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Perceptions of extremism
Published: Sep 09, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

MANY counterterrorism and security experts believe that extremism and terrorism have a cause and effect relation. If this were true, it would be almost impossible for Pakistan to tackle the issues of terrorism and militancy without effectively responding to growing extremism and radicalism in the country.

Countering extremism and extremist ideologies is an important component of the current debate on internal security and counterterrorism. Though extremism has yet to be defined in Pakistan at least there is a consensus in the country that terrorism is a major issue and needs to be addressed on a priority basis.

On the other hand, the realm of extremism is very broad, and different segments of society hold diverse views regarding the phenomenon.

Let us first take a look at the different views on extremism that are prevalent in the country and then examine the question of breaking its links with terrorism.

Extremism is defined in Pakistan in a number of ways, and is used mainly in the political, religious, and social contexts. Political scientists consider it a political phenomenon, triggered by inequality, socio-economic injustices and state policies.

In 2008-9, the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based research group, consulted several experts in the fields of political science, international relations, faith studies, science, media and human rights.

Their opinion was sought through detailed discussions and a survey on issues of terrorism and extremism. Out of 16 experts, 11 agreed that extremism was a political phenomenon; only three looked at extremism in the light of an ideological struggle, whereas two experts linked extremism to the misinterpretation of religion.

The experts also differed on what they considered to be the reasons behind extremism. Most of the respondents pointed out political, social and economic disparities as the main causes of extremism.

A similar study that was conducted by the institute in 2009 to collect the views of teachers in madressahs showed that the majority of clerics and madressah teachers believed that extremism was a political issue. However, the respondents believed that regional and international political issues were more important.

A large number of madressah teachers also thought that extremism in the country could only be countered if Pakistan distanced itself from the US-led war on terror. Very few discussed the religious and ideological aspects of extremism. They considered Talibanisation to be an outcome of state polices, and the state’s failure to enforce Islamic law in the country. The teachers also expressed concern over the ‘Westernisation’ of Pakistani society.

Such narratives are also reflected in public opinion, and policymakers follow the same discourse. Even the debate in the right-wing media reflects the same approach.

The opinions of those that are among the first targets of extremism are of obvious significance. Public opinion is shaped by the media as well as by religious and political leaders. It ultimately influences the political trends that a society is witnessing. But signs of confusion are discernible in public opinion with regard to extremist and violent groups.

Another survey conducted by the institute to map the political behaviour of the masses revealed that though more than 56pc of Pakistanis acknowledge the services of religious scholars for Islam, over 53pc oppose a political role for the scholars. Public opinion considers the provision of justice and basic necessities as crucial to the exercise of countering extremism.

Interestingly, marginalised segments of society including religious, sectarian and cultural minorities, women and those associated with the creative arts appear to hold a different view of extremism.

According to the survey, they unanimously defined extremism as imbalanced ideological attitudes — attitudes that were conceived in a state of mind where an individual regards himself as superior to others and acts as an inquisitor. They classified the causes behind extremism as falling under three main categories: the misinterpretation of religion, political, economic and social inequalities and the lack of rational and logical behaviour.

Such divergent perceptions on extremism are not surprising as the Taliban in the tribal areas, the Malakand region and adjacent parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa first targeted women, confining them to their homes and banning their entry in markets.

Girls’ schools, Sufi shrines, cultural heritage sites and music shops have been torched and bombed. Violent activities and threats by the Taliban brought cultural activities and creative expressions, such as painting and poetry, to a halt in the affected areas.

Each segment of Pakistani society has its own viewpoint on extremism and on how to counter it. The prevalence of diverse and often conflicting viewpoints makes it almost impossible for society to generate a collective response to issues of extremism and terrorism.

Whereas the intellectuals lay more emphasis on ideological and empirical aspects when it comes to countering extremism, social experts and religious scholars vehemently assert that that is not an effective solution.

More comprehensive studies and analyses may yield a clearer answer, but can the state afford to prioritise any particular set of causes said to be responsible for extremism and terrorism? Can the rationalisation of certain ideological, political and socio-cultural thinking patterns provide a quick fix for terrorism? Especially when views on extremism and also terrorism are paradoxical?

At the same time, adjusting counter-extremism goals in the narrow operational framework of counterterrorism is an uphill task. Western counterterrorism frameworks cannot help Pakistan. In these frameworks, extremism and terrorism are not separated and a single policy is followed to deal with both challenges.

The reason is that the challenge of terrorism in the West mainly originates from parallel societies of immigrant communities there. Adopting such an approach here would be devastating, as terrorism is not a community-oriented phenomenon in Pakistan.

The government has to focus on countering terrorism to bring down the level of violence in the country. Until violence in the country is not reduced, both state and society will continue to suffer from the chicken and egg syndrome.

Courtesy Dawn , Seo 08, 2013

A narrow agenda
Published: Sep 02, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

IT appears the prime minister’s revised offer of talks to the militants in his first address to the nation accentuated the existing differences among the latter on how to respond.

This was demonstrated by the conflicting responses from Asmatullah Muawiya, commander of the so-called Punjabi Taliban, and Shahidullah Shahid, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman. It remains to be seen whether the government is consciously trying to create rifts or it is a natural outcome of the negotiation process.

Some media reports indicate that Muawiya’s faction of the Punjabi Taliban and some other militant groups are willing to engage in talks. Assessing the extent of rift within the Taliban ranks in the context of negotiations is thus important.

First, let’s see what is happening on the ground. Media reports and sources privy to emerging developments suggested that the government had already established indirect communication with different factions of the Taliban with the help of religious scholars and tribal elders, although the TTP has since denied this.

Before the denial, indications were that these scholars and elders had won the confidence of the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network before initiating the peace process.

The TTP’s core leadership, led by Hakeemullah Mehsud, is still reluctant to engage in peace talks. The Swat, Darra Adam Khel and Mohmand Agency chapters of the TTP will go with Mehsud. That implies Hakeemullah Mehsud still holds the key to peace talks.

But the emerging divergent views from within the umbrella organisation of the TTP have impacted the group’s militant operations as it was largely dependent on the Punjabi Taliban for its operations in the Punjab and Islamabad area.

There are also reports that pro-talks elements within the Taliban ranks are trying to revive the Shura-i-Murakeba, which was formed to resolve internal differences.

Initiated and brokered by Al Qaeda, the shura served as an alliance of sorts for the Haqqanis, the Mehsud-led TTP and Taliban groups led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur and Mullah Nazir. It played an important role in resolving the differences within the TTP and in keeping the group united.

The shura had become almost non-functional after the killing of Taliban commanders Mullah Nazir and Waliur Rehman Mehsud in two separate drone strikes.

The purpose behind reviving the shura is to bring together all Taliban groups within and outside the fold of the TTP on a single platform to develop consensus on peace talks with the government. It is yet too early to predict the success or failure of this initiative.

It is, however, somehow foreseeable what they could demand from the government if all Taliban groups come under one umbrella and do away with the government’s ‘quandary’ of who it should talk to.

The militants’ previous charter of demand, which was released last year, included conditions of non-interference from Pakistan in the Afghan war and constitutional and foreign policy reforms in line with the precepts of the Quran and Sunnah.

The militants also demanded that Pakistan refocus on the war of ‘revenge’ against India. Interestingly, these demands were presented by Muawiya and endorsed by the TTP’s top leadership.

In the current scenario, according to some media reports, Taliban groups are emphasising a general amnesty for Taliban militants, release of their prisoners and non-interference in their affairs with foreign militants and engagement in Afghanistan.

The government demands are for the Taliban to detach themselves from sectarian organisations like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and elimination of militant operations inside Pakistan.

If it is correct and the government is pursuing this narrow agenda, it throws up a lot of questions. This approach will not lead to a permanent solution even if it provides temporary respite from terrorist attacks.

Instead, the focus should be on dismantling and neutralising the militant groups and reintegration of the militants into society.

This objective can be achieved through a well-crafted and vigilantly designed negotiation policy, which would not only cover internal security issues but also the regional, ideological and political aspects of the larger question of national security.

The lesson that the government should learn from the best practices of negotiations with non-state actors across the world is that this process should be a long one otherwise militants will continue to challenge the government.

Apart from the conditions put forth by both sides, if the government plan is to weaken the terrorists while triggering internal differences, the chances of success of such a strategy would depend on the terrorists’ internal mechanism to counter the attempt.

So far they have remained attentive on that front and have foiled most such endeavours, including the attempt at exploiting differences among Hakeemullah Mehsud and Maulvi Faqir Muhammad, the head of TTP’s Bajaur chapter, Waliur Rehman and other small commanders of the Kurram and Khyber agencies.

