New Battle Lines – Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency Beyond Zarb-E-Azb

After a summer of airstrikes and ground offensives in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), the military operation against terrorist sanctuaries in North Waziristan has now entered its second trimester. Against a blanket ban on media coverage, policy debate on the war is turning to question Zarb-E-Azb’s civilian and military goalposts. In particular, accommodating urban policing, law enforcement capacity-building, and the rehabilitation of more than 1.1 million IDPs under the umbrella of national security are just a few of the challenges likely to confront policymakers as they delimit the strategic contours of the next phase of the operation.

It is in this context that Jinnah Institute collated the views of a select panel of policy experts on Pakistan’s internal security imperatives, and their snapshot recommendations for future approaches towards counterterrorism and counterinsurgency in the country’s fight against militancy.


Jameel Yusuf, founding chief of the Citizens Police Liaison Committee and former Member Law and Order Commission of Pakistan, said that a brick and mortar approach would only be so effective in fighting terrorists in the long-term. For any CT operation to be successful, it was crucial to rebuild the decayed internal defenses of the country and to strengthen state institutions. Commenting on the operational challenges facing the National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) even fourteen years after its formation, Yusuf diagnosed the policy cell as suffering from bureaucratic turf wars and executive lethargy. For NACTA to function optimally, these structural deficits would have to be aptly addressed, and linkages with the provinces expeditiously developed. He cited the example of the United States where institutional jurisdiction and operational parameters of agencies such as the CIA, FBI and Department of Defence were drastically redrawn in the aftermath of 9/11 with the creation of a new Homeland Security agency. He also questioned the Opposition and its resistance to the ratification of the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance (now the Protection of Pakistan Act), arguing that the legislation had come into law in a very mild and neutered form. Pakistan’s criminal justice system urgently required similar attention, he argued, as did the state’s nascent witness protection programmes.

On policing, Yusuf maintained that both police capacity and capability had to be developed at the grassroots level, with intelligence data and information seamlessly flowing between the Special Branch, Intelligence Bureau (IB) and other intelligence bodies. He berated the loss of resources such as an entire cadre of experienced retiring police, intelligence and army officers who could have been tapped had they been recruited into NACTA. He suggested that devolution had transformed the police into a provincial subject with no link to federal mandates. This created a governance dilemma, since there was now no real way to ensure effective police reform or policy legislation.

Yusuf stressed the need for policing to be brought under independent controls and urgently depoliticised, particularly in Karachi. Presently, the city’s police force was riddled with corruption, with IGs often being removed from their posts because of their reluctance to accommodate political transfers and unchecked non-transparent equipment purchases. It was for this very reason that metropolises such as Karachi increasingly had to rely on paramilitary forces for cleanup operations, such as the Rangers or Frontier Constabulary (FC) that enjoyed single unit hierarchy, undisputed chain of command, and unambiguously streamlined SOPs. There was also a dire need to bring the Karachi police under the umbrella of a public safety commission – a neutral board that could make all officers serve professionally and ensure individual accountability.

Yusuf believed it would be helpful to identify best practices outside Pakistan that could be borrowed by Pakistan’s police departments. He cited the example of Japan’s police system, for instance, that enjoyed a 97 per cent conviction rate. Turkey, Italy, the UAE and Thailand, meanwhile, were home to premier antiterrorism educational institutes; such colleges should be replicated in Pakistan, and graduation from these institutes be made mandatory for all aspiring police officers. Yusuf added that in Bangladesh a specific law made it incumbent upon recruiters to ensure women comprised at least 30 per cent of the country’s police force. In Pakistan, he said, women made up less than 1 percent – a marginal fraction – of the police force, even though they constituted 55 per cent of the population. It was important, he argued, that bright young girls be recruited to humanise police stations, and restore society’s confidence in the police as an institution.

