Countering Terrorism & Violent Extremism in the Age of Radd-ul-Fasaad

In the wake of an upsurge in terrorist violence, including a deadly terror attack on Sehwan Sharif that claimed the lives of 81 civilians in February 2017, Pakistani security forces have initiated Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad as the latest in a series of operations to counter terrorist networks in recent years. Aimed at consolidating the kinetic gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the latest effort entails the conduct of broad-spectrum security and counterterror operation across the four provinces. To assess the range of challenges confronting Pakistan as it cracks down against terrorism and violent extremism, Jinnah Institute turned to a panel of policy experts to solicit their opinion on recent developments.

12376306_978579348891966_3828205366863683052_nSenator Sherry Rehman, former Ambassador to the US and President Jinnah Institute

Eating soup with a fork is not easy, which is often what CT and CVE can become, but Pakistan has been doing it for a long time. Despite the number of sharp bends in the road, the task of effectively countering terrorism and violent extremism (CT, CVE) continues to exhibit gaps at multiple levels. The first and most obvious lag between policy and its countrywide execution shows up in the size and heft of the dragnet against terror suspects. But while the space is still available to a sizable group of militant outfits and their heads roils the national mainstream, action against key groups has clearly begun. In countering this challenge, capacity and sequencing will be a regular juggle, but a major obstacle has also surfaced in official reluctance to tackle a critical mass of banned outfits in South Punjab. It is in this context that the countrywide launch of Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad should be welcomed. A clear shift towards non-kinetic responses is an absolute imperative if the gains of Operation Zarb-e-Azb are to be consolidated and not squandered. A sharp uptick in terrorist violence in 2017 across Pakistan’s four provinces has underscored just what is at stake; Pakistan can no longer fight this war in the dark. The Interior Ministry and its scions must wake up from behind the CT wheel and fast track an authentic, updated list of terrorist suspects and their supporters under the Fourth Schedule of the Anti Terrorism Act (ATA) to offset the damage done by months of executive muddle-through.

Pakistan’s soldiers, LEAs and civilians have invested blood and tears in fighting a war on terror that continues to be operationally handled from across a porous border with Afghanistan. Policing this revolving door will be critical if there is to be peace in Pakistan, as will clear lines of policy coordination with Kabul which continues to drag its feet as far as complementary CT action on its side of the border is concerned. At home, meanwhile, the soft components of NAP must no longer be ignored: the absence of streamlined inter-agency CT coordination mechanisms; political disregard for effective action against hate-speech, extremism and radicalisation particularly in the Punjab; a disembodied and disempowered National Counterterrorism Agency (Nacta); a Nacta Act that has failed to fulfill its statutory mandate; gross civilian inability to institutionalise coherent CT structures must all be addressed urgently. Countering extremism—draining the swamp in which terrorism, with its sophisticated use of social and visual media, finds easy recruits—is going to be the longest war Pakistan fights. Among the provincial governments, Sindh continues to lead the way in progress on geo-mapping of seminaries along standard parameters; as per the most recent NAP scorecard presented in Senate Sindh has closed 2,311 seminaries; Punjab has only closed two. Finally, clear conduits for lesson-learning, inter-agency coordination, and the leveraging of civilian agency are absolute must-haves if this war is to be won anytime soon.

Tariq-Parvez (1)Tariq Pervez, former DG Federal Investigation Agency and National Coordinator NACTA

Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, as per the ISPR release announcing its commencement, is a military-driven operation with civilian institutions and the political leadership playing a secondary role. This has three broad implications for the ongoing national counterterrorism effort. First, it limits civilian agency in counterterrorism efforts because the military is not positioned to interact with this community, depriving the operation of an important resource. Second, giving primacy to the military in any counterterrorism operation leads to the marginalisation of civilian institutions such as the police. Scarce resources, which could be better spent on reforming the criminal justice system or building civilian capacity, are instead channeled into strengthening the paramilitary. Third, the military, by virtue of its training, will always remain kinetic-oriented. Hence the focus will continue to remain on “capture-and-kill” approaches instead of preventing violent extremism from proliferating across public spaces. In other words, Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad, like earlier military-led operations, is likely to lead to short-term successes while failing to address the long-term threat of violent extremism. To enable greater civilian control of CT/CVE efforts, two steps are needed: one, strong political will to take ownership of these measures. Two, civilian institutions such as the criminal justice system must be strengthened as a priority. NACTA, the national focal institution to deal with terrorism, must be made active by holding a meeting of its BoG, headed by the Prime Minister. Simultaneously a national strategy for CVE needs to be formulated. A civilian roadmap can thus help limit the military’s role in CT/CVE. It goes without saying that military involvement in crime control and CT is, ultimately, an ad-hoc measure, and ad-hoc measures, no matter how powerful, do not yield permanent solutions.

MYMoeed Yusuf, Associate Vice President Asia Centre at USIP

Pakistan has managed quite a remarkable turnaround in terms of pacifying the terrorism threat. The next stage is to attain sustainable peace. The good news is that the way to get there is known: it requires political will and capacity to implement the National Action Plan. The problem is that the state’s approach is far from holistic when it comes to pursuing all of NAP’s 20 objectives. For instance, the vision to eliminate all militants and extremism from Pakistani soil clashes with the country’s longstanding, and highly damaging, strategic paradigm. Whether it is capacity or will that is holding us back, the fact is that the state continues to be selective in its targeting of militant outfits. The best you can do then is contain the cancer, but elimination will remain a far cry. Then there are elements of NAP like overhauling the criminal justice system that require decades of sincere effort. The state has simply abdicated this responsibility, preferring to bank on stopgap solutions in the way of military courts. Finally, there are aspects that the state has in fact made significant progress on, be it rather unfortunate ones such as forcing the return of Afghan refugees, or more appreciable ones like action against hate speech and the apprehension of terrorists. Make no mistake: even what little has been achieved is impressive. But unfortunately this mixed approach is only good enough to keep violence at manageable levels. It won’t address the toughest, deepest structural problems inherent within the system, and will thus keep us from ensuring sustainable peace in the country. To get there, the state must show the will and sincerity to pursue each of NAP’s objectives without prejudice.

Zahid Hussain 2Zahid Hussain, Jinnah Institute Senior Fellow

While the latest wave of terrorist attacks has provoked an intense militaristic response from the state, there are certainly questions about the limitations of the use of kinetic force alone in dealing with the current threat. While security officials describe Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad or ‘elimination of discord’ as the next phase of the on-going counterterrorism campaign, there remain serious flaws in only taking a militarist approach to tackle the problem. For sure, the state must use force whenever it is necessary. It not only raises the cost for militants, but it is also a way to reassure an alarmed public that action is being taken to shore up national security. But the mere use of force is hardly effective unless accompanied by non-kinetic measures. The threat from violent extremism cannot be successfully challenged militarily. There is a difference between fighting an insurgency and combating terrorism. The real struggle is to win hearts and minds, and this is something the state needs to urgently recognise and address. This is perhaps one of the key reasons for the government’s failure in explicitly implementing the National Action Plan. Extra-judicial killings are not the solution. Such acts will only make things worse. Decapitation is not an appropriate strategy to fight terrorism.  It is more important to fight the ideology that produces terrorists in the first place.