As mentioned earlier, the Shura-i-Murakeba was formed for this purpose. Though the motives of revival of the shura are different this time, this attempt could see the coming together once again of groups that have recently revealed rifts among themselves.

Even if the government succeeds in creating rifts among militants, it would only provide temporary relief on the security front and give the government more time to evolve a better counterterrorism mechanism.

But how will the government handle and deal with militant groups that detach themselves from the TTP? Would they be allowed to launch their militant campaigns from Pakistani soil against other countries, as in the case of the Uzbek and Tajik militants that have become a liability for Afghanistan and Pakistan?

At every step, the government will have to face many dilemmas. Success on the counterterrorism front will depend on how it responds to these challenges. Ignoring valid questions can prove devastating. At least this is one lesson that the new government should learn from previous governments’ counterterrorism practices.

Courtesy Dawn , Seo 01, 2013

Intellectual deficit
Published: August 31, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

AS Mohammad Sikandar’s Islamabad adventure unfolded on our TV screens, two very significant developments failed to attract the attention of the media: the security forces unearthing a reportedly Al Qaeda/Taliban-linked communication hub in Lahore and the recovery of more than 100 tons of explosive material in Quetta.

It was not so much the absence of news sense as a weak threat perception that compelled the media to ignore these developments and focus on the lone wolf from Hafizabad.

The media people will have their own arguments, some of them logical, supporting their response, but only a few will admit that Pakistan’s media lacks professional capacity and expertise vis-à-vis terrorism.

There is a dearth of scholarship and expertise on the topic even among some of the leading anchorpersons and opinion-makers based in federal and provincial capitals.

Think of TV talk shows on security issues. Everything is monotonous, repetitive, superficial and at times misleading and annoying — from anchors to experts, from topics to content, and from analyses to recommendations.

The print media is not very different from its electronic counterpart, with the exception of some op-ed pieces and editorials which actually contribute to the issue. On the whole, the print media too reflects serious intellectual deficit on the subject of terrorism.

While the entire nation has long faced the direct and indirect consequences of terrorism, much of the media debate on the subject ends up confusing public opinion by oversimplifying and externalising the threat. Interestingly, many opinion leaders still avoid naming terrorist groups and their leaders.

One may link the media’s clumsy response to issues of militancy and terrorism to the overall intellectual deficit that pervades almost all spheres of life in the country.

A famous proverb by Chinese strategist Sun Tzu offers the students of strategic studies an insight on such attitudes: “know your enemy, know yourself, in 100 battles, you will never be defeated; if ignorant of both your enemy and of yourself, you are sure to be defeated in every battle”.

Apart from public debate and the role of opinion leaders, the academic discourse on the subject is also weak. Empirical and methodologically sound scientific research is a particularly significant missing link in the academic discourse focused primarily on the political and ideological aspects of the problem. Most of it is neither relevant to the emerging realities nor has much to say about the future course of action to tackle terrorism and related issues.

Indeed, the insight on threat perception, evidence base and projections that is critical to formulating effective policies is missing across the board — from the Pakistani media to the academia and intelligentsia to the political leadership.

The consequences? Militants are far ahead when it comes to propagating their ideology. The people have confused views on the militants and militancy. Security forces fighting the militants are demoralised. The state is still looking for a counterterrorism policy.

The achievements of the security and intelligence agencies in Lahore and Quetta in unearthing a militant network and recovering a huge cache of explosive material, respectively, should be carefully analysed; even a small clue can lead to significant discoveries. This is a general principle across the world. Failure

to do so will provide militants an opportunity to recover and strike again by changing their tactics.

Unfortunately, it is probable that the law enforcement agencies will lose this opportunity to expand the scope of their investigations. In the absence of a firm tradition to analyse their failures, it is hardly likely that security agencies will build upon these or other successes.

Every law enforcement agency understands the dynamics of terrorism threats and counterterrorism measures. Each knows that the five major targets of the terrorists are the security forces, sectarian rivals, political leaders, foreigners and foreign interests, and public and private infrastructure mainly communication networks and properties.

The terrorists’ strategies are also well-known — suicide attacks, targeted killing, guerilla-style operations at sensitive installations, car bombs and improvised explosive devices.

The operational areas of the militants are specific, and the groups, their locations and their support bases are known. Even vulnerabilities are known, and the terrorists’ future targets, strategies and tactics which they have yet to employ in Pakistan, are identified.

State institutions know how to counter these threats and they have tried to respond accordingly. The state knows it can ban and restrict terrorist groups, their publications and public appearances.

The state can take several countering measures, among them the introduction of new legislation, developing an effective intelligence-sharing mechanism, tightening border security and granting special powers to security forces and courts to speed up trials of suspected militants. It knows the long-term implications of terrorism and has included political measures like talks and truces in its response.

But is it as simple as all that? It appears that the dynamics of terrorism and counterterrorism are quite easy to understand. But ask implementing agencies and they say it is complex. Most importantly, in the context of counterterrorism, using the available resources effectively is as necessary as understanding the nature of the threat.

A phrase in counterterrorism and counter-insurgency studies is “think beyond conventional measures”, but this is not easy to do. This idea has generated some responses in security circles but the terrorism challenge will not go away simply because of isolated responses here and there.

At a certain level, even these responses can be connected to evolve an effective protection mechanism against terrorism. Many advocate a cycle of reforms in the security sector — from better policing, intra-departmental coordination, proper judicial response, and cyber security — to counter terrorism and terrorism financing. But what is needed to evolve these initiatives is an overall recovery from the prevailing intellectual deficit.

Both the state and society need to combine their strengths to not only evolve counterterrorism measures but to also encroach on the ideological and political domain of the militants.

Courtesy Dawn , August 25, 2013

The Punjab factor
Published: August 31, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

Punjab serves not only as an ideological hub of militancy but also as an important source of logistics and recruitments for the militants

If the media reports are true that the government has decided to launch a serious operation against Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Punjabi Taliban in Punjab, it indicates a major shift in threat perception of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leadership.

Also, there are reports that despite receiving threats from the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the government has decided to carry out death penalty for three militants belonging to outlawed groups. If that happens, nothing more will be required to prove the seriousness of the government to establish the writ of law.

The launch of anti-terrorism campaign from Punjab will not only serve larger political and security purposes related to countering terrorism but will also contribute to efforts meant to counter influences of violent and extremist ideologies and groups.

The political yields for Punjab, taking a lead in counterterrorism campaign, would be evidently promising as the security policy of PML-N-led government in Punjab during the last five years was a tricky one. The Punjab government was seen by many as shying away from even criticising the militants.

The PML-N has to change this impression. Although its conciliatory approach towards the militants had made the province relatively more secure compared to other regions of the country, yet the militant groups based in Punjab continued to play havoc with the lives of people in other parts of the country.

The May 2013 election seems to have changed the whole scenario where the PML-N should not continue its Punjab-oriented approach as it has to share the burden of maintaining security of the country. Now, it needs a national approach to deal with the menace of terrorism. Second, the people rejected the other sectarian and pro-militant forces in the election, which boosted the confidence of the new government to take measures to curtail down the power of militants.

As the biggest province of the country, Punjab has to set a precedent for other provinces in countering terrorism. The Punjab comprises 55 per cent of the total population, shares 55per cent of the country’s resources, shapes the political trends and is considered the custodian of ideological and strategic interests of the country. At the same time, as Punjab is the biggest hub of religious and sectarian organisations and groups in the country, it shapes the contours of religious politics and movements, and also serves as an epicentre of sectarian and militant trends.

According to statistics, 219 out of 243 religious organisations in Pakistan have their headquarters in Punjab and the remaining have their strong network in the province. These organisations are working for multiple agendas — from transforming the society, enforcement of Shariah laws, establishment of Khilafah, to achieve sectarian goals and to achieve Pakistan’s strategic and ideological objectives — through militancy.

Lahore, which is considered the cultural capital of the country, can also be described as the capital of religious organisations, where 180 organisations are operating. Multan is the second major hub in the province where 55 religious organisations have their headquarters.

Why religious groups focus on Punjab? The answer is simple: Punjab always remains the centre of political and strategic powers and no political movement can succeed without a support-base in Punjab. At the same time, a relatively better economic growth in Punjab also works as a pull factor to attract religious groups.

