Why Pakistan fails to eliminate terrorism in its backyard

The government must find the political will to eradicate the scourge within its borders.

 |  5-minute read |   15-02-2017
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Pakistan has been witness to another series of terrorist attacks. The first attack occurred in the heart of its second largest city, Lahore. The attack carried out by the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction, Jamat-ul-Ahrar steps away from the Provincial Assembly of Punjab claimed 13 lives and left 85 others wounded.

It targeted a group of around 400 protesters who were angry over the newly introduced pharmaceutical regulations. Jamat-ul-Ahrar was also responsible for the attacks on Pakistan's Christian minority in Lahore during the Easter holiday in 2016.

As the heinous event occurred in the country's western city of Lahore, two bomb disposal squad (BDS) officials were killed in the eastern city of Quetta. The two were defusing a 20kg bomb planted underneath a bridge within the city.

They were unsuccessful in defusing the device - and it suddenly set off, killing them and injuring 12 others.

Pakistan prime minister Sharif expressed his condolences stating, "We, as a nation, are on the right side of history in this war."

Similar remarks were also issued by the new Chief of Army Staff, General Bajwa, who said: "We have to defeat this inhuman brutal mindset and as a nation we shall."

Yet, statements devoid of action do nothing to stem the brutal effects terrorism has had on the nation.

pakistan-suicide-bom_021517035503.jpg Jamat-ul-Ahrar was also responsible for the attacks on Pakistan's Christian minority in Lahore during the Easter holiday in 2016. Photo: Reuters

Regardless of the statements by the upper echelons of the government and military, it is accepted that not much will change. These events no longer seem to be the single major source of concern of the relevant authorities as much of Pakistan has become accustomed to these events as being occasional occurrences.

The authorities find that banning Valentine's Day or arresting flying kites is more of a concern than preventing, capturing, and prosecuting those responsible for the deaths and injuries of innocent citizens.

Government officials, most prominently Punjab law minister Rana Sanaullah, has conveniently pinned the blame on those protesting: "Had there been no protest demonstration, this incident would not have occurred."

The absurdness of such statements is amplified as it is also reported that National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) issued a threat alert in Punjab, highlighting possible threats to the Punjab Governor House, the Lahore High Court, and the Punjab Assembly.

The alert specifically stated, "extreme vigilance and heightened security measures are suggested to avoid any untoward incident."

In the face of criticism and further incredulity, minister Sanaullah, also said: "The spot where the blast took place is always under threat. Even if there was no alert, strict security measures are always taken in the area."

Pakistan is now facing a crucial moment that will define the nation's future trajectory.

Will Pakistan continue to be content with the status quo or will it dramatically change its approach to terrorism?

Current steps taken by the government to combat terrorism, such as the National Action Plan (NAP), have been insufficient in tackling the threats that the nation faces.

The sixth largest nation, in terms of population, is either unable or unwilling to tackle the scourge of terrorism that has cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars in economic opportunities.

The major components of NAP have either been ignored or not enforced through out the nation to target all sorts of terror organisations.

The most crucial parts of the initiative, such as strict action against the literature, newspapers and magazines promoting hatred, extremism, sectarianism and intolerance; choking financing for terror organisations and taking effective steps against religious persecution have been enforced either on a selective basis or not enforced at all.

Pakistani journalist Mohammad Rana has reported that "the government has not made any serious attempt to take internal security policy completely into its own hands... they successfully shifted the pressure on to the police and its counterterrorism departments, using the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) as a cover for their failures."

It is estimated that 60 banned groups under the NAP continue to operate through out the country and that Pakistani officials, off record, have stated that groups like Lakshar-e-Tayyaba (LeT), Jayesh-e-Muhammad (JeM), and the Afghan Taliban enjoy quiet support from the state.

There remains a clear lack of responsibility and political will to tackle the issue of terrorism that affects the everyday life of the innocent Pakistani.

Senator Tahir Mashhadi, a member of the opposition in the national senate, most recently staged a walk out in protest of interior minister Chaudhry Nisar's comments that sectarian organisations should not be equated with terrorist outfits. Mashhadi responded to Nisar that the sectarian outfits were and should be equated with terrorists.

The government's inability or unwillingness to prevent the further spread of terror organisations has now renewed calls in Washington to take a harsher stance on Pakistan - with some in Congress demanding that the country be labelled a "state sponsor of terror".

In light of the new administration and the perception that Pakistan is undermining US efforts in Afghanistan, a much more nuanced approach is required; that does not alienate Pakistan as a US ally and strategic partner in the long-term while demanding a dramatic shift in the approach towards the nation.

Husain Haqqani, the director of Hudson's South & Central Asia Initiative, in conjunction with Lisa Curtis of the Heritage Foundation, has proposed a series of policy options that the United States may use with Pakistan to encourage counter-terrorism operations within the nation.

The content of the policy brief, "A New US Approach to Pakistan", has been the central to a series of debates and flared tempers in Islamabad and the Pakistani diaspora in the United States.

Opinion regarding the content is divided, but the underlying message of the report - inaction against terrorism in Pakistan by the government - is posing risks to the stability of the greater region and Pakistan itself.

Rather than being urged or coerced by foreign powers to eliminate terrorist factions within the country, Pakistan should take the lead in eliminating the threats faced by the country and the region.

It must tackle this scourge before it further harms the economy, the reputation, and most importantly, innocent lives.

Pakistan is capable and possesses a framework for combating terrorism, but it must find the political will to eradicate terrorism within its borders.

Also read: Pakistan will burn its fingers trying to stoke the Kashmir fire


Ali Malik Ali Malik

works as a research intern at the South Asia Program at Hudson Institute in Washington DC

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