Pakistan′s counter-terrorism policy ′a threat to democracy′ | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 23.07.2015
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Pakistan's counter-terrorism policy 'a threat to democracy'

In the wake of a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar last year, the Pakistani government introduced a strategy to fight terrorism. But an ICG report explains how this policy is risking Pakistan's democratic evolution.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) has criticized Pakistan's counter-terrorism measures in a recently published report entitled "Revisiting Counter-Terrorism Strategies in Pakistan: Opportunities and Pitfalls." One of the major concerns in the document is related to the Pakistani military's continued dominance over the civilian administration.

The South Asian country's National Action Plan (NAP), which was introduced after the Taliban attack on a military school in Peshawar in December last year, has given the army an upper hand in the security affairs, which in a democratic set up should have been the domain of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government, the report said.

"The militarization of counter-terrorism policy puts at risk Pakistan's evolution toward greater civilian rule, which is itself a necessary but not sufficient condition to stabilize the democratic transition," underlines the report released on July 22. "The NAP looks far more like a hastily-conceived wish-list devised for public consumption during a moment of crisis than a coherent strategy," it added.

The ICG paper advises PM Sharif to take the matters in his hands and democratize the anti-terrorism strategy to rein in militant Islamist groups "in order to replace an overly militarised response with a revamped, intelligence-guided counter-terrorism strategy, led by civilian law enforcement agencies, particularly the police."

A wounded child is carried away from the scene. At least 100 people, mostly children, have been killed in a Taliban assault on an army-run school, officials say

Over 150 people, mostly children, were killed in a militant attack on a Peshawar school in December

In a DW interview, Samina Ahmed, senior Asia Adviser and South Asia Project Director at the ICG, says that Pakistan needs policies that go beyond law enforcement by offering more effective and inclusive governance.

DW: What lies at the core of Pakistan's counter-terrorism strategy following the Peshawar massacre?

Samina Ahmed: Pakistan's new counter-terrorism strategy, the twenty-point National Action Plan (NAP) contains important law enforcement objectives, including actions against banned jihadist groups, regulating the madrassah sector, and curbing terror financing.

As such, the problem with NAP is not related to its stated objectives but in a heavy-handed opaque and militarized approach that favors revenge and retribution. This includes more than 170 executions that have followed the lifting of the 2008 moratorium on the death penalty and the establishment of special military courts to try all terrorism suspects, including civilian. This has weakened constitutional protections and due process.

Does this strategy actually tackle the root causes of terrorism and extremism in Pakistan?

Reliance on blunt tools and lethal force risk doing more harm than good when they undermine constitutionalism and democratic governance and provide grist to the jihadists' propaganda mill. Without structural and governance reform, the root causes of terrorism will remain unaddressed, and violent jihadists will continue to exploit the absence of rule of law.

What is actually fueling the rise in Islamic militancy in the South Asian nation?

Violent extremism in Pakistan has thrived in a climate of impunity, with jihadist groups, including those that have been banned for egregious acts of terror, continuing to operate freely, radicalizing, recruiting, fund-raising and planning and conducting operations within the country, or serving as jihadist proxies to promote perceived national security interests in Afghanistan and India.

The state's failure to provide basic services, including education, has resulted in the mushrooming of extremist madrassahs, with virtually no oversight or regulation. Archaic governance structures and a heavy-handed, indiscriminate, ineffective and counter-productive counter-terrorism response, particularly in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) also fuels local alienation and feed into militant recruitment.

What have been the implications of the counter-terrorism policy for civilian rule in the country?

The militarization of counter-terrorism policy puts at risk Pakistan's evolution towards greater civilian rule in the second phase of a fragile democratic transition. Parallel structures, formed to oversee NAP's implementation, particularly the provincial “apex committees” are enabling the military to bypass representative institutions and play a more direct role in governance. Armed with new legal tools, the military has further marginalized civilian institutions in devising and implementing counter-terrorism policy.

What are the reasons behind the military's continual undermining of civilian authority, and how has it shaped the modern Pakistani society?

The military, which has ruled Pakistan either directly or indirectly, for most of its existence, refuses to cede power to civilian authority partly because of an internalized belief in its role as the guardian of national security and also because of the rich material benefits that flow from such control.

The continual weakening of representative institutions, including after democracy's restoration in 2008, remain a major hurdle to long-overdue structural and governance reforms, exacerbating local and regional fissures and grievances and undermining citizens' confidence in the state to deliver basic services, justice and security.

In your report you also state that despite claims to the contrary, the military still distinguishes between "bad" and "good" jihadist groups. Why is this distinction made?

The military continues to distinction between "bad" jihadist groups - those targeting the security forces - and the "good" jihadist groups - those perceived to promote its strategic objectives in Afghanistan and India. Anti-India outfits such as the Jamaat-ud-Dawa , the renamed version of the Laskhar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, have even expanded their activities through so-called charity fronts. Military-backed Afghan insurgents such as the Haqqani Network, have not been targeted in ongoing operations in FATA's North Waziristan Agency. Instead, the Haqqanis, like the LeT, have been kept off Pakistan's list of terror groups.

General Raheel Sharif (L) meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the Prime Minister House in Islamabad, capital of Pakistan. Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif has been appointed as Pakistan's 15th chief of army staff on Wednesday, local media reported (Photo: PID/ pixel)

The military continues to call the shots in the Islamic republic

This selective approach ignores the links between sectarian, regional and global Islamist groups, which involve sharing of resources, recruits, intelligence, and occasionally targets. Jihadist proxies can and have also turned their guns against their military patrons in the past.

How can Pakistan find a more effective way to tackle terrorism without further undermining civilian rule?

The federal government should replace an overly militarized response with a revamped intelligence-guided counter-terrorism strategy, led by civilian law-enforcement agencies, particularly the police.

While a strengthened and reformed criminal justice system could help to achieve NAP's objectives, a longer-term response would require actions that drain the pool of potential recruits and therefore policies that go beyond law enforcement by offering more effective and inclusive governance, economic and other opportunities, particularly for youth, protecting minorities and strengthening community cohesion.

Samina Ahmed is Senior Asia Adviser and South Asia Project Director at the International Crisis Group.