View Full Version : What next after Charsadda? By Abdul Basit - 8th February 2016

8th February 2016, 01:28 PM
The discussions in Pakistan after the Bacha Khan University attack have focused on gaps in the country’s counterterrorism framework, weak border management at the Durand Line and the non-implementation of recommended security protocols in education institutions.

Undoubtedly, we must overcome the weaknesses in our internal security framework. However, the larger question is: will the aforementioned measures help Pakistan overcome the threat of home-grown, but externally operated, planned and executed terrorism? The answer is no.

The maximum results that a tactical level policy framework can attain have more or less been achieved by Pakistan’s counterterrorism initiatives. In the aftermath of the APS attack, state-centric counterterrorism policies have pushed militants to the Afghan border areas where they have re-established their sanctuaries and infrastructure.

We ended 2015 on a high note; and the terrorists started 2016 on a high. In 2015, we prevented an APS-like attack, the terrorists pulled off another on the Bacha Khan University in 2016. Last year we thought that, finally, after implementing the National Action Plan and Zarb-e-Azb we were winning against the terrorists but the first four weeks of this year have changed that perception to ‘not yet’. This has been the dilemma of Pakistan’s counterterrorism struggle; a lull in violence is followed by a sudden upsurge in terrorist attacks. Consequently, terrorism is down in Pakistan but not out. This is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

What else is needed to eliminate the terrorist threat confronting Pakistan? A tough choice confronts Pakistan: is the country ready to act against militant groups on its soil that are involved in cross-border militancy? More importantly, what are we going to do about: a) Pakistani militant groups like the TTP, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, and Lashkar-e-Islam based in Afghanistan; and b) transnational groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State’s Afghanistan affiliate, IS-Khorasan which operate on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border?

Terrorism whether it kills Indians, Afghans, Pakistanis or any other nationality for whatever reason is inhumane and unjust. Without cleaning this mess from our soil, the fight against terrorism cannot be taken to its logical conclusion.

If a dispassionate cost-benefit-analysis is carried out, it is evident that the regional proxy wars have resulted in unintended consequences. These proxy wars have dented our image regionally and internationally, destroyed our pluralistic social fabric and damaged our tolerant religious ethos. The human and material costs incurred are besides this. Today, no UN member-state other than Pakistan raises the Kashmir issue in the United Nations General Assembly’s annual sessions. In Afghanistan we are seen as part of the problem – and part of the solution.

In retrospect, the proxy groups (Afghan mujahideen) nurtured to defeat Soviet Russia in the 1980s gave birth to Al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. Similarly, support extended to the Afghan Taliban after 9/11 gave birth to the Pakistani Taliban. Moreover, the Punjabi Taliban evolved out of mainstream Kashmiri jihadi groups. With the rise of the Islamic State, a new breed of militancy is gaining ground in Pakistan in which militants from the existing array of terror outfits are joining IS. The busted pro-IS cell in Daska is a case in point.

At another level, if we pay close attention to the links and nexus of these various militant outfits, they are inter-linked ideologically. In the conflict theatre their tactical and political strategies determine who their immediate enemy is. Otherwise their worldviews are identical and their demands for the Islamic rule or a Caliphate are also similar. For instance, Al-Qaeda demands at the global level what the Afghan Taliban demand in Afghanistan or the Pakistani Taliban ask for in Pakistan. Beyond the liberation of Kashmir from the Indian occupation, Islamization of the Pakistani society remains a broader mission of the Kashmiri Jihadi outfits.

So, let’s get real and ask ourselves if we have learnt our lessons. More than the weak border controls at the Durand Line, the actual issue is continuation of the proxy-war in Afghanistan. For instance, the India-Pakistan border is fenced, well-guarded and efficiently patrolled but cross-border infiltration has continued in one form or the other. So, even a doubly fenced Afghanistan-Pakistan border with electrified barbed wire will not end militancy and terrorism as long as the ongoing proxy war in Afghanistan is not stopped.

Rather than closing down educational institutions it is time to shut down terror sanctuaries without differentiating between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban. Rather than arming our teachers we need to disarm the militants. Amid a highly securitised narrative and militarised counterterrorism policy, the last thing Pakistan needs is weaponisation of its educational institutes. No sane person in his right mind will ever condone this. If the border guards cannot stop terrorists at the border-crossing then expecting poorly trained security guards or teachers to fight them is wishful thinking.

Lastly, let us train and educate our children as open-minded critical-thinkers rather than shallow-minded hyper-nationalists. We need to build bridges with our neighbours rather than putting up walls at our borders or in our hearts.

The writer is an associate research fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) of the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore.