Sehgal on Countering the Terror Threat

Commentary | November 15, 2013

Ikram Sehgal,EWI board member and defense and political analyst, writes about deficient anti-terrorism policies in Pakistan in The News International.

Consider the theatrics of the absurd by some political clerics at the killing of the terrorist responsible for slaughtering thousands of innocent Pakistanis. It is sad that the fundamentally moderate Jamaat-e-Islami should label the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Hakeemullah Mehsud a "shaheed!"

To safeguard their fiefdoms, politicians and clerics often turn to appeasement of militants. The army did well by immediately reacting to what could potentially erode the morale of its rank and file. And so did PM Mian Nawaz Sharif. Burying 15 years of self-created bad blood with the army by a maiden visit to the GHQ soon after the JI leader’s outrageous remarks, he rightly called the army’s martyrs as “our benefactors.”

Appeasement should never be an option. The militants have the blood of too many innocents on their hands. A brutal minority cannot be allowed to dictate to the ‘great silent majority’ through the barrel of a gun under any circumstances. The not-so-squeamish should see the ghastly video of this so-called ‘shaheed’ murdering one of the ISI heroes of the Afghan war, Col (ret.) Sultan Amir Tarar, nom de guerre: "Col Imam," in cold blood.

With the civil society breaking down because of blatant injustice and discrimination, insurgency and terrorism have become endemic in South Asia. After two decades of horrendous strife Sri Lanka successfully crushed the Tamil insurgency that had terrorised the island. The RAW-trained Tamil Tigers (LTTE) ultimately turned with a vengeance on the Indian peace-keeping force (IPKF) which had landed (by forcible self-invitation) to relieve them from the besieging Sri Lankan Army. How tragically ironic that in return for the bulletproof jacket he had personally presented LTTE Supremo Prabhakaran with, Rajiv Gandhi got a garland of explosives.

More than a dozen insurgencies are eclipsed by the largest terrorist group in the world operating across a broad swath of territory in India. Collecting government revenues from more than 70 districts operating in 17 Indian states, PM Manmohan Singh calls the Naxalites an existential threat to India. Nepal has seen its share of Maoist terrorism. RAW-crafted incidents aside, Bangladesh faces intermittent terrorism of the jehadi-kind.

After Tora Bora in 2002 the Al-Qaeda hierarchy went to ground in South Waziristan protected by an outer core of Mehsud tribal mercenaries. Their presence on our soil made us the ground zero of terrorism. The army went into Fata in 2003 without the requisite numbers, equipment, training, logistics, etc. Al-Qaeda turned its guns into Pakistan and created the TTP. We have only ourselves to blame for giving this menace the time and the space on our lands to prosper. Far worse, we actively collaborated with others in fighting their proxy wars on (and from) our soil.

The CIA drone strike that took out the TTP chief derailed the "peace talks," the soft-sell mechanism for countering terrorism. This was further complicated by him being replaced by the outright murderer Mullah Fazlullah. That Fazlullah had ‘guest’ status in Afghanistan after being run out of Swat by the army was never a secret. However, the capture by US Special Forces of Deputy Latif Mehsud being escorted by National Directorate of Security (NDS) agents on his way to meet Karzai in Kabul really exposed the Afghan government's double-dealing.

Afghan intelligence (with help and guidance from RAW) has been supporting the TTP’s terrorist activities and helping kill Pakistanis while posing as holier-than-thou and condemning the insurgents fighting the civil war as Pakistan-supported terrorists. Karzai’s loud protests to the U.S. for not releasing his "guest" only underscored the Afghan regime’s perfidy. It was only Latif Mehsud who could give Hakeemullah’s exact whereabouts to the Americans. With a U.S. $5 million bounty on his head, the Americans finally had a shot and they took it. Good for them.

Sophisticated psychological warfare must make the population aware of the dangers posed by terrorists. Unless accompanied by socio-economic measures, it can backfire. Terrorism can be multi-layered; issues in Pakistan include conflict of ideologies, whose brand of Islam is right and how to impose this brand on others.

U.S. intelligence failures leading to 9/11 prompted security becoming tighter, making laws stricter and highly pro-active. Providing against ‘clear and present danger’, the fail-safe line dividing rule of law from criminality can be crossed sometimes. However, one cannot agree that the only way to counter terror is by terror.

Foreign exchange meant for charity must be scrutinised for terrorist funding while processing through scheduled banks, not through FE dealers and "hawalas." Without adequate resources, or even a technological base, third world countries like Pakistan tend to react to terrorist threats rather than pre-empt them. Electronic forensics and technologies must be developed to anticipate possible future threats. NADRA’s electronic identification process has indeed been an unimaginable ‘giant leap forward’ for Pakistan—a success story beyond compare.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) in Pakistan is mandated to “coordinate counter terrorism and counter extremism efforts evaluating the nature and magnitude of the terrorist threat; and to present strategic policy options to the government for consideration/implementation after scientifically studying the phenomenon of extremism and terrorism in historic and professional perspective.”

A well-equipped, well-trained and well-led counterterrorism force (CTF) can isolate and destroy the terrorists’ potential to spread destruction and grief, utilizing any resources for operations, wherever and whenever necessary. Induct only the very best without any political interference or manoeuvring. Beware of the evil nexus between corruption, organised crime and terrorism. Politicians and powerful people on the criminal payroll will always be averse to the CTF becoming effective.

The touchstone of success lies in being fair to all—without fear or favor. If any community is discriminated against because of their lineage or political leanings, the battle will be lost. Urban guerrilla warfare cannot be sustained without the support of the people. Conversely no counter-campaign can succeed without the support of the people.

We have to re-think our electoral process. Our present bankrupt version will never allow democracy to function at the grassroots level. Without participation of all the stakeholders the moral basis of a democratic society is eroded. The vested interests of the PML-N and the PPP in Punjab and Sindh notwithstanding, despite Imran Khan’s passion for real grassroots democracy, even the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf model in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has discrepancies deliberately tilting for feudalism.

An insurgent may be wrong but he believes his cause is just, his motives are unselfish and his actions target combatants. From time to time insurgents do use terrorism as a weapon of war. A terrorist uses a cause to justify his motives; the difference is that he mostly targets non-combatants with maximum prejudice.

The mindset of a terrorist is that of a murderer, callous and brutal. To terrorise the population the new TTP chief Fazlullah had video-taped the beheadings of the unfortunate in public during his reign in Swat. The commitment, will and determination of the ‘great silent majority’ to fight this murderous criminal mindset can only be encouraged by giving them participation with power at the grassroots level.