If we look at the geographical spread of religious seminaries, or madrassas, across Pakistan, more than of 65 per cent of the total madrassas in Pakistan are located in Punjab, and, interestingly around 50 per cent in urban and commercial areas of the province. The madrassa proliferation in Punjab has a link with the economic growth in the province and the presence of a wide network and culture of religious charity there. The maximum number of students and teachers in madrassas in Punjab hail from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Khyber Pkhtunkhawa, and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

The madrassas not only transmit certain extremist tendencies among students and the general public but also serve as an important source of recruitment for local militant groups, especially the sectarian groups.

Apart from madrassas, the charity and youth wings of the so-called jihadi and sectarian groups and organisations directly or indirectly provide human resource to terrorists. These organisations are operating freely across the province, despite facing repeated bans from the government.

The extremist indoctrination tools are also easily available in the province, and most of the militants’ publication houses are located in Punjab. The expansion of the media, owned or controlled by militant groups, is making the challenge of extremism more complex. Although the government has more than once attempted to ban many of these publications, they resurface under different names.

In this context, Punjab serves not only as an ideological hub of the militancy but also as an important source of logistics and recruitments for the militants. Major drivers of urban terrorism in the country are located in Punjab, without any discrimination among southern, central, or northern parts of the province.

These are a few among many reasons which require a proper response from Punjab as far as countering militancy and radicalisation are concerned.

Until now, the state’s counterterrorism approach has remained focused on tribal areas. Tribal areas should be an integral part of any countering strategy, but it would not be wise to ignore other parts of the country where the terrorists have a strong support-base.

It may not require a full-scale operation but a coordinated effort through inter-agency cooperation along with intelligence-sharing. Better policing is the best long-term antidote to urban crime and chaos. It will help disconnect urban terrorism linkages with insurgency in the tribal areas.

Countering extremism is an area where federal and provincial governments need to evolve a long-term strategy to confront terrorism. It will require a high level of vigilance and accurate threat perception, which has to be taken care of in the upcoming national security policy.

Courtesy The News , August 18, 2013

Clarity is still missing
Published: July 31, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE new government is in search of a counterterrorism policy. Meanwhile, militants that are evidently clear about their agendas and goals are busy expanding the range of their targets and diversifying their tactics.

The recent attacks on foreign mountaineers in Diamer and a university bus of women in Quetta are just two among many examples of the militants’ changing targets and attack tactics. These and other similar attacks challenge our law-enforcement agencies’ vigilance and response mechanism; they have failed to understand the exact nature and strength of the militant groups.

The protracted confusion about the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other militants and their acts that exists in Pakistan at the level of the state and society not only emboldens the militants but also provides them the space to expand and strengthen their operational infrastructure and capabilities and sharpen their destructive edge.

Those who are aware of Pakistani militants’ ideology and views about the country’s social order, political system and the Constitution find it extremely hard to find a reason why the militants would stop launching attacks. The years-long spree of militant attacks in Pakistan that has intensified over time offers concrete evidence to support this fact. The attacks also indicate that the militants think ahead of Pakistan’s security agencies and law-enforcement agencies.

A diachronic comparison of the militants’ targets and attack tactics reveals that until 2008, groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban were using sophisticated techniques that were used by insurgents in Iraq. Such tactics were employed, among others, in three major terrorist attacks in 2008: the attack on the Federal Investigation Agency building in Lahore and attacks on the Danish embassy and Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

In 2009, they further enhanced their operational strategies and successfully imitated the Mumbai attacks in four major assaults here: the attack on GHQ in Rawalpindi, that on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, and two on the Manawan Police Training School in Lahore.

Also, 2009 was the year when militants started targeting particular cities through repeated strikes to increase the impact of the terror, a trend that continues to date. For instance, in 2009, they targeted Peshawar, in 2010 it was Lahore and in 2011-12 they focused on Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar.

A major change noticed in the militants’ strategy in 2010 was the use of women in suicide attacks. While they have continued to do this, it has not become a popular trend. Cultural sensitivity could be one reason, but it also indicates that the militants have little female human resource available for the purpose.

In 2011 and 2012, extremists intensified sectarian-related attacks and increasingly resorted to targeted killings. Law enforcement agencies noticed that militants increasingly used the peripheries of cities, mainly recently developed settlements, as hideouts. Previously, they considered it easier to hide in more populated areas. This trend was noticed in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi.

The first half of this year reflected that militants’ international credentials are getting stronger. The news of the TTP’s engagement in Syria did not, indeed, surprise many as its links with some global jihadist groups are known to all. The attack on the foreign mountaineers also indicated that local extremist groups’ nexus with Al Qaeda had now been nurtured to the extent that they had started diversifying their targets in the international context.

Most often, militants use bogus identification and wear the uniforms of the security forces; this has become a major security concern. In the GHQ, Mehran and Kamra attacks the extremists wore army uniforms and used vehicles painted in the same manner as military vehicles. They used a similar tactic in transporting explosives as well.

On the whole, a strong sense of insecurity prevails in Balochistan, Fata, Karachi and most parts of KP. Fata has been a flashpoint of the TTP insurgency and terrorism since 2004. Successive governments have failed to evolve any approach, whether military, political, talks or reintegration, to address the issue.

Despite a continuing increase in the frequency and intensity of the attacks in the country and domestic and global pressures to counter the threat, the responses of security and political circles are still to be synchronised to build a counterterrorism policy. What does this delay yield except strengthening the militants and weakening the state responses?

The persistence of critical security issues and flaws in policy and coordination provided militants the opportunity to develop their nexus with criminal networks, which ultimately resulted in a rise in crime. Militants are now involved in abductions for ransom across Pakistan. Some reports also suggest that they are aiding criminals in their activities. With regard to the militant-criminal nexuses, Karachi, Balochistan, parts of Punjab, the tribal areas and even Islamabad have become critical areas.

The police force still needs to be equipped with new technologies and resources but utilising the resources available and allocated for the force is also a critical issue. In Islamabad, the police acquired two helicopters for aerial surveillance to counter terrorism and crime in 2012, but there were serious doubts if they would be able to use them effectively.

In the recent past, scanners worth billions of rupees were disposed of because of the reluctance to use technology and on account of incompetence of the police. It has been the same case with the elite police force, which is trained for specific targets, mostly dealing with terrorists or hardened criminals; its officials are instead made to perform functions that fail to utilise their specialised skills.

Terrorists are using diverse attack tactics to hit targets across Pakistan but the state and society are still unclear about where to start. A segment of the intelligentsia and the media is also promoting confusion while missing different socio-political and religious trends pertaining to terrorism.

The clarity that is required to address the issue is still missing and it seems that the new government has also failed to assess the nature of the threat. The government should realise that confusion on its part will be conceived as a victory by the militants.

Courtesy Dawn , July 28, 2013

Developing a strategy
Published: July 31, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE problem and its causes are very well known. What is missing is the political will, the drive and the confidence as well as institutional coordination.

It is expected that the likely exercise of a debate on the emerging security policy of Pakistan will lead to the development of some sort of consensus among the country’s political leadership. However, there are slim chances of there being useful and creative additions to what the new government has suggested so far.

According to media reports the proposed strategy would have five elements — dismantle, contain, prevent, educate and reintegrate. These five elements cover all the aspects pertaining to the strategic, the political, rehabilitation, reintegration and countering extremism.

There is nothing new in the strategy as most of its parts have been taken from counterterrorism approaches being practised in different regions of the world.

Without going into the details of whether the new strategy entails a well-thought-out process or is simply an exercise in ‘copy and paste’, one should bear in mind that Pakistan needs to start from somewhere, from some point. The flaws and gaps in the five-fold strategy will eventually be exposed and then repaired during the implementation phase.

As far as the will of the state is concerned, there is nothing more important at present than for it to go for urgent action with a view to reducing the risk of violence and militancy.

The major challenges are those related to removing ambiguities, which still persist at the policy level and that hinder the development of accurate perceptions of the threat level, and a demonstration of the state’s will to tread on the path it chooses.

The ambiguities can be removed through applying a proper framework. At present, Pakistan has in place a security framework that is strategically oriented. What has or has not been achieved through employing this framework is a separate question, but one thing is clear — it has intensified internal threats.

There was always a need to review this strategy and add nationalist and political attributes to it. It seems that the PML-N government is planning a different approach.

Economic recovery apparently seems to be a new component of the framework to achieve security. Focusing on religious militancy in Pakistan, an effective approach to countering terrorism cannot function properly until the threat perception is made clear.

This is a critical issue, which deals with threat perceptions of the security apparatus in Pakistan, and prevents the formulation of an effective response to security threats.

A clear approach based on the distinction between the challenges of a tribal insurgency and the pervasive terrorism in the country is required.

Foreign militants, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and other militant groups in Pakistan may have a nexus, but their operational strategies are different. Countermeasures at the security, political and ideological levels need to factor in those differences and respond accordingly.

