By Zakir Ullah*
Since the last two decades, Pakistan has been in the eyes of storm due to the rampant rise of terrorism. This created continuous political turbulence, social fragmentation, and internal security disorder in society. 9/11 attacks, the fatal and most terrible event of the 21st century, shifted the paradigm of the global security system. It’s extremely baffling that despite having the world’s most advanced defence technology and intelligence sharing network, the US administration was unable to follow some pre-emptive measures to stop the 9/11 attacks.
The consequences were unmanageable, detrimental due to thousands of causalities of civilians and security forces, security threats and large-scale infrastructure destruction. The new wave of terrorism has jeopardized the credibility of national and international security, to curb the brutality of terror acts every country participated to eliminate the menace of terrorism.
Though the incidents of such a brutish terror act occurred worldwide, but the South Asian region has suffered the most, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan. The invincible wave of terrorism affected more than 70 countries and thousands of people lost their lives on the name of extremist ethos, sectarianism, violence, xenophobia, and discrimination across the globe. The security challenges of Pakistan are multidimensional with diverse internal and external threats, which need a cohesive strategic framework to counter these existential threats.
Emergence of Terrorism
Terrorism is now becoming a global threat in the current international political arena, which is intimidating the global security order. Whenever such terror acts happened anywhere in the world; Violence and political motives remain substantive ingredients of terrorism. There are enormous examples of such attacks, 9/11 attacks were deadliest event ever happened in US history, which caused approximately 3,000 casualties and Al-Qaeda were associated to carry out these attacks. These terrorist attacks triggered the Bush administration to take initiative to combat terrorism and declared “war on terror” to eradicate terrorism. This event was the pivotal point of emergence of terror activities, the USA started to wipe off Al-Qaeda and its network through hard power, but gradually these militant groups moved to tribal areas of Pakistan because there were no proper reconnaissance and surveillance to keep check on militant groups. Stepping in of these targeted militant groups to tribal areas enforced our military, security forces and law enforcement agencies to launch operations against these extremist and militant groups.
Another opaque fact must be required to clear and understandable that the participation of Pakistan in the war on terror was inevitable due to multiple reasons like; the presence of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Geographic proximity, security and intelligence sharing network with the USA, the influx of Afghan refugees, supply route of NATO through Southern distribution Network. So, Pakistan has decided to participate in the war on terror to abstain from any serious uncertainty and start conducting a series of operations against these terrorist groups to eliminate them.
After the 9/11 incident, Pakistan has remained at the frontline to lead the fight against terrorism. Unfortunately, this country suffered numerous terrorist attacks. In response, Pakistan military along with civilian leadership has followed various counter-terrorism strategies against the militant groups like; Al Qaeda, TTP, ISIS, Haqqani Network and many other terrorist groups.
The meticulous efforts of Pakistan have been acknowledged by the whole world. This fact must be focused that Pakistan remains a victim of terrorism losses more than 80,000 human lives included Pakistan military persons and civilians, the financial loss of $126 billion, two million displaced people, destruction of country’s infrastructure and damaging the national sovereignty in the war on terror.
After numerous sacrifices, implementation of counterterrorism strategies in the form of National Internal Security Policy (NISP) and National Action plan (NAP), there is a hallmark decline in terrorist-based activities and violence, which help Pakistan’s government and security institutions to eliminate the scourge of militancy. The moto behind these strategic plans is to integrate all national efforts against terrorism to contain and dismantle terrorist networks. The war on terror drastically affected the economy of the country, socio-political conditions and have an adverse psychological impact on ordinary citizens.
Strategies to Combat Terrorism and Military Operations
The primary strategy to counter terrorism was the use of “hard power” by Pakistan military and it includes several operations which have been conducted to combat terrorism; Battles of Swat also known as Operation Rah-e-Haq (2007) and Operation Rah-e-Rast (2009) these two battles of Swat were initiated by Pakistan Armed Forces to destroy the network of terrorist groups. Fazlullah the head of a militant group with the support of external actors have occupied about 70% of Swat Valley to suppress people and disrupt the law and order situation. These terrorists were formulating and implementing their own rigid justice and governance system, they have also adversely damaged the Infrastructure, regional administration, industries, education institutions, and socio-economic activities.
This political turmoil and chaos were caused by anti-Pakistan elements to destabilize the internal security of the state. Swat is strategically a very important region for Pakistan, to curtail the viciousness and growing influence of militant groups Pakistan army launched a successful operation to crackdown the Talibanization of Swat.
Similarly, Operation Zarb-e-Azb (2014) and Operation Raad-ul-fasad (2017) initiated across the country to dismantle the menace of terrorism. Currently, a series of Operation Khyber is still going on to get rid of terrorist entities. The main areas of operation were Swat Valley, FATA, North & South Waziristan Agency, Orakzai Agency. As a result, Pakistan armed forces with the help of civilian leadership targeted and eliminated head figures of militant groups and destroyed their affiliated networks. The results were quite successive by exterminating thousands of militants and restoring peace in these areas.