ahmer bilal soofi

Ahmer Bilal Soofi, former caretaker federal law minister and international legal expert, was of the opinion that the public and legal narrative underpinning the military operation in North Waziristan continued to be marred by uncertainty and confusion. This lack of intellectual clarity, he explained, stemmed from Pakistan’s failure to examine its fight against militancy through a legal prism. Even today, policymakers continued to study the situation through a flawed, counterterrorism prism. Soofi argued that the problem with internal armed struggle lay in the method of categorising the situation as an ‘armed conflict’. He went a step further to identify certain contours that constituted Pakistan’s ‘domestic laws of war’ that could signal the beginning of a conflict. These were Article 245 calling the army in aid of civil power, Sections 4 and 5 of the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA), and certain provisions of the Army Act including Clause 8 which stipulated that ‘anybody who the army is called against in aid of civil power will be deemed to be treated as an enemy’. Soofi added that the root problem was that the conflict in Waziristan was still being viewed in the context of the laws of peace, and that as long as conflict zones were judged by the yardstick of the laws of peacetime, cases of human rights violations would always abound.

He suggested that it was a failure to frame the debate around the PPO from a legal perspective (laws of peacetime versus laws of war) that had created a confusing overlap between this new piece of legislation and the existing Anti-Terrorism Act. The government had failed to make a convincing case for why it needed an additional tier of legislation. However, the upside of the PPO was that it had provided a much-needed framework to generate political consensus on the issue of terrorism and regulating internal conflict.

Soofi predicted that deradicalisation was likely to emerge as the biggest strategic challenge for the government in the post-operation environment. It was important that an effective legal regime be instituted to facilitate deradicalisation projects at the earliest, particularly targeting those non-state actors driven by economic compulsion rather than ideological sway. He cited the example of Sri Lanka, which had created an entire ministry for deradicalisation in the aftermath of its civil war. He further suggested that the government set up and notify tax-free industrial zones adjacent to militancy-hit areas, so that would-be militants could find gainful employment while undergoing deradicalisation protocols. Since many prisoners were serving time in mainland detention centers such as the Adiala, Lahore and Haripur jails, it was also necessary to deradicalise these inmates in their existing facilities in order to avoid bureaucratic hindrances such as issues of lawful custody. Deradicalisation drives could also benefit from the Saudi and Swiss models, with local academics and social scientists tasked to develop the requisite pamphlets, books and syllabi for public dissemination.

For the successful execution of counterterrorism operations, Soofi suggested that Pakistan’s existing prosecution machinery be upgraded, and numbers of judges enhanced. Improved internal machinery was desperately needed to enhance performance, undertake load assessment and improve day-today management of cases in the high courts. He estimated that at least 80 to 100 additional judges would have to be inducted into the system for effective and timely prosecution to be possible.

On improving bilateral relations with Kabul, Soofi identified the issue of law enforcement cooperation as a vital avenue that merited attention. There was, as of now, virtually no cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan on the criminal prosecution of transnational terrorists. A Mutual Legal Framework (MLF) between the two countries was a necessary precondition for Pakistan to be able to request Afghan assistance in the conducting of trials or handover of militant suspects. With regard to the international border with Afghanistan, Soofi acknowledged the difficulties of manning or fencing the porous line, noting that even existing biometric checking systems were far from perfect. There was also an urgent need to categorise migrants crossing the border on a daily basis: Soofi advocated for legislation that could enable the government to determine the number of legal refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants living in the country. This would, legally speaking, strengthen Pakistan’s case for the return of Afghan refugees to their home country, in light of Afghan recovery and stabilisation in the coming months.


Tariq Khosa, former DG FIA and Federal Secretary Narcotics Control, said that the immediate priorities of the political leadership in the aftermath of the North Waziristan operation had to be multi-pronged. In addition to the appointment of an administrator to govern FATA (who would be responsible for security and development, and given control of the Frontier Corps since Levies and Khasadars had become ineffective), the government would have to develop a nucleus of police services at each agency headquarter for investigation and prosecution functions, create special anti-terrorism courts for the trial of terrorists, extend jurisdiction of PPA 2014 and ATA 1997 to FATA, appoint Justices of Peace for dispute resolution in accordance with tribal traditions, and develop an administrative secretariat for the FATA administrator to carry out infrastructure development.

