Towards a new strategy

Published: December 28, 2014
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. He is also the author of several books, monographs and articles on Pakistan and South Asian affairs

The writer is an independent political and defence analyst. He is also the author of several books, monographs and articles on Pakistan and South Asian affairs

Has Pakistan charted a new and comprehensive course of action for countering extremism and terrorism? The answer is a big ‘yes’ if we go by the speeches and statements of the political leaders, including the prime minister, in the two meetings held on December 17 and 24.

The fury of the statements cannot guarantee the elimination of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan. Such statements were made in the past. However, there are two major differences this time. First, the army top brass is in the lead in persuading the civilian government to adopt a definite and comprehensive policy to control terrorism. The military, as a whole, and the army in particular have overcome the traditional ambiguity about the good and bad Taliban and their military action in North Waziristan demonstrated a non-discriminatory policy towards all kinds of Taliban and others groups based in the tribal areas. However, the civilian leadership, including the ruling PML-N, continued to be divided on how to deal with militancy. Now, after the Peshawar massacre, the army top command has built pressure on the civilian leadership to adopt a unified and tough policy for countering terrorism.

Second, the Peshawar school incident has created a major public upsurge for dealing with the Taliban and other militant groups with firmness. The public reaction has also led political leaders to come out openly against the Taliban. Leaders like Imran Khan and others, who were opposed to military action, and repeatedly expressed sympathy for the Taliban, could not carry on with their old policy.

Nobody would disagree with the 20-point plan of action announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif but the real issue is the capacity of the present civilian government to implement these agenda items all the way. The PML-N government is expected to face serious problems in taking strong steps against the militant groups based in the urban areas of Punjab because a section of the PML-N leadership is known to be close to hardline groups and this connection has helped the PML-N in the past to get votes.

A number of the agenda items for countering terrorism are not new. These include taking action against hate literature, registering and regulating madrassas, not permitting banned organisation to re-emerge under new names, not allowing the formation of armed militias, stopping religious persecution and choking financing for terrorist groups. These commitments were made in the past but they were not translated into concrete policies. At times, some initial steps were taken but political imperatives forced the government to give up these policy initiatives. The present federal government will face strong opposition if it endeavours to regulate madrassas and interfered with their activities. Already, a number of religious leaders associated with madrassas are describing this as a Western and American agenda. Similarly, other items mentioned above cannot be implemented unless the federal and provincial governments are fully determined towards the implementation process.

It is easy to create a consensus on the need of eliminating terrorism. However, the problem is about defining terrorism, identifying its sources and agreeing on the methods to eliminate it. The confusion on these issues exists not only among most political parties but also within the ruling PML-N. This is going to cause serious operational problems for the PML-N in Punjab where some of the hardline and sectarian groups have made inroads into the PML-N circles. The best illustration of this problem is the current controversy about the statement of the Maulana of the Lal Masjid in Islamabad. This is a government mosque that propagates radical ideology. Until recently, the PML-N government was soft on the radical disposition of the mosque.

There is a need to reorient a large section of PML-N loyalists in addition to changing the orientations of others. The civilian government must quickly create a narrative of why it is so important to control extremism and terrorism. Such a narrative must challenge the arguments of pro-militancy and pro-madrassa activists.

A major issue with regard to countering terrorism pertains to getting court convictions of the people arrested on terrorism charges. As the investigation and prosecution system is weak, a large number of terrorists are freed by the courts. The army top brass wants the civilian government to strengthen the investigation and prosecution system and make necessary changes in the legal and judicial system to ensure that most of those arrested for engaging in terrorism are convicted by the courts. The civilian government did not do anything significant to rectify these deficiencies in the civilian legal and judicial system. It agreed to set up special courts headed by army officers for the prosecution of those accused of terrorism. This means that the army will arrest people on account of terrorist activities and put them on trial in their own courts. This may satisfy the army but it amounts to having no confidence in the civilian judicial and legal system.

The setting up of military courts at a time when the country is not under martial law is going to be a problematic issue. This move will require legal and constitutional changes because in the past, the Supreme Court had declared military courts unconstitutional. The same can happen again unless the Constitution is amended, which is going to be a difficult task for the government.

Military courts under a democratic dispensation weaken the civilian democratic process. The army is already engaged in counter-insurgency in the tribal areas and is making sure that rogue elements do not move across the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Army personnel are providing security to several prisons and about 10,000 personnel are doing security duties in Punjab and under the federal government. The federal government wants other provinces to seek the army’s cooperation for countering terrorism. It is not difficult to conclude that the current civilian order is on the decline.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 29th,  2014.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • Mta
    Dec 28, 2014 - 10:59PM

    Hasan Askari is a spokesman for establishment.