Understanding the nature of the challenge in each context is always important. In this backdrop, understanding the structural complexities of the militant groups can help evolve better counter-strategies.

Complex organisational militant structures and nexuses are another major challenge. The nature and agendas of militant groups in Pakistan in recent years have been anything but stagnant. Militant groups have faced internal fissures, external pressures and have kept changing their strategies and nexuses.

The groups involved in terrorist activities across Pakistan are largely splinters of banned militant organisations, in addition to a few groups that have emerged recently.

The security challenges in the tribal areas and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are inherently different from those in Punjab and urban Sindh. The tribal areas are in the throes of an extremist militancy which has a local and regional context and the militants have resorted to violent acts of terrorism as a tactic against the security forces.

In mainland Pakistan, however, terrorism has its roots in ideological, political and sectarian narratives developed by the religious parties, militant groups and, at times, by the state itself.

The disparate nature of threats calls for an equally diverse approach to countering them. Comprehension of the ideological and tactical evolution of militant groups in Pakistan must be the first step towards evolving a comprehensive policy on militancy.

To develop an accurate threat perception, the local context and experience must be prioritised. Although considerable literature is available on militant groups in the West, most of it is based on secondary sources and is full of factual inaccuracies. An analysis based on faulty data obviously cannot lead to accurate threat assessments.

Furthermore, Pakistani militant groups have kept changing their strategies and tactics according to the circumstances and countermeasures that they have faced. The available data is old and few attempts have been made to update it with a view to understanding the patterns of evolution of militant outfits.

The demonstration of the state’s will to show that it is committed to eradicating the menace of terrorism is essential, not only to win the confidence of the public but to ensure the effectiveness of its policies as well.

It is equally important to develop transparency and monitoring mechanisms. How can a state demonstrate its will? No doubt the action taken is a measure of political will, but in countering terrorism, what is needed is a coordinated response involving different institutions.

In the Pakistani context, it can be demonstrated through a series of open trials of militants in court. These trials would not only help to identify the ‘foreign hand’ in terrorism in Pakistan, they would also go some way in improving the public’s and media’s understanding of the issue.

Open trials will help improve investigation, prosecution and other judicial procedures. Most importantly, it will make it easier to evolve a national consensus on the issue.

Courtesy Dawn , July 14, 2013

Chemistry of dialogue
Published: June 25, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

WHAT determines the need for initiating dialogue with the militants?

Some of the determinants could be militants’ destructive edge, their ideological influences, inability of the state and its security institutions to counter the threat, and the socio-economic and political implications of terrorism.

The state may consider all these, depending on the scale of the problem. Terrorism and extremism do not remain merely security issues once their drivers and motivating factors start getting justification in socio-cultural and ideological discourses.

No doubt, Pakistan’s security institutions are capable of flushing out militants from the tribal areas. But what next?

This is a key question. Some counterterrorism experts, political leaders and analysts present the 13 previous peace deals with the militants as evidence to prove the futility of dialogue, but they hardly try to analyse the outcome of the nine full-fledged and several small-scale military operations that were launched against militants over the past nine years or so.

The issue demands a thorough assessment of previous peace deals, military operations and also the advantages and disadvantages the militants have. It may help understand the need and methodology for initiating a dialogue with the militants or vice versa.

After 9/11, when the militants increased their activities in Fata, the military regime had tried to overcome the problem through the traditional tribal conflict resolution mechanism. The government at that time called jirgas and raised private tribal militias to punish those who had helped the militants, signed an agreement with tribes under the collective responsibility code, and gave incentives to tribal maliks.

The government distributed large sums of money on the recommendation of political agents among the maliks to betray the Al Qaeda militants they had sheltered. But the maliks kept the money without adhering to their commitments. The political administration also got involved in corruption and the misuse of such funds.

The objective of all these attempts was to expel the foreign militants from the area as their presence was putting international pressure on Pakistan. The military got an assurance from the Zalikhel Wazir tribes in its first-ever peace deal with the local tribesmen on June 27, 2002 that the property of anyone harbouring a foreigner would be destroyed.

But jirgas, lashkars, economic sanctions, plans to register foreign militants and monetary inducements failed to resolve the matter.

When these tactics failed, Pakistani troops launched their first full-scale military operation in South Waziristan in March 2004. The purpose of the operation was again to force local militants and tribesmen to expel the foreigners. The operation ended with an unwritten deal, known as the Shakai agreement.

Under the agreement, the main responsibility of the tribal elders was to assist the authorities in the registration of foreigners. While seeking clemency, the local and foreign militants were required to give up militancy and promise to not use Pakistan’s territory to launch attacks against any other country.

The first five major military operations in South and North Waziristan from 2002 to 2006 and the first five peace deals had the same focus: to expel or register foreign militants. Besides other structural and tactical flaws in these agreements, a significant strategic deficiency was a consistent failure to assess the militants’ ideological and political strength.

At the same time, the scale and scope of these operations and peace deals was partly conceived in the context of border security to allay the concerns of the US and coalition forces in Afghanistan about the presence of Al Qaeda in Pakistani tribal areas.

All these attempts failed. Apart from the mistakes made by the government and tribal elders, the foreign militants were the main spoilers of these deals.

There were two game-changing events which transformed this tribal and border conflict into a full-scale insurgency.

The first transforming factor was the North Waziristan peace agreement with Baitullah Mehsud in September 2006. The state had compromised on its basic demand to expel foreign militants to allow them to live peacefully in the tribal areas as long as they observed the law.

In the 16-clause agreement the state got the assurance that no one would attack law-enforcement personnel or state property. Baitullah had succeeded in securing a guarantee from the government that he would be allowed to enforce Sharia in the area in exchange for not sending his militants to Afghanistan.

Not only did he not keep his end of the deal, but the pact also helped the Taliban consolidate their grip on the area. Other militant groups followed in Baitullah’s footsteps. This deal had increased the appeal of the Taliban due to their enforcement of Sharia.

Baitullah Mehsud united the tribal Taliban groups under the banner of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan in 2007 and shaped the contours of the Sharia system in the tribal areas. He combined all available militant resources including Punjab-based groups and developed connections with foreign militants.

Courtesy Dawn

The dilemma of talks
Published: June 25, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

DIALOGUE is a meaningful process. It should not be denied or abandoned on the basis of certain apprehensions or presumptions about the outcome alone.

Somehow the ongoing debate on whether the government should talk to the Pakistani Taliban or not entails many assumptions and fears.

First, it is assumed that the outcome of peace talks would eventually put the Taliban at an advantage. Secondly, many analysts fear, based on past deals like the Swat agreement, that the Taliban would not abide by any peace agreement and would use it as a bid tostrengthen their position and further their agenda.

Such an outlook gathers more strength from some tactical-level objections which are raised concerning the methodology, process and conditions for peace talks.

Forinstance.auestions reeardinethe political face of Ehe Pakistani Taliban, the state talking from a position of strength, and the Taliban`s demands, reflect rigidity and a mindset on the part of both the state and the militants that tends to enter the talks process after getting 100pc assurance of success.

Interestingly, some analysts who oppose peace talks with the Taliban are not in favour of military operations against them, at least in North Waziristan. They argue that military operations will only lead to more terrorism in the country.

If neither talks nor the use of force offer a viable answer to militancy, then what other options do we have? Some might argue that instead of talking to the militants there is a need to focus more on countering urban terrorism. But such an approach would have very limited scope and would not address the problem of militancy in Pakistan`s tribal areas.

Looking into the diversity and geographical spread of the problems of militancy and violence facing Pakistan, it would be unrealistic to regard this approach as effective.

The previous government had done a commendable jo b in removing the constitutional and legal hurdles while approving the Fair Trial Bill, the National Counterterrorism Authority Bill and introducing amendments in antiterrorism laws.Most of these initiatives were taken near the completion of the previous parliament`s tenure. But these laws should help the new government in formulating a well-coordinated counterterrorism strategy.

The real question is: can we get a long-term, comprehensive solution by addressing only the technical aspects of the problem? Some analysts use the term `holistic approach` in this context, but the contours of this are not yet clear.

Yet dialogue remains an influential component of any conflict-resolution framework.

A peace process itself determines its modalities as it progresses. Initially, theonly thing which is required for initiating the process is the will of the state and non-state actors to engage in it.

The newly formed PML-N government has the public mandate to initiate peace talks with the Pakistani Taliban. As the PML-N leaders had been pronouncing this stance since the start of the electoral campaign, it could be argued that the people of Pakistan voted for the party for this particular aspect of their manifesto among others. The Taliban have also shown their willingness to talk to the government, though they have often changed their mind.