After operations, terrorists start targeting soft areas like schools, mosques, and hospitals, etc. The government of Pakistan couldn’t stop closing these institutions and our military again started offensive strategy using hard power to pull down and annihilate them. The government have also resettled the displaced peoples and brings political stability in the region. Due to these sacrifices, now common lives are again flourishing and people are free for their movement to educational institutions and worships. A state also needs some comprehensive and soft power instruments to tackle the menace of militancy. Similarly, another strategy was establishing the National Internal Security policy, a chain of Soft power which has three prominent strategic objectives: Negotiations with all contracting parties, Separation of terrorist groups, dismantling their funding systems, and Deactivation of existential threats.
In 2014, another deadliest terrorist attack happened at Army Public School, Peshawar which killed 156 peoples, 132 victims were children, and this event pressurized the government, civil-military leadership and law enforcing agencies to take decisive action. This was the first time in the history of Pakistan that all national institutions were on a single platform and they have a common narrative to get retribution against these militant groups. Another concrete and comprehensive strategy which helps to overcome the terror acts was “National Action Plan” (2014) which consist main points like; execution of terrorists, establishment of Special trial courts under military supervision, dismantling the financing networks, ensure to avoid the participating of any foreign organization in operations, fortification of anti-terrorism institutions, ensure the smooth functioning of National Counter Terrorism Authority, settlement of IDPs, halting extremist activities, banning religious exploitation, working against sectarianism, an inclusive plan to manage Afghan refugees, immediate action against social media exploitation etc. These strategies work out very impressively to obliterate the extremist and terrorist activities.
A comprehensive plan assists law enforcement institutions to counter terrorism in the most feasible way. Over a period of years, Pakistan has made institutions like Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) and National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to tackle terrorism. Primarily, these institutions worked with the collaboration of armed forces but with due time handed over to civilian leadership. These organizations mainly focus on combating terrorism, militancy, addressing endemic insecurity and radicalization.
These operations brought successful results which include; elimination of training centres of militant organizations, destroying IEDs factories and warehouses, halting financial support by foreign actors, breaking down militant’s media cell, killing more than 5,000 militants to curb terrorism. The outcomes of counter-terrorism efforts are explicitly vivid and glaring which includes; Economic Stability, reviving foreign investment, effective security framework, maintaining the writ of the state, strategic ties with other countries, strengthening civil-military relations and restoring the positive image of Pakistan. The incumbent government of Pakistan has proposed a 10-year of sustainable development plan to renovate and develop the tribal districts. The above whole discourse proved that despite having internal political chaos and conflict, Pakistan rigorously worked out to wipe off terrorism, militancy and extremist groups from society.
The Government of Pakistan and armed forces have striven to curb war on terror but there is a need for the formulation of effective policies to regulate law enforcing agencies in a better way for a long-term solution.
The reconstruction and development of tribal areas, resettlement and rehabilitation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) must be focused to normalize their daily routine.
The mainstreaming of the religious institutions and transforming their curriculum compatible with advanced academic courses will help students to compete in field jobs.
An effective criminal justice system is essential to combat terrorism.
Another most crucial factor is the educational reforms in schools, colleges, and universities because numerous educated people have also joined these terrorist organizations in previous years. So, it is extremely imperative to bring educational reforms to improve the quality of education.
The recent merger of tribal areas will consolidate the governance system and will maintain the constitutional order.
Similarly, the political representation of tribal areas will provide a platform to address the socioeconomic and political problems of citizens.
Improvement and training of security forces in tribal areas will pave way for better administration of society.
The constructive role of Islamic scholars also could play a pertinent and significant role to overcome extremist ideas and militancy.
The counter terrorism-efforts of Pakistan improved the overall security situation of the country, which was considered as a battle zone in previous years but now the situation had been transformed into a peaceful environment. Though the war against terror is still not over yet, but such endeavours would help to eliminate the menace of terrorism.
The comprehensive and cohesive strategies will also facilitate to achieve the objectives of national interest. Pakistan played a proactive role in the war on terror, which should be appreciated by the international community. The constant use of hard power is not a long-term solution of any conflict and only mutual coordination, negotiation and mediation could pave way for a general peace, political stability, and economic boom. It must always be remembered that victory in the war didn’t lead to peace, it leads to societal fragmentation, sectarian conflict, and political instability. To counter effectively internal militancy and external terrorism, Pakistan policymakers must need to strengthen both civilian and military institutions.
All of us suffered very terribly from terrorism but now it’s time to move forward for peace and stability. There’s a requirement of a multifaceted cohesive strategy to combat terrorism and it’s extremely important to peacefully resolve any conflict. In the end, there is no way to peace but only peace.
*Zakir Ullah and an Independent Researcher, based in Islamabad, Pakistan, holds a graduate degree in international relations and has a keen interest in International Political Economy, Defence and Strategic Studies, Geopolitics and Current affairs.