  • Anarchist
    Dec 28, 2014 - 11:01PM

    We can blame everyone, from military to mullah, for terrorism, but when it comes to decline of civil administrations and institutions, its right to blame civilian governments.

    What steps have civilian governments taken to improve judicial system and police in past 7 years? None. They just use state institutions to achieve private ends.


  • Tousif Latif
    Dec 28, 2014 - 11:06PM

    Extremism has been fostered in this society since long.It has very deep roots in this society.It is a multidimentional challenge that needs to be checked at all levels.Just military operation is likely to meet same fate that humiliated Americans in Afghanistan.Our rulers have no idea or plan to reorient the socioeconomic outlook of this society to a modern,progressive and pluralistic outlook.A laggard economy,outdated,retrogressive education system,rising inequality are the fuels of extremism.But there is no focus on these challenges and this negligence will keep us wandering in the wilderness.Recommend

  • raider
    Dec 29, 2014 - 12:37AM

    how did writer concisely and succinctly describe the civil-military and terrorist troika really demand and deserve to be commended. Peshawar massacre forcibly letting the panicked,convoluted and weak civilian govt sovereignty aside and space has been filled by military as a necessary evil due to public pressure,irony is that again a civil govt will have to empower military reign and legitimate a civilian jurisdiction to be transitioned to military even through parliament by amending the constitution which is conflict of interest of democracy and further process of de-legitimization of these courts in future may disturb civil-military balance or even a crisis may arise indeed.


  • Shuaib
    Dec 29, 2014 - 6:07AM

    Stop criticising the Government and start critising the beaurocracy and institutions.

    The Government is not failing. Our FBR, CAA, PEMRA, police, discos, DAs, etc. are failing to implement what they have to.

    Constitutionally it’s their fault. The media must do its duty in pressuring them to do their duty.

    Nawaz Sharif has given them a free hand. He does not interfere.


  • MA
    Dec 29, 2014 - 7:55AM

    The civilian justice system is completely broken. If we give them Mulla Fazalulla today, he will be released tomorrow. Military courts are not long term solution. Military and civilians must help the civilian courts to improve and use military courts as a leverage in the meantime.


  • Sajjad Ashraf
    Dec 29, 2014 - 9:13AM



  • Feroz
    Dec 29, 2014 - 12:11PM

    Even if the Constitution is amended to allow Military Courts trial of civilians the Judiciary has the powers to strike down these amendments as unconstitutional — whether they have the courage to do so, is another matter.
    Secondly, the root of the problems confronting Pakistan stems from its actions based on hate of India. To try and build an anti India narrative the Establishment has indulged in behavior that has created more problems for its own citizens, rather than successfully hurt Indian interests. Any number of measures adopted will fail unless Pakistan overcomes its animosity for India and changes its strategy to one of rapprochement, Whether the countries rulers have the intellectual and moral capacity to understand this basic reality and act accordingly, will ultimately decide the success or failure of any and all strategies crafted.


  • Rex Minor
    Dec 29, 2014 - 6:10PM

    First, the army top brass is in the lead in persuading the civilian government to adopt a definite and comprehensive policy to control terrorism.
    And when bitte shön, was it different? The army has always been a State within the State, their own insitutions including garrison towns and cantonments,, schools, universities and hospitals, housing and industrial complex and even own shops and food stores where common law is not valid, a carry over legacy of the privileaged colonialist military.

    Rex Minor


  • Allah_Rukha
    Dec 29, 2014 - 6:17PM

    The civilian order has been rottening for the past 7 years. Terrorists had been roaming around the entire country even so the chief minister of Sindh confessed the presence of AlQaeda in Karachi. Minorities are threatened on the live tv shows and the religious scholars who condemn acts of terror , have to go in exile for sake of their lives.
    The government and the opposition parties did not care about the lives of commoners, until Peshawar tregady. There was no political will to resolve this issue.
    Now they have no clue on the resolution of this issue.


  • Dec 30, 2014 - 7:47PM

    Ofcourse, this terrorism is not a fight against Pakistan military only; it is a fight against the state, as people who have lost their live in the hands of these terrorists are mostly local citizens. Therefore, army enforced measures cannot be the solution for this problem. To tackle this complex problem we will have to address the root causes that give rise to terrorist mindset. And this sure cannot be done by further curbing the rights of fair trials, on the basis of mere suspicion, as the newly established military courts would do. The major problem here is the lack of capacity building of law enforcement agencies and the absence of security that should be provided to witnesses and judges in terror cases. Instead of using article 245 of the Constitution, to formulate parallel justice systems why can’t the armed forces aid civil justice system by providing security to judges and witnesses under the same article?


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