Understanding Terrorism In Pakistan

After last week’s attack in Mastung and the rise in incidents of terrorism in Pakistan, it is high time a better solution is found to fight terrorism in the country

Understanding Terrorism In Pakistan

Despite our law enforcement agencies’ intensive engagement and sacrifices in combating terrorism in Pakistan, 55 people were killed and scores injured in a suicide blast in Mastung on 12 Rabiul Awwal, when the nation was celebrating the birth of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The resurgence of terrorism in Pakistan deserves more serious attention from our national policymakers and international community. 

Terrorism is a multifaceted and deeply rooted global issue that transcends temporal and geographic boundaries. While there is widespread global condemnation of 'terrorism, the international community has faced persistent challenges in formally delineating it as a legally defined category. The conventional interpretation of terrorism is rather straightforward, denoting the instigation of intense fear. 

Nonetheless, the process of transforming this literal interpretation into a universally accepted legal framework has proven to be exceedingly intricate. Alongside these challenges, however, efforts are made at international and national levels to define ‘terrorism.’

In Resolution 1566 (2004), the Security Council defined its conception of terrorism as: ''…criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act, which constitutes offences within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism…'' 

The UN General Assembly endorsed this definition in January 2006 (Resolution 60/43), defining terrorist acts as “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes.”

Criminal law experts have not been able to agree on a single legally binding definition of terrorism. Governments and UN agencies are reluctant to formulate an all-encompassing definition as the term ‘terrorism’ is emotive and politically charged. However, the international community has criminalized terrorist activities under sector-specific conventions.

The sectoral approach avoids the need to define terrorism. It focuses on the ‘nature of activities’ rather than the ‘intent’ for committing the act of terrorism. These treaties include the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and the 2005 International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.

Governments and UN agencies are reluctant to formulate an all-encompassing definition as the term ‘terrorism’ is emotive and politically charged. However, the international community has criminalized terrorist activities under sector-specific conventions.

The political, ideological, moral, social, and emotional connotation of 'terrorism' makes its definition challenging in any legal system. The legislature in Pakistan is also confronted with this difficulty. The legislature provided different definitions of terrorism under different laws such as the Suppression of Terrorist Activities (Special Courts) Act, 1974; the Suppression of Terrorist Activities (Special Courts) Act, 1975; Special Courts for Speedy Trials Ordinance, 1987; Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Ordinance, 1990; Special Courts for Speedy Trials Ordinance, 1991; Special Courts for Speedy Trials Act, 1992;  Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997; Anti-Terrorism (Second Amendment) Ordinance, 1999; and the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Ordinance, 2001.

The definitions of terrorism under these laws either focused on the magnitude of an offence or its terrorizing effect on society or the nature of the weapon used while committing an offence. These shifting definitions resulted in conflicting judgments by our courts. The cases of terrorism kept on shuttling from one court to another due to the imprecise definition of terrorism.

The ex-CJP Asif Saeed Khan Khosa took up this challenge and constituted a larger bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) to define ‘terrorism’ in the Ghulam Hussain case (2019). The SC examined all the relevant cases and noted that, in some cases, only those actions constitute the offence of terrorism which are accompanied by the ‘design’ or ‘purpose’ specified in Section 6 (1) (b) (c) of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 (Act).

The SC clarifies that the effect of an action, howsoever “grave, shocking, brutal, gruesome or horrifying” it may be, cannot be made the basis to label an action as terrorism, if such action is not carried out to achieve the objectives – that is, the design or purpose – mentioned in Section 6(1)(b) (c) of the Act. In other words, the SC explained that the crimes committed in the context and background of personal or private enmity or revenge do not typically fall in the definition of terrorism.

Given the challenging nature of terrorism, the UN should consider proactively negotiating a comprehensive convention and definition of international terrorism. It would help states to legislate in line with an international perspective enabling national law-enforcement agencies to handle terrorism cases effectively. While formulating this definition, however, it may be considered that definitions of terrorism that are overly broad or lack precision have the potential to pose a significant threat to human rights. The all-encompassing pursuit of state preservation and national security frequently influences the formulation and application of anti-terrorism laws. Extensive exceptional powers and criminal charges associated with such definitions, coupled with the absence or erosion of standard safeguards, may present an even graver risk to human rights than specific acts of terrorism themselves. 

To understand and address the challenge of terrorism, it is essential to explore briefly its causes and responses to terrorism, to propose solutions for Pakistan.

Root Cause of Terrorism

While acts of violence against governments, states, and rulers have been recorded for centuries, terrorism, as we understand it today, is distinguished by its deliberate targeting of civilians with the intent to instill public fear or panic. 

Understanding the root causes of terrorism is a complex and multifaceted endeavor. Terrorism cannot be attributed to a single factor as it often results from a combination of psychological, ideological, political, strategic intentions, and economic conditions. Examining these motivations or intentions and conditions provides insight into why individuals and groups engage in acts of terrorism.