The militants are rational actors who use violence to maximise their perceived benefits economic, political or ideological. In response, the state has the right to evolve strategies to minimise the advantages the militants have in mind. One effective way to do so, ie minimise the militants` perceived advantages, is to engage them in talks.

The use of force against terrorists provides certain strategic advantages to the state, but terrorists seek to draw moral and political advantages from military actions. As terrorists enjoy more freedom in the propaganda war since they do not need to prove their claims contrary to the state, they exploit the `brutality` of the state to weaken its moral position.

The engagement of non-state actors in the peace process basically helps thestate neutralise their propaganda edge.

When they get engaged in peace talks they have to share certain responsibilities and their ability to indulge in propaganda is reduced.

No doubt the Pakistani Taliban are not a monolithic entity. Even the Tehreek-iTaliban Pakistan (TTP) is not a monolithic organisation. No one can deny the diversity among the militants` rank and file and their complex nexus with local and international terrorists in ideological and operational perspectives.

Despite the immense level of destruction caused by the Pakistani Taliban, the state never abandoned communication channels and still continues to engagetheir different factions. But the objectives of such attempts have been apparently tactical and limited in scope. The same channels can be employed for a broader reconciliation process.

The TTP`s demands are the most critical aspect of the issue.Reportedly, among other things the militants want the non-interference of Pakistan in the Afghan conflict as well as constitutional and foreign policy changes in accordance with their interpretation of Quran and Sunnah. The militants also call for a war of `revenge` against India.

Many people view these demands as unrealistic and non-negotiable. There is a need to explore that if the government does show flexibility, which sort of demands will the Taliban compromise on.

The government has not disclosed its demands yet, but a reduction in violence would be its top priority. In this perspective, will the government agree on the model of Sharia enforcement of 1993 between the then NWFP government and Sufi Mohammad? Or on a deal similar to the one that was signed between the Awami National Party government and Mullah Fazlullah more recently? It must be kept in mind that neither were successful.

One thing stands out: the peace process is always a long exercise. one should not expect that if the state takes this initiative, it would resolve the issue within weeks or months.

This is a game in which both state and non-state actors not only continue testing each other`s muscles, but temperaments as well.

Courtesy Dawn , June 16, 2013

Flawed perceptions
Published: June 3, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

ACADEMICIANS, analysts and policymakers in the West are extremely interested in understanding the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). In particular, universities and other academic and policy institutes in the US and the UK encourage students and scholars of Pakistani origin to research and develop their expertise on the group.

The extraordinary focus on the group is based on a widespread perception or fear in the West that the LeT has the potential to become a global terrorist organisation. Some commentators even describe the group as an ‘Al Qaeda in the making’. Certainly, this interest in the LeT has been instrumental in generating extensive research and policy literature on the group. But most of this literature is based on secondary sources, many of which are not even reliable.

The Combating Terrorism Centre at West Point has recently published another study on the LeT. Don Rassler and C. Christine Fair are the lead authors of the report titled The Fighters of Lashkar-e-Taiba: Recruitment, Training, Deployment and Death.

The study claims that it is more fundamental in focus and tries to establish a link between the group’s internationalism and its local strengths through a study of biographical information extracted from four Urdu-language publications produced by the LeT from 1994 to 2007. The study claims that the LeT’s local activities and infrastructure are and will remain the key source of its strength, even if the group decides to become more active in the international arena.

The study comes up with some interesting findings about ages, location, education, family and recruitment of LeT militants. According to the study, the average age when a recruit joins the LeT is about 16.9 years while the militants’ average age at the time of death is 21 years.

According to the study, the most common level of non-religious education before entry into the group is matriculation and the majority of the LeT’s fighters are recruited from across Punjab. This particular finding challenges the notion held by many Western and Pakistani scholars that south Punjab is a major militant recruitment base.

The study also found that 94pc of militants list Indian-held Kashmir as a fighting front and the districts of Kupwara, Baramulla and Poonch in Indian-held Kashmir account for almost half of all LeT militants’ death since 1989. These results are valid and somewhat endorse previously conducted similar studies. But these are not unique features of the LeT’s militant profile.

The same can be applied to other Pakistan-based militant groups such as Jaish-i-Muhammad, Harkatul Mujahideen and Harkatul Jihad-i-Islami (HuJI) etc, which were once engaged in Kashmir and Afghanistan.

With regard to family connections, which is a critical feature in the recruitment process, the study concludes that siblings and parents are central characters in the biographies and play important roles in the militants’ entry into LeT.

The biographical information, which is the basis for key arguments put forth by the study, is built upon the ‘wills’ of the militants that were frequently published in militant publications. It was compulsory for each recruit to submit his will to his in-charge after the completion of training and selection for jihad.

Again, not only the LeT but all other militant groups practised this. The wills were later used to highlight the jihad achievements of militants and ‘martyrs’ with a view to inspiring and recruiting youths.

The reliability of militants’ wills published in different militant groups’ periodic publications has always remained in doubt. As writing a will had been a compulsion, most militants would usually reproduce wills previously published in their respective groups’ publications and simply change names and locations. A review suggests that the wills published in the LeT or other groups’ publications were increasingly identical.

The details about families were the most unreliable part of these wills. There is credible evidence available to prove such details fake or wrong. In most of the cases, the first recruit from a family had faced serious resistance. Secondly, most militants kept their relationship or association with a militant group secret even from their families.

The situation was, however, different after a militant was killed. Families also reacted differently in such situations. While the notion of martyrdom gave a sense of pride and exaltation to certain middle-class families, for lower-income groups the death of siblings offered enhanced interaction with militant groups and also financial benefits. In many cases, these factors also encouraged parents to send their other offspring for jihad.

Many families of the dead militants were located in Punjab. Militant groups had not allowed their recruits to try to establish contact with family members, and many families registered complaints that could be found in police stations.

Another important aspect of militants’ biographical notes or wills is that these belong to the first generation of militants.

Militant groups stopped publishing wills after they faced a second ban in 2003 and resurfaced with different names.

In that context using these biographical notes to determine some recent trends does not seem relevant. At the same time, the study reflects a disconnect between analysis and the data used as evidence.

The fact is that  the post-9/11 scenario and the Lal Masjid saga transformed the characteristics of militants in Pakistan and that has renewed the threat as well. The traditional militant groups including the LeT, Jaish-i-Muhammad and HuJI have also undergone a major transformation. Their breakaway factions have become armies of Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. The leaderships of traditional militant groups have lost their grip over the militant infrastructure.

To understand the traditional militant groups is essential, but an assessment based on old and obsolete data can compromise the threat perception of practitioners and policymakers.

Courtesy Dawn , June 2, 2013

Master strategy
Published: May 23, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

A SORT of unprecedented political pragmatism has followed the 2013 election. As in other areas, improvement in the country’s security situation is also being projected by many who are optimistic about the incoming government’s ability to fight the menace of terrorism.

They allude to the Sharif brothers’ significant success in countering the threat of sectarian-related terrorism in Punjab during the late 1990s.

However, the present phase of terrorism and violence has no comparison with that of the 1990s. Most incidents of violence and terrorism in the 1990s were sectarian-related. There were few actors of violence.

The number of such incidents and resulting casualties was also remarkably low when compared to the present state of violence. Currently, the average number of fatalities per terrorist attack in Pakistan is about eight whereas the number of militant, insurgent and sectarian groups carrying out terrorist attacks has crossed 200.

The security policy of the PML-N-led government in Punjab during the last five years was a tricky one. The Punjab government was seen by many as shying away from criticising the militants.

Looking to the future, let us analyse the current and emerging security challenges for Pakistan and the vision, likely security policy and capacity of the incoming PML-N government.

Let’s assess the level of the challenge first. Pakistan faces multiple and disparate conflicts that tend to increase the risk of violence and insecurity each day. There is Taliban-led militancy particularly in Fata and KP, a nationalist insurgency in Balochistan, ethno-political violence in Karachi, and sectarian violence in some parts of the country.

All these forms of conflict have many variations and sub-tendencies which further intensify the risk and impact of the violence. These pose different threats and require different remedies. In general, certain frameworks are available to reduce the risk of violence and insecurity that range from the ideological to the strategic and economic. Pakistan is already using some of them. When Pakistan chose to be a part of the US-led war against terrorism, it had a strategic purpose. This strategic framework to achieve internal security remained functional until 2008 when the PPP-led government came to power.

