The government must lead with a counterterrorism strategy in its fight against militancy, a report by the Institute for Policy Reforms titled No Time to Lose: How Civil Government Must Lead During Conflict says.
According to an official handout released on Friday, a team of senior researchers, former cabinet members, and officials with extensive experience in law enforcement, information gathering, and policymaking contributed to the report.
It says that the civilian government must work on reducing the suffering of internally displaced persons, preventing or minimising the effects of a blowback by militants, resolving the ambiguity on who the enemy is and build popular support in favour of the military.
“While the country is at war, the government has not prepared an adequate response to any of these challenges,” the report says. “We could possibly lose in the cities whatever we win on the battlefield.”
Since this problem became critical in 2008, civilian governments have been ambivalent on the matter of developing a counter-terrorism strategy, the report says. A policy that was announced earlier this year awaits implementation. Even after the military operation began, there was no sign of a mechanism for coordination or concrete actionable plans for counterterrorism. Political leaders have not “motivated public opinion in favour of war objectives”, the report states.
The report holds that there are weaknesses in the civil administration and political institutions and no serious efforts are underway to stand up to the threat of violence or build a narrative against militancy. “It is for the leaders at the Centre and in provinces to respond to the urgency and seriousness of the matter…They must lead and coordinate to use intelligence information, enforcement activities, and ensure successful prosecution.” Too often terrorism suspects are set free, the report states.
It says that the government must bring about a targeted change in the culture and responsiveness of civil administration responsible for counter-terrorism. Law enforcement officers must “remain politically neutral and without interference that encumbers normal police operations”.
Expanding on the need for a narrative against militancy, the report states that few political leaders have been unambiguous in their views on the subject. At times, in fact, they have explained and rationalised terrorism at the expense of victims. The general impression has been that counterterrorism is very much the military’s preserve. Quoting instances, the report holds that, of late, the army has looked toward civilian ownership of the war. Even if these are examples of double-speak, civil leaders could have acted when there were public statements to this effect.
Similarly, it is plain that the government did not have a plan to accommodate the IDPs. The way negotiations had progressed made it clear that military action was always a possibility, the report says. “A well thought out plan with assigned roles and tasks could have reduced the suffering of IDPs”.
The report concludes with a set of recommendations. It says that considering the ongoing military operation, the government must take emergent measures. Federal and provincial governments and intelligence organisations must meet frequently for threat assessment. They may designate focal organisations at each government level and assign tasks including plans for prevention and response. Approved plans may be funded adequately.
The report states that affecting a change in the national narrative is a long-term objective, but leaders must appeal to the patriotism of the nation. The government could provide information regularly to media and civil society and invoke their support in the favour of the military. The government may also seek the help of religious scholars and try to build political consensus on this subject.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2014.