Some individuals are driven to terrorism by personal psychological factors, such as hate, desire for power, or a need for attention. These individuals may not adhere to any grand ideological or strategic goals but engage in terrorism to fulfill their own emotional needs. 

Terrorism can also be seen as a strategic choice, when traditional political avenues for the redress of grievances have failed. 

Terrorism often emerges from ideological convictions rooted in religious or political philosophies. Groups like the Taliban seek a combination of religious and political motives in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Irish Republican Army (IRA) seek political objectives, such as Irish unification, while the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka pursue the establishment of a separate Tamil state. The German Red Army Faction (Bader-Meinhof) was motivated by an anti-capitalist ideology.

Terrorism can also be seen as a strategic choice, when traditional political avenues for the redress of grievances have failed. Individuals or groups may resort to violence if they believe it offers a more effective means of achieving their goals. For example, the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa turned to terrorism after peaceful political avenues were exhausted.

Terrorism breeds on poverty and unjust economic conditions. Those in desperate economic conditions are potentially more inclined to adopt an extremist worldview. They may be conveniently persuaded to join terrorist organizations, promising to establish an equitable and just world. 

It is essential to recognize that these motivations often intersect, with individuals and groups, using terrorism for a combination of psychological, ideological, political, and strategic reasons. An individual or group may find terrorism consistent with their worldview, fulfilling their psychological needs, and serving their strategic objectives simultaneously. 

Countering Terrorism

Historically, various responses to terrorism have emerged, with governments and international bodies adopting different approaches to counter this complex and persistent threat. Four prominent strategies have been employed: the use of force, negotiation, prosecution, and the establishment of international norms through conventions and resolutions.

The use of force as a response to terrorism has been periodically witnessed. Notable examples include the US military intervention against the Taliban in Afghanistan (2001), aimed at dismantling the al-Qaeda terrorist network harboured by the Taliban regime. Similarly, military operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) of Pakistan by the Pakistan Army illustrate the use of force against individuals associated with terrorist organisations. This strategy serves both as a means of retribution and as an attempt to disrupt the operational capabilities of terrorists. At the same time, sometimes, it creates feelings of revenge breeding terrorism in the affected areas and population.

Negotiations, often conducted discreetly, represent a second approach to addressing terrorism. While nations may publicly refuse to engage with terrorist groups, secret negotiations have been instrumental in resolving conflicts. For instance, the British government initially refrained from negotiating with the Irish Republican Army and Sinn Fein but eventually engaged in clandestine talks that culminated in the Good Friday Agreements, significantly reducing terrorism in Northern Ireland. Similarly, behind-the-scenes negotiations between the ANC and the apartheid government of South Africa played a pivotal role in ending apartheid. Pakistan's government talks with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is a recent example. 

Prosecution is conducted through national and international forums such as national courts and international tribunals. Considering the complex nature of international terrorism, states often cooperate in information sharing and investigation; but, fail to help establish strong criminal justice systems in national jurisdictions. Failure to award adequate punishments to terrorists through national courts weakens international efforts against terrorism. 

International agreements, forged through organizations like the United Nations, constitute another avenue for combating terrorism. The 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings criminalizes the unlawful and intentional use of explosives to cause death or injury in public places. Additionally, UN Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001), underscores the importance of international cooperation in countering terrorism, aiming to improve national legislation and coordination among member states.

The Case Of Pakistan 

Pakistan faces a multifaceted terrorism challenge characterized by both internal and external factors. The domestic landscape is rife with diverse forms of terrorism. Pakistan contends with internal terrorism driven by ethnic tensions (Sindhi, Balochi, Pashtun, Saraiki, Mohajir); separatist sentiments (Balochistan has been experiencing prolonged separatist terrorism fuelled by ethno-nationalist grievances) and religious extremism (Tehreek-e-Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, and others pose significant threats). These groups target civilians and infrastructure, perpetrate suicide attacks, and disrupt daily life. Sectarian violence, particularly along Sunni-Shia lines, or targeting the Ahmadiyya and other minority religious communities, is a grim reality, leading to loss of life and communal strife. 

The weakening economy is also a serious issue for a country of (almost) 250 million. The deteriorating economic conditions partly contribute to the nourishment of extremist ideologies and may undermine counter terrorism efforts.

Another significant challenge that Pakistan now faces in its efforts to counter terrorism is the issue of terror financing and money laundering. These illicit financial activities have had a detrimental impact on the country's security landscape and its international reputation. Pakistan's past inclusion in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) grey list serves as a stark reminder of the need for robust measures to combat these issues. 