While the PPP government failed to fully transform this strategic framework into a nationalistic or ideological framework, the government’s secular credentials added an ideological colour to the former. This resulted in increased ambiguity and confusion in the public on issues of extremism and terrorism that is clearly reflected in the opinion polls conducted during the last five years.

As suggested by its chief’s recent statements, the PML-N plans a different approach. Economic recovery apparently seems to be its master strategy to achieve security and counter terrorism.

The economic framework characterises terrorists as rational actors who use violence to maximise the benefit — economic, political or ideological. In response the state evolves strategies to minimise the advantages the terrorists have in mind. Political engagement and slow encroachment through administrative reforms and development are key tools in this framework. Every government with an economic agenda follows almost a similar approach and so will the PML-N government.

In Pakistan’s case, the state has already applied a level of deterrence, which did not achieve strategic success because its application was selective. For the new government, the expenditure on deterrence measures will be another critical issue and it is most likely that it will initiate talks with the militants. Mian Nawaz Sharif has already indicated that, and a Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesperson has also come up with a positive response. Nonetheless, the government will focus more on minimising costs both in economic and political terms.

In the given scenario, will it be possible for the new government to properly link the security policy with its master strategy of economic recovery? The existing frameworks were evolved around certain strategic needs. Can the government shift its focus or challenge these conventional frameworks? The economic framework provides a solution to immediate security needs, but its socio-cultural impact remains low and requires more liberal government credentials.

The new government will have to craft its strategy quite carefully. Keeping in mind the PML-N’s national and provincial track record, its recent election manifesto and the statements made by its leaders, it is most likely that the new government will evolve a defensive approach.

Obviously, Balochistan will be the top priority. The new government will have space to establish its goodwill. A broad-based provincial government, including the Baloch nationalist parties, with a development agenda can provide some relief to the province. Karachi will remain a critical issue even for the incoming government.

For the federal government, a good working relationship with the Sindh government and the political parties in the province, especially the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, will be essential to smoothly pursue economic recovery. The deterrence part of the agenda could be linked with the elimination of terrorists and criminal networks in the city but would be a difficult task to implement for the provincial and federal governments.

The mother of all ills will remain the militants present in the tribal areas and their affiliated groups across the country. Initially, a modest approach based on a political solution could be applied with reforms and a development strategy. The threat from TTP and Al Qaeda affiliates in the mainland could be countered through engaging their partners such as the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba etc.

The new government’s defensive approach can help to reduce the number of terrorist and other violent incidents. But it is difficult to predict whether this strategy will provide long-term and permanent solutions. There are two reasons behind this unpredictability. First, a master strategy needs a master narrative to counter extremist ideologies, which is still lacking. Secondly, the economic framework becomes inapplicable and ineffective in an environment where strategic interests dominate other interests.

Courtesy Dawn , May 19, 2013

Strategic burden
Published: May 9, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

DOES Pakistan still have a prominent position in the eyes of the Afghan Taliban? If not, then who does? Another related question is: who holds the key to peace and security in Pakistan and Afghanistan after the foreign forces exit the latter by 2014? At present, Pakistan and Afghanistan are suffering from extreme levels of insecurity and militant violence. However, the post-2014 scenario appears no better as there is an increased risk of insecurity and violence in both countries.

No doubt the Afghan Taliban hold the key to peace in the region. This is their perceived strength in addition to the terror they have generated across Afghanistan over the years. They have also managed to gradually reduce the space for Pakistan to use them as a tool of strategic manoeuvring.

Much of the debate on security and stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan is dominated by the strategic choices and priorities of the stakeholders, who use these to shape and direct their policy discourse. But Pakistan’s position is not yet clear. It does not appear to be prepared for the post-2014 scenario.

One reason behind this lack of clear policy on Pakistan’s part could be the ambiguity and confusion among its policymakers on the use of the Taliban as a balancing factor in Afghanistan. Though Pakistan denies this impression it has failed to convince the international community.

The Afghan Taliban have taken advantage of this impression and camouflaged themselves in Pakistan’s doctrine of strategic depth, thus making Pakistan’s policy responses even more confused. That is why while global policy circles are aware of the positions of stakeholders inside Afghanistan, they have a tough time spotting the Taliban accurately in these.

Let us see how the Taliban could behave post-2014. It is relevant to first look at the militant landscape in the region with a view to understanding the points of convergence and divergence among different groups and, most importantly, the sources through which they seek political and ideological legitimacy.

A cause has a central place in almost all aspects and affairs of any militant movement. Without an attractive cause, a militant movement is little more than a crime syndicate. The presence in Afghanistan of the US-led International Security Assistance Force, seen as the enemy by the Taliban, provides political legitimacy to them within their country and in Pakistan where they have taken refuge along with their foreign affiliates.

Of course, after 2014 political legitimacy will no longer be a strong source of inspiration and can provide some space to states to counter them on that front. It depends on both Kabul and Islamabad to seize this opportunity.

Though there are few chances of the militants’ source of ideological inspiration weakening, their ideological tendencies mainly breed on political and social causes.

Though all the Taliban and their foreign allies are part of one militant discourse, the groups operating from Pakistan have strong ideological credentials with deep-rooted sectarian tendencies. On the other hand, a nationalistic trait dominates the resistance within Afghanistan.

Nationalistic credentials allow the Afghan Taliban and other Afghan militant groups to craft better political strategies. So far the Taliban in Afghanistan have been successful in this regard, and have used their partners sheltering in Pakistan not only for operational purposes but also as proxies to counter Pakistani pressure or influence.

The Taliban have indeed put Pakistan in an awkward position — Pakistan cannot work its influence over them due to perceived strategic compulsions, nor can it persuade the Afghan Taliban to use their influence to get Pakistani militants to stop the violence inside Pakistan.

At the same time, the Afghan Taliban have successfully managed a separate channel for reconciliation without Pakistan’s consent or acquiescence. The Taliban not only brought the US from the battleground to the negotiating table, they also made Washington compromise its position on the issue of Taliban prisoners being held in Guantanamo Bay.

The US continues to insist on reconciliation contingent on the Taliban renouncing violence, parting ways with Al Qaeda and embracing the Afghan constitution. Though it will not be easy for the Afghan Taliban to renounce the militant network because of the latter’s influence over many Taliban factions and commanders including the Haqqanis, it would be interesting to see how the Taliban manage their relationship with Al Qaeda. The latter, together with foreign groups, can play the role of spoiler in case of any successful reconciliation attempt, but the Taliban know that it is largely because of Al Qaeda that the US engaged them.

It will be the responsibility of Mullah Omar to bring all the militant stakeholders on board on both sides of the Pak-Afghan border. That will not be a small challenge for Mullah Omar and one where failure would substantially weaken his position in the talks. This is about their internal dynamics, but they have proved themselves the movers and shakers in the whole withdrawal and reconciliation game. Violence is their real tool to keep shifting the balance in their favour.

Regional and international stakeholders are trying to adjust their strategic interests to a changing environment, and Pakistan is still struggling to find a way of incorporating its strategic interests in the region and outside.

A reduced role in the regional strategic equation would obviously be a headache for Islamabad. The dynamics of international engagement with Pakistan are changing as the international community’s concerns grow about Pakistan’s internal security and the presence of transnational terrorist networks on its soil.

The new political government will inherit this strategic burden. However it still remains to be seen whether it will try to find a new solution or continue with the last government’s approach. One hopes, however, that it is Pakistan’s internal security that forms the basis of the country’s emerging regional outlook.

Courtesy Dawn , May 5, 2013

In the throes of discourse
Published: April 22, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

INCONSISTENT and at times contradictory statements in the Urdu- and English-language manifestos of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) for the upcoming general elections eliminate the impression given by some political analysts that the party is taking a more pronounced anti-establishment stance and is struggling to go beyond religion-oriented politics.

The Urdu version of the JUI-F’s manifesto offers few variations on the party’s political objectives and targets as compared to its previous manifestos. The English version, which was distributed by the party to the foreign media and diplomatic missions in Islamabad, appears to be more comprehensive and modern in outlook.

While the Urdu version still contains clauses like compulsory jihad training and conservative views on women and minority rights, the English version carries slogans and phrases that speak of peace, freedom, humanity, and minority rights.

The anomalies in the manifesto could be described as an attempt by the JUI-F leadership to raise its ‘moderate’ credentials in the eyes of the foreign media and international community. They are also a reflection of the growing internal tensions and contradictions within religious parties whose leaderships may realise the implications of changing internal and external political scenarios but who lack the ability and methodology to pass on this realisation to their lower ranks and largely conservative supporters.

