The recent terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar is another manifestation of Pakistan’s failure to deal with terrorists. A counter terror policy and a counter narrative to prevailing Jihad notion is the need of the time. Militants sponsored by the Tehreek-e-Taliban  Pakistan (TTP) killed 141 – children and 10 teaching staff.

At the time when the US and NATO forces are drawing down, attacks on soft targets like children are not a good omen for Pakistan. They means the cancer of terrorism is increasing. If this is the state of affairs, it will not matter how many US troops leave the region. This would further mean Pakistan will remain insecure in the region – like Afghanistan. As a nation, Pakistan has to take certain drastic and strategic steps to ensure domestic security. Thus Pakistan needs an effective counter-terrorism policy.

With the events of 9/11, almost all civilized nations of the world, including the United States and India, formed a counter-terror policy. Though Pakistan remained a frontline ally during the War on Terror, it failed to provide its nation with an effective policy to save its people from the scourge of terrorism and terrorists. Pakistan’s policy to deal with terrorists has mostly proved counterproductive. They have yet to succeed in dealing with them with an iron hand. In comparison to the United States and European nations’ counter-terror policies based on deterrence and preemptive strikes, Pakistan is more reactive than proactive or even preemptive.

One feels as though the terrorists are hunting Pakistanis rather than vice versa. State counter-terrorism policy could have been killing or capturing actual and prospective terrorists, putting them on trial in special or ordinary courts, and imprisoning them in specially constructed prisons forever. Such harsh penalties would have discouraged terrorist activities in future. The government should have started a campaign of mustering awareness amongst the people of their surroundings for their assistance to the law enforcement agencies. Alas! Nothing of concrete disposition was done to shake or break the militants’ organizations and their chain of command.

Pakistan can adopt an effective counter-terrorism policy based on a five-pronged approach:

Firstly, the rule of law and a swift judicial system are essential prerequisites to counter-terrorism efforts. Therefore special Anti-Terror Courts (ATCs), sets of laws, and specially-constructed prisons for the terrorists are needed. They will give an alarming sense to the terrorists and militants that once nabbed they may remain behind bars forever. As the ATCs job will be exclusively to deal with terror-related issues, the culprits will definitely not go scot-free. Moreover, extreme problems need extreme solutions. The moratorium on the death penalty has been lifted. Hence, capital punishment must be carried out for convicts waiting for the death penalty. This will be a stern message for the terrorist organizations.

Secondly, there is a lethal relationship between a terrorist act and media coverage. The objective of a terrorist and media remarkably similar in that both want to make the news and remain on TV screens for as long as possible. As a result, the militants are able to propagate their political and ideological demands to an even wider audience. By breaking this lethal combination, terrorists won’t be able to achieve their objectives of intimidating people through the media. The ministry of Information must observe that a terrorist group may not monopolize media attention and steer public opinion. Without giving the impression that the government is censoring information, it may provide more information about terrorism, terrorists, and their modus operandi to the public.

Sometimes, a terrorist organization claims such act just to gain media attention. Instead of highlighting their claims, the government must throw a controversy upon them and argue on different sensible theories, suggestions, and propositions. This will undermine a terrorist claim. Skepticism, in turn, will discourage militants’ objectives as they would not be appreciated as much as desired. This will intensify their frustration as they are ready to sacrifice their lives for their political and ideological beliefs. Additionally, the acts by which a militant group legitimizes their subversive activities and objectives must be delegitimized. This would happen once the questions like Sharia will be dealt by the concerned departments. Regarding Sharia, the relevant department is Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) where eminent Islamic scholars of Pakistan would define the constitution and laws of the land in the light of Quran and Sunnah.

The ministry of Information must impart a sense of responsibility to the media – freedom of expression must be to the advantage of the government and the people rather than to a notorious group.

Thirdly, the so-called hatcheries of militants can be eliminated through empowering local governments. A decentralized approach musters more benefits to the central government than vice versa. A federal system with trickle-down decision-making powers to lower levels – provinces, districts, tehsils, and village-councils – would give a sense of responsibility to local people and strengthen resolve to counter terror effectively. This must be done on a priority basis in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) where the terrorists are holding ground. They may be discredited with local level sub-national governments.

Fourthly, a counter-narrative to the concept of jihad must be provided to the people of Pakistan. The present concept of jihad is a perverted one which was produced to counter the Soviet Union during its attack on Afghanistan in 1979. The purpose of this jihad was to muster more and more support for the United States in its Cold War politics in the Muslim world against the Soviet Union. The Cold War is over and the Soviet Union has disintegrated. These Mujahedeen later on became the members of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. A counter-narrative to the jihadi idea of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS will make a discourse for a peaceful world. Hence, the true meaning and message of jihad must be brought to the fore to dispel the existing impression of ‘just killings.’

Finally, economic incentives and a strong economy are a serious threat to militant and terrorist organizations. If a society that harbors militants is provided with business and job opportunities, it will be more inclined to mould itself to pacific terms. If a bara market is opened in Waziristan, the society will have greater economic incentives. Insurgents who joined the terrorist organization due to joblessness in the past will succumb to temptation. These temptations of attractive offers may lead to conflicts between the leaders and followers of the organization. Tax-free business, interest-free loans and a conducive atmosphere for a business like a bara market will be wonderful and catchy offers to the members of a militant outfit. Leaders will lose control over members. And hence, the efficacy of a terrorist organization will diminish. Economics is the best antidote to war and terrorism, and the appropriate means to dissuade terrorists from their militant discourse. It will melt the organization from inside. The creation of the European Union (and its economic benefits) proved more powerful than wars for achieving national objectives. If the EU model is applied in ungoverned spaces in Pakistan at a miniature level, not only the insurgency and militancy will be rooted out but it will also muster economic boons.

A strong counter-terror policy will be to the advantage of the people and the country of Pakistan. In the long run, it will break the backbone of the terrorists. Moreover, it will boost the confidence of the people and secure the country.


Image: Banaras Khan-AFP, Getty

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