In this regard, Pakistan has indeed made legislative strides (i.e., Islamabad Capital Territory Waqf Properties Act, 2020; Anti-Money Laundering Act, 2010; Anti-Money Laundering (Second Amendment) Act, 2020; and Anti-terrorism (Third Amendment) Act, 2020) by promulgating various legal frameworks in line with FATF requirements. However, the challenge lies in the effective execution and enforcement of these laws and Anti Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Regulations. Merely having the legal infrastructure in place does not suffice; what is imperative is the consistent and rigorous application of these regulations. This necessitates a multi-pronged approach involving not only the government but also financial and security institutions – State Bank, Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan, Federal Investigation Agency, and so on.

The weakening economy is also a serious issue for a country of (almost) 250 million. The deteriorating economic conditions partly contribute to the nourishment of extremist ideologies and may undermine counter terrorism efforts.

Finally, Pakistan's security challenges are exacerbated by unresolved political disputes in the region, such as those in Kashmir and Afghanistan. These disputes serve as rallying points for political mobilization, providing a backdrop for violence and militancy. A resolution of these political conflicts could diminish the rationale for terrorist activities. 

The way out 

To effectively address the multifaceted challenges posed by terrorism in Pakistan, it is imperative to adopt a comprehensive strategy that tackles the root causes of these issues. Ethnic tensions, separatist sentiments, and religious extremism should be addressed through sustained dialogue with the relevant stakeholders. This must include close engagement with local populations, local political leaders, and religious scholars to address their grievances and gain their support in countering terrorist threats. Encouraging local tribesmen in Balochistan and FATA to stand against foreign elements and cooperate with security forces, for instance, is essential. Military operations must be executed with precision to avoid collateral damage, and the rehabilitation of captured militants and the families of the deceased should be given due consideration. 

Education too plays a pivotal role in shaping responsible and tolerant citizens; revising curricula to emphasize subjects that promote courtesy, teamwork, and tolerance is necessary. In madrasas, government oversight and comprehensive syllabus revisions are required to ensure that students encounter interpretations of Islam promoting peace, tolerance and universality, but also modern scientific and vocational knowledge enabling their integration into society. Religious scholars and media should be engaged to propagate the prohibition of sabotage in Islam. 

Pakistan's commitment to countering terrorism must extend to international cooperation and adherence to global conventions under the UN regime. This includes ratifying and implementing international agreements aimed at preventing terrorism and its associated activities. Pakistan is bound to freeze assets, introduce travel bans, and activate arms embargoes in addition to other sanction measures under the United Nations (Security Council) Act, 1948 and Security Council Resolutions (Resolution 1267 (1999) and successor resolutions). 

Under Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001), Pakistan is required to proscribe individuals/entities under the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997. Thus, Pakistan must strengthen its criminal justice system to award adequate punishment to terrorists.

Banks, development finance institutions (DFIs) such as microfinance banks (MFBs) must not provide banking services to proscribed and designated entities and persons or their associated persons under AML/CFT Regulations. By actively participating in and adhering to such international legal frameworks, Pakistan can underscore its dedication to the global fight against terrorism and solidify its standing as a responsible international actor. In other words, the implementation of the UNSC resolutions and the relevant national legislation in letter and spirit is a must to fight against terrorism in Pakistan.

Achieving stability and security in Pakistan necessitates not only robust counterterrorism measures and the implementation of laws but also efforts to resolve political disputes in the country and the region. The international community should support Pakistan in promoting democracy and resolving the Kashmir dispute as per the UN resolutions. Backing the concerns repeatedly voiced by Pakistan, the Taliban rulers must be asked to ensure that their soil doesn’t become “a terrorism and instability hotspot.” It is imperative for peace and security in Afghanistan as well.

Achieving stability and security in Pakistan necessitates not only robust counterterrorism measures and the implementation of laws but also efforts to resolve political disputes in the country and the region. 

The responses to terrorism, whether through force, negotiation, prosecution or international agreements, exemplify the multifaceted strategies employed by governments and international bodies to address the complex and evolving challenge of terrorism. Pakistan should employ these approaches side-by-side considering the indigenous context. Ideological and strategic motivations or intentions and national policies need to be revisited to promote the rule of law, democracy, tolerance, and inclusivity. The elimination of terrorism also requires giving priority to the creation of a just and equitable environment for progress and prosperity. This is valid at both national and international levels.

The term ‘terrorism’ remains a subject of ongoing debate, underscoring the pressing necessity for the international community to establish a precise and human rights-oriented definition. It will help nation-states to criminalize terrorism in line with international standards and the international community to fight against terrorism more effectively. Any definition, however, must address the traditional challenge: ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’

Pakistan should promote a robust narrative on counter-terrorism and enhance the operational capacity of law enforcement agencies. National counter-extremism policy guidelines (2018) may be revisited given shifting global and regional security paradigms. This policy contains assumptions and aspirations, but lacks in empirical evidence. Finally, the international institutions should apply the same standards in fighting terrorism globally.