Though madressahs have increased their influence in mainland Pakistan, madressah students and teachers mainly come from the peripheries and lack the capacity to influence the local political discourse. In order to effect the required change, a good organisational network and likeminded people among the leadership are needed, and the JUI-F lacks both.

The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) nonetheless qualifies on both counts but it is persisting with its previous path despite the recent changes in the political landscape, and its manifesto reflects that it is still stuck to its traditional ways.

It would not be an easy task for religious political parties to suddenly divert from the traditionalist discourse they have cultivated and strengthened over the last 65 years. This discourse is two-fold: Islamisation and religio-socialisation.

They made early gains on the Islamisation front, by managing to define the ideological discourse of the state through the Objectives Resolution of 1949. Since then, they have remained in the forefront of the ensuing process of Islamisation of politics and the Constitution in Pakistan and gained considerable ground in these areas.

At the same time, they have been promoting a discourse of religious socialisation, or a process of education whereby one can learn to see the world through the lens of religious significance, and that dovetails with their political objectives. On that front too their achievements are significant and the trend of religio-socialisation is becoming increasing visible in society.

The ‘enforcement of divine law’ is the common agenda in the manifestos of all religious political parties. While their primary objectives also include plans for economic, political, constitutional and foreign policy reform, their emphasis is on complete Islamisation of the state and society. Like the JUI-F and JI, many of these parties advocate reforms but remain silent on how these would be translated into policy.

The mainstream political parties also share many objectives of the religious-political parties. The PML-N promises in its manifesto to turn the country into “a modern ideological Islamic state”. The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s statement of objectives focuses on ways of making Pakistan an ideal Islamic state. The PPP says “Islam is our way”. But if all political parties, excluding those who represent the left-wing side of the ideological spectrum, share the same vision, where is the point of divergence?

First, religious and religious-political organisations engage in multifarious activities, including the religio-socialisation process. On the other hand, religious parties distinguish themselves on the basis of religion and consider themselves the saviours of Pakistan’s Islamic ideology. They are generally suspicious of the country’s political leadership, and believe that it wants to turn Pakistan into a secular state.

The proliferation of religious organisations usually occurs on account of different interpretations of religious teachings along sectarian lines. For instance, when the JUI-F says that no law can be made against the Quran and Sunnah, it seeks to confine legislation within the Hanafi framework. The JUI-F claims that the state must follow the majority’s faith in its legislative function.

Other sects want political protection and endorsement of their respective religious ideas. Most of these religious parties believe that parliament should only identify the areas where Sharia legislation is required. They do not envisage a role for parliament beyond that nor are they clear on what role it will play after Islamisation of the constitution and legislation is accomplished.

In the last two decades, the orthodox religious-political organisations, especially the JUI-F, have gained more from the electoral process and influenced the masses more than the JI has. The JUI-F, the Barelvi Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan and Salafist Markazi Jamiat Ahl-i-Hadith are conservative in this regard and focus on local issues. This despite the fact that the JUI-F had links with the Taliban in Afghanistan and groups affiliated with it engaged in militancy in India-held Kashmir.

On the national level, these organisations share common agendas, but their distinct worldviews make a huge difference to their approach. After 9/11, for instance, the JI mainly focused on global issues to express solidarity with the Muslim ummah.

The party continued to protest against the US even as Pakistan was experiencing severe political and economic crises. More importantly, the JI mobilised its supporters among the urban middle class since they were more attracted to such causes, although their strength has rarely helped the party on the national level.

So far, the religious political discourse is a significant caveat in the way of major electoral success for religious parties. This cannot be removed by manipulating the Urdu and English versions of manifestos. It requires a change in approach, one which must be aligned with ground realities.

Courtesy Dawn , April 21, 2013

In search of hope
Published: April 8, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

IS the ideological scrutiny of our future lawmakers largely a reflection on the existing religiosity in Pakistani society or an indication of the inefficacy and lack of capacity permeating most state institutions?

The scrutiny of lawmakers is not a unique case as all the public service candidates in Pakistan have to pass a similar test. But it is quite relevant to examine whether such scrutiny contributes to the improved institutional effectiveness and professional capacity of our civil servants, or whether it encourages those elusive moral standards that only serve to propagate camouflaged institutional ineffectiveness and the lack of professionalism.

Also, will the ongoing scrutiny encourage the lawmakers to strengthen their resolve and capacity in areas of governance and service delivery or provide them with yet another opportunity to gain political strength merely on the basis of religio-ideological ethos?

Both considerations, religiosity and the lack of capacity, could hold true in certain contexts, but some recent surveys and research studies endorse the former. Their findings indicate that the majority in Pakistan consider religion essential for the smooth functioning of the state and that currently most Pakistanis think the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Though the common man has hardly ever been satisfied with the functioning of the Pakistani state, a recent survey-based study by the British Council titled Next Generation Goes to The Ballot Box came up with the finding that Pakistani youths have increasingly started considering Islamic Sharia rule as the answer to their dissatisfaction.

The survey also revealed that the Pakistani youth showed more trust in the army than in democratic institutions. A national-level survey in 2008-2009 by the research organisation, the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, had also revealed that more than half, 55 per cent, of about 1,600 respondents questioned in a survey believed that religious scholars and clerics were serving Pakistani society and Islam better than the political and military leadership and academics/intellectuals.

Though the British Council survey did not explain the correlation between the youths’ trust in Sharia and in the army, the impression that comes across is that an authoritarian mindset is in the making, for which democratic political and religious parties hold little appeal.

Similar studies conducted by Pakistani and foreign scholars and research institutions also show that the space for moderate discourse is shrinking in Pakistan and that paradoxical thinking patterns prevail.

These paradoxical thinking patterns can be summed up as a desire for 1) Pakistan to be politically sovereign and assertive, with all the benefits of international engagement without compulsions or reciprocity; 2) economic self-reliance with the advantages of globalisation; 3) individual freedom of choice but ‘piousness’ and conservatism at the societal level; 4) a tendency to be ideologically less receptive to new ideas; and 5) emotionally reactive and inclined to put the burden on others.

The average Pakistani wants to be progressive in a conservative framework. He is caught between two competing narratives: the one which is primarily grounded in religion and is now championed by militant groups makes him want to see his religion triumph; the other, usually put forward by the government and sections of the media, is geared towards making people realise the significance of progressing in the world.

Nevertheless, there is a flicker of hope. On the whole the findings of the British Council survey mentioned earlier paint a pessimistic picture but underlying the survey are some rays of optimism.

For instance, despite their lack of trust in democratic institutions, the overwhelming majority of Pakistani youth respondents (40pc) say they will definitely vote in the election while 21pc plan to do so. Forty-five per cent say it is the responsibility of every citizen to vote while 25pc think their vote will make a difference. Interestingly, those who gave a negative answer (34pc) did not get registered or do not have a national identity card.

A Norwegian research scholar Dr David Hansen explains Pakistani people’s political and ideological attitudes as “rhetorically radical” and “practically moderate” — meaning that the majority in Pakistan has a tendency to voice quite radical expressions, but remains moderate in actions.

In many cases, however, people have a tendency to be moderate and radical on a selective scale. At the same time, religion is an issue of identity for the average Pakistani but he is confused on whether he should seek guidance from it for solutions to all his problems.

This is demonstrated by a large proportion of respondents in a survey by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies supporting the country’s hybrid legal system in which the Sharia is not the only source of law. However, in the same survey a fairly large percentage also thought that democracy would not make a difference in dealing with the challenges facing them. The same confusion can be seen in society overall.

This could be due to the fact that sometimes surveys jump to conclusions by taking into account the level of religious education of a common person in Pakistan. A recent study by three US researchers acknowledges, “there is no evidence that support for Sharia per se or even support for parties espousing Sharia indicates a fundamental support for militant groups”.

One optimistic way to move forward is to use the available space to stop religio-sensitive political perceptions from transforming into rigid thinking patterns. But sadly the state institutions are committed to further strengthening the religio-ideological discourse in the country and setting high moral standards, which may not be achieved by the custodians of these institutions themselves. State behaviour is a vital impediment to reversing regressive discourse.

Courtesy Dawn , April 07, 2013

Who stands where
Published: March 25, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

THIS time last year, drone attacks, suspended Nato supplies, trade with India and, above all, relations with the US were issues that were causing political temperatures in the country to rise. The Difa-i-Pakistan Council (DPC) held centre stage, followed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F (JUI-F) and other mainstream and fringe religious and political parties.

The national and international media were speculating that the DPC could be transformed into a broader electoral alliance just as the Afghan Defence Council had given birth to the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) in 2002.

