A shake-up call

How should Pakistan fight extremism?

A shake-up call
Has the December 16 Peshawar carnage finally induced a triangular fight against Al-Qaeda-linked or inspired groups? A string of meetings between the Pakistani, Afghan and American security officials, it seems, has reduced mistrust, bolstered multi-lateral confidence and possibly provided the much-needed fillip for an offensive against terrorists who are piling misery on forces not only both in Pakistan and Afghanistan but who also threaten the peace of the extended region. The Afghan security forces’ latest action in the Kunar province, the region Mulla Fazlullah and his deadly men are reportedly using as their sanctuaries, is probably the latest indicator for this trilateral anti-terror operation.

This reborn optimism stems from General Raheel Sharif’s air-dashes to Kabul on December 17 during which he reportedly tabled hard evidence on the handlers in Afghanistan of the Peshawar attackers. Diplomatic officials say President Ashraf Ghani gave a categorical commitment that he wont allow his soil to be used against Pakistan.

Similarly, American officials insist Mulla Fazlullah remains on top of their hit-list because of the threats he poses to Pakistan and others. Being witness to the latest Pak-Afghan security officials’ dialogue, the American sound upbeat and optimistic about the future of security cooperation with Pakistan.
President Ashraf Ghani gave a categorical commitment that he wont allow his soil to be used against Pakistan

This all portends well and is extremely welcome if true, but will this offensive deliver lasting answers to Pakistan’s internal security turmoil? Is it the only option that Islamabad is desperately pursuing to deal with the lingering security crisis and the socalled looming blow-back?

Certainly not. Let us see why cooperation from Afghanistan may just be a small part of the options that Pakistan must exercise to neutralize the TTP and Al-Qaeda threats.

Firstly, Pakistan’s security crisis is rooted in its own skewed foreign and internal policies – which have traditionally and selectively distinguished between good and bad non-state actors such as Afghan Taliban, Lashkare Taiba, and the Haqqani Network in particular.

Secondly, its border (western border) and peace management (both inside FATA and Balochistan) has almost always relied on private militias – often used as cost-effective peace-keepers and counter-insurgents. This short-sighted policy has happened at the peril of long-term security interests.

Thirdly, porous and selective law-enforcement almost always runs counter to any plans that may aim at securing borders and combatting crime and terrorism.

Fourth, a dated Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) – legacy of the British colonial era continues to obstruct investigation and quick prosecution of anti-state elements which keep exploiting the system to the hilt. It rests entirely on questionable police investigation and thus prone to exploitation by the defense counsels.
Long term salvation lies in establishing the rule of law

Most of the banned organizations or their successors for instance continue to operate freely despite several clauses of the Anti-Terror Act 2013, including Article 11 that clearly prohibit their activities, deny them fund-raising and envisage severe punishments.

Similarly, clerics continue to blatantly flout several sections of the ATA 2013, Maulana Aziz of Lal Mosque being the case in point under the nose of the government; the man had been dismissed from his services in 2005 but he not only led the rebellion against the state in 2007 but has since then been occupying the official mosque and acting as the mouthpiece for those who disagree with the idea of a democratic Pakistan.

In his December 18 Friday sermon, Abdul Aziz even threatened to unleash suicide bombers if he were touched. Ironically, he had until recently even enjoyed official security.

The government clearly has the option of a legal punitive action against him but will it exercise this?

The other option is to immediately enforce the 1965 Loudspeaker Act to stop clerics from using the mosque pulpit to pray for destruction of the Jews/Hindus and “infidels.” The law bars the use of loudspeaker other than the time for Azaan and Friday/Eid sermons or contingency announcements. The clerics brazenly abuse the pulpit and mosque for hate-messaging, injecting poison into young minds and inciting violence in the name of belief.

A border guard stands alert as an excavator digs a trench along the Pakistan Afghanistan border at Chaman
A border guard stands alert as an excavator digs a trench along the Pakistan Afghanistan border at Chaman

Another option is to sternly deal with the bigotry of mainstream religious parties. They must be asked to condemn terrorism in the name of Islam. The JI and JUI-F and JUI-S must come clean on their empathy or sympathy for all those Al-Qaeda linked outfits which are dreaming of instigating a rebellion within Pakistan for a Sharia-based dispensation or khilafat.

But the mother of all options is a two-fold strategy i.e. the combination of the hard and soft power; the army has demonstrated the undeniable immediate utility of hard power- manifest in some of the results from the Operation Zarbe Azb. The government has also the option of setting up more anti-terror and special courts to deal with terrorism and organized crime as immediate remedial measure. But the medium to long term salvation lies in establishing the rule of law and exercising the soft power. Both the army chief and the prime minister must jointly reassure the nation that rule of law will not be compromised at any cost and that no non-state actor would be allowed to circumvent law or jeopardize interests of people at home or abroad. The latter constitutes a must for regaining and improving the trust with Afghanistan, India and the United States.

The multi-Party Anti-Terrorism National Action Plan Committee, too, has reportedly underscored the urgency for revamping of the criminal justice system, and proposed introducing ‘concrete’ steps for accelerating prosecution, increasing the probability of conviction, and ensuring protection of judges, prosecution and witnesses in the terrorism-related cases. The Protection of Pakistan Act (PPA) 2014 does address these issues but some prosecutors consider these measures insufficient.

Measures such as lifting of the moratorium on death penalty may be a much-needed deterrent, yet Pakistan’s civilian-military ruling elites need a categorical commitment to the rule of law and an unflinching resolve to its indiscriminate enforcement. Without doing so, most of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies would keep leaking. Without a clearly demonstrable commitment to the soft power, and without shunning non-state actors, neither will outsiders trust the country nor will the lofty rhetoric – currently ringing loud – translate into real effective action.

Imtiaz Gul heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk