Efficacy of Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Narrative And Good Governance – OpEd

The grand bargain between the society and institution of state is people surrendering their liberties that exist in the state of nature and accepting the authority of the state with implied understanding that the state in turn will work for the welfare of citizens. For any state the raison d’état for existence of the state can be none other but service and welfare of the citizens. The Pakistan movement was anchored on the premise that people would be better off in new state managed by their own kind. Through the effective leadership of the founding fathers, and the confidence that the majority of Muslims posed in them, the idea of Pakistan. that was a question of minority rights, became a geographic reality.

Each society has unique factors responsible for the breeding of extremism and terrorism. Any policy dictated by external actors for tackling the threat of terrorism without a holistic understanding of the underlying factors that prompted a certain mindset or organizations is bound to fall short. The targeting of governance structure has been a deliberate action by terrorist organizations to instill fear in the minds of people and expose the inability of the state structure to deter terrorists from attacking at will. The destruction of selected state institutions and functionaries serves the terrorists objective of making the state to come to terms with the agenda of terrorists.

Pakistan is a unique case where apart from other factors, primarily the governance gaps, it has provided a working space for extremist and terrorist organizations. Charitable wings of proscribed organizations fill the void left by the state. Many state functions especially the welfare of the people is performed by such organizations. Consequently, through soft power tools, negative non-state actors develop strong connections with the people of certain areas. Popular support that such organizations derive from certain sections of the Pakistani society is linked with the inefficient state apparatus. The connection between state and society is made through good governance. Citizens that are ignored and marginalized through inefficient governance are easy targets.

Supporters of such organizations ask what has the state done for them. When they compare the benefits they derive from the state and proscribed charitable organizations, their loyalty lies not with the state, but with extremist organizations. Alternative political systems with skewed religious interpretations favoring a certain brand of extremism that such organizations aim to implement through the use of force becomes attractive for people suffering under the prevailing system of governance.

The narrative of Pakistan on national security fails to appreciate the connection that governance has with security. The state came up with National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2014-2018 that explains a two-pronged strategy to deal with the menace of extremism and terrorism. Comprehensive Response Plan (CRP) is about winning hearts and trust of the public for combating extremism and terrorism. The Composite Deterrence Plan (CDP) is to embolden and make the internal security apparatus efficient. The factors that lead to terrorism one-way or other in Pakistan are connected with the absence of good governance. The state has become a hard state that focuses on the resolution of disputes, and challenges to the state emanating from non-state actors primarily through force utilization.

Unless the state takes a holistic view and improves its governance the narrative of extremists is difficult to be fundamentally challenged.

The attack on schoolchildren in Peshawar on December 16, 2014 can arguably be called a 9/11 moment for Pakistan’s war on terrorism. In the aftermath of attack, the state charted the 20-point National Action Plan for combating the menace of terrorism. This plan, however, fails to include the problem of governance that has provided the enabling environment for the extremist mindset. The alleged role that non-state actors have played in foreign policy implementation tools of the state is a reflection of bad governance on the part of the state where certain roles of the state have been assumed by non-state actors often using their acceptance in society for promoting extremist ideology for increasing their constituency.

Donald Trump, the 45th US president in his inaugural speech made clear his intentions about taking the fight against religion-inspired terrorism to a logical conclusion. He said, “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth.”

Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State in his confirmation hearing, elaborated Trump’s security agenda in tackling negative non-state actors. He said, “Radical Islam poses a grave risk to the stability of nations and the well-being of their citizens. These groups are often enabled and emboldened by nations, organizations, and individuals sympathetic to their cause. These actors must face consequences for aiding and abetting what can only be called evil.”

James Mattis, the US Secretary of Defense in his prepared answers to questions posed by the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services termed the presence of extremist elements along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border as an operation issue affecting the security situation in Afghanistan. Sanctuary denial to extremist elements through kinetic means can only a create vacuum that will be filled by one or other extremist outfit. Extremist and terrorist outfits are adept at morphing into the next version.

The international and regional pressure and demands on Pakistan to ‘do more’ against extremist and terrorist organizations will increase under the current US president. Pakistan’s actions on war against terrorism cannot be indifferent to demands from international powerful state actors. Governance as a non-kinetic response to constituency of extremist and terrorist organizations is the need of hour for breaking the connection between extremist organizations and the people they recruit for their cause.

*The writer is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad

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