By MUHAMMAD AMIR RANA
THE declaration of a countrywide counterterrorism operation, Raddul Fasaad, has unfolded the security vision of army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa. It may be the beginning of his legacy.
A security review was required to deal with post Operation Zarb-i-Azb challenges, and so, while no major new component has been introduced to the evolving strategy, it is different from retired Gen Raheel Sharif’s approach, which was based on recapturing territories. Raddul Fasaad will focus on destroying the infrastructure and support networks of terrorists inside the country.
Few experts think that the new operation signals an evolution in the military’s counterterrorism strategy. Given that Zarb-i-Azb is still ongoing, it remains to be seen how compatibility between the two approaches evolves.
No counterterrorism strategy can work without civilian and military collaboration.
Despite its successes, Zarb-i-Azb has not completely eradicated internal security threats. Terrorists regrouped on the other side of the border only to reconnect with their support networks in Pakistan. Earlier, it was expected that the military operation in North Waziristan would help repair trust between Islamabad, Kabul, and Washington. Instead, more restrictions have been placed on the military, such as in the form of cuts in Coalition Support Funds.
Arguments that delaying an operation in North Waziristan proved counterproductive are somewhat valid; equally important, though, is that the security establishment failed to secure guarantees from Nato and Afghanistan to crack down on the terrorists fleeing in their direction.
Their noncooperation significantly impacted the success of Operation Zarb-i-Azb. Had Afghanistan extended full operational support, it could have even availed itself of the opportunity to win the confidence of the Pakistani establishment, which would have resulted in other critical issues between the two states being addressed.
The new operational doctrine to counterterrorism will have to tackle the issue of border management as well. But again, it seems that the likelihood of Afghan cooperation is less this time because of Kabul’s own internal compulsions and the decreasing interest of the international community — especially the US — in mediating the relationship between the two countries.
Given this context, Pakistani security forces have to focus more on strengthening internal mechanisms to counter the threat of terrorism. Although terrorist networks in Afghanistan and tension at the border will keep straining internal security, this stress can be reduced to a manageable level through better coordination among security institutions.
Operation Raddul Fasaad appears to be an attempt at a collaborative effort to counter the threat. Still, it is to be seen how this effort can transform into a proper institutional mechanism. Law-enforcement agencies can cope with the new challenges by putting in place improved investigation, intelligence-gathering and intelligence-sharing mechanisms, and by developing a rapid response system. Such levels of capabilities are still a distant dream, however.
As a new counterterrorism approach is evolving, the government and security institutions must incorporate the recommendations of law-enforcement agencies, which are usually ignored by the establishment. These recommendations have the potential to enhance the capacities and capabilities of law-enforcement agencies in combating terrorism.
The police are demanding that a national databank be synchronised with the country’s police departments, Nadra, Nacta, FIA and the State Bank. The databank should have the following: a synchronised national ‘red book’ containing updated information about wanted, suspected and apprehended terrorists and their affiliations. If some institutions have reservations in sharing information publicly, the national databank could be divided into two categories — one for public consumption that would include details about terrorists and their activities, and the other dedicated to police and law enforcement agencies and containing details of bank accounts, financial transactions data, property and other assets of suspected and active terrorists, and those who have been listed under the Fourth Schedule. A common website can also be developed under the supervision of Nacta, and all police and relevant authorities could be bound to provide updates and information on weekly or monthly bases.
The new security framework takes the National Action Plan as a major component of the counterterrorism strategy. It is a well-known fact that a major hurdle in the way of effective implementation of NAP was the lack of a centralised mechanism. To deal with the issue, the government has developed overlapping monitoring mechanisms. It appears that the government invested much more in monitoring the implementation of NAP than directly in counterterrorism initiatives.
Such an approach shifts the burden on to the police and its counterterrorism departments. The police always need the strategic insight of the government and the support of other institutions to make their operations effective. To ease the pressure, police and other law-enforcement agencies have the tendency of adopting extra-judicial measures.
This exposes the weak capacities of implementing institutions, besides raising structural dichotomies to the surface — resultantly causing confusions on some of NAP’s points, especially those pertaining to the status of banned organisations and madressah reforms in the country. Few analysts even point out that NAP is much too military-centric, squeezing civilian space.
The new operational framework is also keen to take on militancy in Punjab — a long debated issue. There is no doubt that militants have a functional support base in the province that requires a long-term operational strategy. Without an effective intelligence network and precise information about militant groups, the Rangers in the province would be as blind as the police force.
The threat of militancy is not restricted to certain parts of Punjab; the whole province is facing the challenge of militancy with the same gravity. Besides a more holistic operational approach, the provincial borders — especially between Sindh and Balochistan, and the delta areas of Punjab and Sindh — need to be secured since not only criminals but terrorist groups also exploit these less-governed territories.
While there are many other issues the country faces, hard-core security issues need to be prioritised to restore the confidence of the people.
Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2017