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THE 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan pushed Pakistan into a perpetual cycle of violent extremism (VE); the post-9/11 era, however, exacerbated its frequency and lethality.

Initially, provincial police organisations had no uniform and organised counter-terrorism (CT) apparatus, which led to heavy casualties and reliance on military counterparts. Sacrifices in the line of duty and close coordination with the military led to improved police image and police-military relations.

Police laws provide a weak framework for CT. The Police Act 1861 made no reference to terrorism and extremism. The Police Order 2002 (PO), although a post-9/11 enactment, scarcely included terms such as terrorism, sectarian and ethnic violence; Article 8 of the law organised police in 18 different sections but missed incorporating CT as a separate section. The KP Police Act 2017 is the only police law incorporating a dedicated CT department. Police laws need to incorporate CT and Countering Extremism (CE) functions. CTDs should be central to CE-related efforts.

Provincial CTDs were established over the past two decades. However, issues relating to recruitment, capacity building, jurisdiction, limited technical access and financial constraints mar their efficacy. To standardise institutional CT response, the National Action Plan (NAP) incorporated the idea of revamping CTDs, but the latter’s technical, intelligence, investigation, and prosecution branches need reinforcement.

Our geostrategic location makes CT further complicated.

An effective CT strategy needs continuous reinforcement including new laws and adapting existing laws to changing circumstances. Ensuring availability of resources and capacity, however, remains the key challenge. Pakistan’s geostrategic location makes CT further complicated, requiring simultaneous focus on internal and external fronts. To strengthen CT cooperation, Pakistan signed an MoU in 2018 with China and Afghanistan. The same year, on the internal front, SECP and Nacta signed an MoU to create awareness among financial institutions about best practices relating to anti-money laundering and combating terror financing.

The horrific APS Peshawar attack helped clear the fog about counter-terrorism. Govern­ment-opposition consensus led to the drafting of the 20-point NAP, an amalgamation of CT, CE, and reforms. To educate the community, sharing CT experiences with friendly countries, administrative reconsolidation, adopting a diagnostic approach and appointing a ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commis­sion’ are opportunities offered by NAP.

Revamping of anti-terrorism courts remains an elusive ideal. The low conviction rate is a deficient area in the CT landscape though it varies considerably province-wise. In Punjab, it is 70 per cent, Balochistan 8pc, Sindh 10pc, and KP 14pc. Also, CTDs primarily work from a terrorism control approach while the judiciary follows a ‘due process’ approach. Bridging the gap within the criminal justice system (CJS) remains a daunting task.

Rampant misuse of cyberspace by extremists is another challenge. To block content, the PTA in 2017 forwarded 2,309 requests to social media companies; in 2021, the number was 24,042. Although the Online Content Rules under Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016, bind SMCs to take down offending content within a specified timeframe, better evidence collection requires improved coordination between FIA, PTA, and SMCs.

Initially, the CT response was reactive. Investigations revolved around tracing the accused, collection of evidence and claims of responsibility; uncovering financial linkages was neither included in the training nor part of the investigation. In 2019, there were 919 cases of terror financing (TF) registered, 464 suspects were arres­ted and 154 convic­t­­ed. In 2021, the nu­­m­ber of cases registered was 1,227, while 1,526 suspects were arres­ted and 403 accused conv­i­cted. The incr­e­asing trend of registration and con­­v­ic­t­ion in TF cases is the right step towards choking TF sources.

An effective CT response warrants enhanced coordination among federal and provincial LEAs. The establishment of Nacta, provincial apex committees, and district intelligence committees is a step in the right direction.

The post-9/11 years witnessed administrative consolidation: eg Kala Dhaka, a provincially administered tribal area was changed into a settled district, and the 25th Amendment enabled Fata’s merger with KP. These developments proved helpful in denying space to militants. Fencing of the 2,600km Pak-Afghan border will also be helpful in restricting the movement of militants.

Pakistan’s successful pushback against militancy proves it has the capacity and competence to deal with such threats. A policy of appeasement is therefore not an option. More focus should be on reconsolidation of CT operations’ gains, tackling sympathisers of extremists, better governance, public service delivery, effective policing of cyberspace, and reforming the CJS.

The writer is author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.

Twitter: @alibabakhel

Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2022


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