies. Splinters of banned militant organisations as well as some emerging groups have been found involved in the recent rise in attacks in Punjab.
That may not be entirely surprising given a systemic lack of ownership, consistency and direction of the overall security and counter-terrorism approach of the state. The law enforcement agencies have failed to keep up with the emerging challenges, not least because ideological narratives have prevented them from expanding their vision. The government has also failed to establish a robust counter-terrorism narrative or force and as far as the latter is concerned is relying largely on its existing human and logistical resources. Lack of effective prosecution and of convictions by court has also played into the hands of terrorists.
The law enforcement agencies can only cope with the new challenges by putting in place improved investigation, intelligence gathering and intelligence sharing mechanisms, and by developing a quick response system. The rise in the number of acts of terrorism reflects the need for effective, efficient, resourceful and politically neutral policing and law enforcement. One of the biggest constraints and disruption for the civilian police force has been the responsibility to protect government figures and the litany of VIPs and their offices, residences and family members. A separate force for ‘VIP’ security will lessen the burden on regular police work.
Accurate threat perception is the key to effective response to those threats. A clear approach based on a distinction between the challenges of tribal insurgency and urban terrorism is required at the policy level. Al Qaeda, the TTP and other militant groups in Pakistan may have a nexus but their operational strategies and partners are different. Counter-measures at the security, political and ideological levels, need to factor in those differences and respond accordingly.
Just as a better trained and well equipped police force is required to deal with the prevailing threat of militancy in the country, greater coordination and information sharing between the intelligence community and police is also critical. That was the intention behind the establishment of the National Counter Terrorism Authority. It is not clear how long the authority will take to accomplish that task and, more importantly, if it will be able to bring the country’s security doctrine out of the long shadow of the Soviet-Afghan war. Pakistan’s current security narrative was developed in the context of that Cold War conflict, and was focused at facilitating the defense establishment and political administrations to blame external forces and factors for all domestic problems.
Such a singular outward focus did little to keep new threats from emerging. It is about time that the state and society looked inwards instead of heaping the blame for all its problems on others’ doors.
Finally, the counter-terrorism effort cannot be security-specific alone. The need to counter the narratives of hatred and intolerance was never more urgent or more lacking.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 8th, 2010.