Countering Terrorism

Commentary | July 11, 2013

Writing for The News International, EWI Board Member Ikram Sehgal discusses the top non-violent initiatives required to combat Pakistan's arduous struggle against terrorism.

The many reasons that Pakistan is now the 'ground zero' of terrorism are well known. It is mostly our own fault for giving this threat time and space. We allowed others to fight their proxy wars on our soil and, even worse, we actively collaborated in fighting their proxy wars. Negotiations are part of the 'soft-sell' mechanism to counter terrorism. Both the government and the opposition are on the same page on this. This must be done within the framework of the constitution with no ambiguity about what to talk about and who to talk to.

Appeasement is not an option. The militants have been single-mindedly targeting mosques, schools, hospitals, funerals, etc and the innocent blood of many women, children and the elderly is on their hands. This minority cannot, under any circumstances, be allowed to dictate terms at gunpoint to the great 'silent majority.'

The non-violent initiatives required to combat terrorism are: (1) dispensing equitable justice; (2) providing sound education; (3) curbing religious militancy; (4) building viable political institutions; (5) spurring the economy; (6) creating effective police forces; and (7) maintaining absolute credibility.

The misery of the people of Pakistan cannot be assuaged without the good-governance mechanism of local bodies (LB) working effectively. Without this democracy is a farce. Why are our ruling politicians averse to democracy functioning at the grassroots level? Citizens must be active stakeholders in the peace, stability and prosperity of their communities. The local police, with their extensive informer network, are usually aware of the presence of terrorists. However, they seldom pass on the information for fear of reaction by the militants. Active information flow regarding every locality and vigilance concerning strangers denies terrorists 'safe houses' to operate from.

Three concentric spheres support the process of death and destruction that terrorists employ to create fear and apprehension among the people. Money provides the necessary logistics – arms and explosives, hideouts, travel and the surveillance of soft vulnerable targets, etc. Within the innermost circle are the terrorists themselves, surrounded by a second wider circle of direct supporters, planners, commanders, and religious personalities serving as the terrorism infrastructure. The third circle is of religious, educational and welfare organisations. Promoting hatred, lies and ignorance, they operate mostly through mosques, madressahs and other religious establishments.

The only way to break this evil chain is to make the second circle the primary target. One must be mindful not only of hatred being viciously propagated through incitement in the media but the dissemination of false information by blatant hypocrites.

Corruption not only supports but morphs naturally into 'organised crime.' In urban areas this takes the form of the land, water, transport and sand mafia, and 'protection' rackets. 'Organised crime' thrives in our feudal system, and criminally monopolises the civilian administrative mechanism to hold the population in virtual bondage. Exceptions aside, most of the local police are willing partners in both corruption and organised crime.

There is a nexus between corruption, organised crime and terrorism. Motivated by ideology, terrorists need arms and money, while criminals are motivated by greed. Organised crime linkages include money-laundering, fabricating official documents, providing safe houses, supplying explosives, providing couriers who can smuggle drugs, arms and human beings across countries. Drug trafficking supports both criminal and terrorist activity.

Terrorist organisations also include common criminals with special skills or access to networks or criminal opportunities. Criminal groups sometimes turn ideological over time. It may be impossible to destroy the logistical network supporting terrorist groups without striking major blows at supporting criminal networks. With increased criminal activity replacing ideology, profit and greed are major motivating factors for the operations of some terrorist groups.

Technology has become an essential weapon in the 'war against terrorism,' and it is being developed and enhanced to counter militancy. Conversely, terrorists can also acquire existing technology with relative ease and narrow the huge resource gap they have to contend with. Developed countries facing the 'terrorist sword' are fast developing technologies to reduce vulnerability and increase counterterrorism efforts.

Politicians engaged in corruption, or on the fringes of it, will always be averse to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) becoming a powerful body. Law and order may be a provincial subject, but terrorism is a federal problem. Nacta was made non-functional during Rehman Malik's tenure

Only the very best professionals must be inducted into Nacta, without any political interference or manoeuvring, for it to be an effective body. It must be given the tools and funding necessary to make risk and site vulnerability assessments; promote crisis, disaster and emergency situation management; develop and implement national security strategy, policies and procedures; and assess the quality of current security services with recommendations for improvement.

Identifying the most dangerous threats and likely targets thereof, Nacta must be able to: (1) detect people organised in terrorist activities, and monitor their movements; (2) detect the sources of supply of explosive materials; (3) mobilise defence capability to recognise and counter specific threats; (4) mobilise adequate and coordinated intelligence capability, utilising both human and electronic intelligence; (5) focus on air, sea, rail and road travel as potential terror targets; and (6) use both electronic and physical means to guard the country's frontiers, involving monitoring and observation of thousands of miles of our borders.

The Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) set up in the 1990s to eliminate the drug problem can be used as a model for setting up a Counter-Terrorist Force (CTF). The ANF reduced poppy growth from 30,000 hectares to less than one thousand hectares. The ANF Act covers the collection of information, investigation, complete judicial process, forfeiture of property, destruction of poppy growth, treatment and rehabilitation of drug users and providing alternate means of livelihood to the people involved in this mess. It also has latitude to interact with international agencies and bodies. Well-funded to handle its informers, it pays good reward money to its enforcement component.

The ANF has its own intelligence setup to identify the flow of drug money. In a symbiotic relationship, terrorists thrive on drug money and drug barons provide protection to the drug trade. The ANF can be successful in a counterterrorism role if the following conditions are met: (1) anti-terrorist laws are passed by parliament; (2) the requisite judicial reforms are introduced to make electronic evidence admissible in courts (to convict terrorists); (3) a psyops organisation is created to feed the media, to change the dogmatic thinking of the people; (4) as highlighted by the Abbottabad Commission, an effective mechanism is created to coalesce and coordinate 'activate intelligence;' and (5) adequate funding is allocated. The ANF Act can be amended for the ANF to conduct anti-terrorism operations itself. Capable serving and retired armed forces personnel and police officers must run the CTF.

Given the militants' focus on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the PTI's contribution is important for political consensus. The APC is an important milestone to save the country from sliding into an abyss, and the federal government must translate the combined political will into reality.

Ikram Sehgal is a security analyst and chairman of PATHFINDER GROUP.

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