On urban policing, Khosa prioritised the enhancement of specialised anti-terrorism forces in each provincial headquarter, with a concurrent focus on raising a new police rapid response unit in Islamabad with the assistance of the SSG of the armed forces. He also advised that the existing capacity of CIDs and CTDs be enhanced to develop crime scene units, forensic support, technical surveillance, and dedicated joint investigation teams with the relevant federal and provincial intelligence agencies. At the same time, Khosa acknowledged that there were several major roadblocks in attempts to modernise urban police capabilities in the four provinces: these included a lack of job security (tenure) for serving IGs and heads of large city police forces, an overemphasis on territorial policing instead of functional specialisation, and the fact that urban police officers were not being recruited locally.

About the government’s vastly increased reliance on paramilitary personnel such as Rangers and BSF units in cities such as Karachi, Khosa’s view was that the military could not and should not be left to carry out basic policing functions in urban settlements. The deployment of Rangers in Karachi, in particular, had adversely militarised policing, and had created an ambiguous duality of control and command across the city.

On the problems facing NACTA, Khosa pointed to an indiscriminate turf war being waged in the agency, adding that a duality of control (the Prime Minister and the Interior Ministry) had crippled the body’s day-to-day functioning. The agency head, who has to be a serving BS-22 police officer, had still not been appointed, and an agency responsible for the implementation of the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) was nowhere to be seen.


Dr. Moeed Yusuf, counterinsurgency expert and South Asia Director at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), felt that given the civilian government’s delay in ‘catching up’ with the army’s decision to go into North Waziristan, the optics around Operation Zarb-E-Azb thus far had been predictably poor. However, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had done the right thing by visiting Bannu and the IDP camps there, in an attempt to suggest that the civilian and military establishments were on the same page. While the public messaging around the operation could have been better, the exercise had been rescued from becoming a complete debacle after public and political consensus eventually converged on a near-unanimous decision to fight the militants in their hideouts.

Yusuf strongly noted, however, Pakistan’s inability to effectively and succinctly define who the ‘enemy’ was in its fight against militancy and extremism. Over the past decade, there had been an intellectual and political failure in identifying which terrorists and organisations operating in Pakistan were responsible for destabilising the country and instigating sectarian strife; this lack of clarity only fed muddied narratives around larger counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies. Pakistan’s thinking about militants per se still remains confused, as he saw it. When asked if there was likely to be any action against other terrorist groups operating, particularly in Central and South Punjab, Yusuf said it was impossible to determine how the elected PML-N government would behave in the coming year. He said it was highly unlikely there would be any comprehensive action or major go-for-the-kill kind of operation against the Punjab-based groups in the next six to twelve months.

Given the lack of administrative structures and institutions in North Waziristan, Yusuf also foresaw critical challenges in the state’s attempts to successfully ‘clear and hold’ territory in the agency. He calculated that the military would likely have to remain in North Waziristan for a considerable duration post-operation, and that any notions of handing over affairs to civilian authorities in the short-term were idealistic. At the same time, while the lack of any terrorist blowback in the cities raised serious questions about the state’s threat assessment, it was important to give credit to law enforcement agencies for having managed to prevent that backlash from occurring in the settled parts of the country.

On bilateral cooperation between Islamabad and Kabul, and in particular the recent decision in Islamabad to establish working groups on security and border control, Yusuf hailed these developments as positives, and said much more affirmative action of this sort would be needed in the coming months to prevent the region from becoming once again mired in instability and terrorism. However, he took a more tepid view of the ‘revolving door’ frequented by militants of both countries, suggesting that this cross-border movement would continue until both countries took drastic measures to bridge the strategic gap between them, and stop playing a vicious blame game that would only undercut attempts to improve diplomatic relations.

(The views in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Jinnah Institute, its Board of Directors, Board of Advisors or management. Unless noted otherwise, all material is property of the Institute. Copyright © Jinnah Institute 2014)