The PTI was ranked as the most popular emerging force with the ability to exploit religious and right-wing tendencies. In the last five years, religious parties have dominated street politics, from the DPC’s ‘long march’ to the sit-in of Tahirul Qadri’s Tehreek-i-Minhajul Quran in Islamabad.

So what has happened in a year that all the rhetoric, the slogans and the security- and foreign policy-based political issues have disappeared from the political scene? Where do the actors who were exploiting these issues stand now?

Although not much has changed on the security and foreign policy fronts, the religious actors are decidedly getting less attention in public debates and even on the media. The religious parties are struggling to make an alliance with mainstream political parties, at least to secure their representation in parliament. With the exception of JUI-F, they figure nowhere in the public’s perception. Even for the PTI it has been a struggle to sustain its momentum in terms of popularity.

The electoral milieu has entirely changed the scenario. The dynamics of electoral politics are different from what passes off as the normal political discourse in the country. The common citizen prioritises its day-to-day issues and considers which candidates and parties can provide solutions to his problems.

Of course, race, language, kinship and biradri remain important to him, but he also follows the collective wisdom of society. The composition of collective wisdom includes social, cultural, religious, geographical aspects, and a sense of economic and community empowerment.

The religious parties try to change this composition while exploiting one tendency or another. The religious-political parties engage in multifarious activities, including a process of religio-socialisation. They believe that political parties are not capable of bringing about the desired change since they only follow political norms and are accommodating of global, political, strategic and economic trends.

On the other hand, religious parties distinguish themselves on the basis of religion and consider themselves as the saviours of Pakistan’s Islamic ideology. They are generally suspicious of the country’s political leadership, which they believe wants to turn Pakistan into a secular state.

The religious parties shape certain ideological and nationalist narratives and paint themselves as custodians of the ideological interests of the country, but these narratives and slogans do not provide a solution to the problems that the common man faces everyday. This can be depicted as the gap between conceptual and physical needs, which religious and idealist parties fail to fill.

Ultimately, the religious parties are then only able to act as a pressure group, and try to influence the policy discourse of the country and their scattered support base, which is usually confined in urban pockets and helps them stay relevant in the democratic electoral process.

The mainstream parties, which try to maintain a centralist position, make an alliance with religious parties to gain two significant advantages: the obvious advantage of securing as many seats in parliament as they can; and attainment of ideological legitimacy.

There is a realisation in the main religious parties that they need to change their style of politics. The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) had tried to do so and formed the Pakistan Islamic Front in 1993 to appeal more to the common man. The JUI-F managed to be part of the mainstream democratic discourse to increase its acceptance level, but its close association with the establishment remained a vital constraint that held it back.

Now major religious parties are striving to remove the tag of the establishment’s allies. The JUI-F seems to believe that it has accurately assessed the changing scenario and is taking a more pronounced anti-establishment stance and trying to gain ground in the political mainstream. However, the party is hampered by a conformist support base and deficient organisational structure. The madressahs have increased their influence in mainland Pakistan, but the madressah students and teachers mainly come from the peripheries and lack the capacity to influence the local political discourse.

In order to effect change, a good organisational network and likeminded people among the leadership are needed, and the JUI-F lacks both. The JI qualifies on both counts, but it is persisting with its previous political path despite the recent changes in politics, which is turning against the establishment.

Some negative influences from changes in the Arab world have arrived in Pakistan. Each school of religious thought is trying to interpret these through sectarian lenses.
As tension increases in the Persian Gulf, the sectarian divide is increasing in Pakistan, which could prove a pull factor in the religious parties’ attempts to make their appeals more public.

One crucial aspect of the religious parties in Pakistan is their inter-sectarian electoral alliances, which they consider a major source of strength. The attempts to revive the MMA can be seen in this perspective, but such an alliance is only possible when the religious parties face common challenges and the requisite atmosphere for their style of politics is available where they can exploit ideological narratives.

The atmosphere was available in 2002 but had started losing its allure before the 2008 general elections. The current political scenario indicates that the religious parties have a challenge on their hands, i.e. to clarify their position with respect to the current state of violence in the country.

The mainstream political parties will certainly feel less pressure on that front as they had never claimed to be the custodian of the ideological realm of the country.

Courtesy Dawn , March 24, 2013

Violent elections
Published: March 11, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

WILL the upcoming elections be violent? Can a substantial surge in incidents of violence and terrorism cause a delay? These and similar questions are in many minds these days.

There is no doubt that insecurity has gripped certain communities. Their concerns are genuine, but will such fears be eliminated if elections are delayed? Or, to put it another way, how does a delay in elections help achieve peace and security?

Statistically speaking, the security situation in Pakistan was not ideal in 2008 during the electoral campaign period. As in 2013, the first two months of the last election year were very violent and a total of 374 terrorist attacks and incidents of ethno-political violence were reported, claiming the lives of 1,080 people. According to data compiled by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies, the first two months of 2013 were somewhat more violent compared to the corresponding months of 2008. A total of 458 reported terrorist attacks and incidents of political violence have so far claimed the lives of 1,135 people this year.

A comparison of the number of terrorist attacks and consequent casualties during these two periods, January and February in 2008 and 2013, suggests that the militants’ operational capacity has increased. For instance, nationalist insurgents in Balochistan killed 37 people by launching 94 attacks in the first two months of 2008, but in the same months of 2013, they managed to kill 83 in 68 attacks. Incidents of ethno-political violence have taken more than 40 lives so far in 2013, while the casualties in such incidents were 22 in the first quarter of 2008.

A major difference, however, is the adoption of a new attack tactic by Sunni sectarian militant groups: to engineer massive blasts in Shia-populated areas. This has significantly pushed up the casualty figures. On the whole, sectarian violence has increased in Pakistan in recent years and more significantly in the past few months, mainly in Quetta and Karachi. In the first two months of 2013, 60 sectarian-related terrorist attacks took 238 lives, but during the corresponding period in 2008 only one such incident was reported, with no casualty.

Can insecurity become an excuse for delaying elections? Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf managed to hold elections during an almost similarly volatile situation. Why should the Election Commission of Pakistan and a constitutionally appointed caretaker government not be able to?

As far as violence during elections is concerned, that may continue following the same trends, particularly sectarian violence. Notwithstanding the operational capabilities of terrorists, including factions of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Punjabi Taliban, it is imperative to look at the patterns.

First, consider the geographical spread of terrorist attacks. Currently, sectarian terrorist attacks are mostly confined to Karachi and Quetta, and the TTP and its affiliates are active in certain areas of Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; usually, these groups prioritise the targeting of the security forces and pro-state tribal elders. So far this year, the TTP has killed 119 personnel of the security forces in 68 attacks; during the same time period in 2008, the security forces suffered 303 fatalities in 152 attacks.

In fact, the TTP started the systematic killing of political workers after the elections of 2008. They got their inspiration from the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. For the majority of the people, it was difficult to imagine that Benazir Bhutto’s assassination was the handiwork of terrorists, and this encouraged the latter.

In 2008, terrorists killed 31 political leaders and workers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, mainly belonging to the ruling Awami National Party (ANP) and the PPP. It is not hard to understand why: apart from having generally secular credentials, the government run by these parties was an ally of the US.

Initially, only one faction of the TTP led by Mullah Fazlullah launched this campaign but later other groups also got involved. In this context, it is important to look into the behaviour of other militant groups.

The TTP and its affiliated groups are against the democratic system. They want to demolish the current democratic system in Pakistan and replace it with an Islamic caliphate system. But will they try to hit public places and rallies, which can further alienate them from society? At a time when terrorists have successfully created an atmosphere of fear for political parties, which are begging for peace, they would be foolish to dissipate this impression and be on the receiving end of public outrage by targeting rallies.

Actors of violence have destructive capacity across the country, but they have many constraints in terms of sabotaging the electoral process. Apart from their strategic choice, which is mentioned earlier, the overall religious discourse is not in their favour. The pervading sense of insecurity and fear could have a psychological impact on election campaigns and also on voter turnout. It could prove difficult to hold big public rallies, particularly in areas prone to violence and terrorism; but it could also provide the opportunity to political parties to employ more modern techniques to reach out to their voters, such as effective use of the media and expansion of door-to-door campaigns.

There is, nonetheless, little chance that any major political party will come up with a clear approach on internal security and terrorism to seek the public mandate.

Sectarian terrorism and ethno-political violence, mainly in Quetta and Karachi, may continue along a similar pattern, but the electoral process can continue. Any delay in the elections will not only badly damage the political discourse in the country; it will also convey a sense of victory to violent actors.

Courtesy Dawn , March 10, 2013

The Punjab factor
Published: Feb 28, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE persistent structural flaws in information processing and coordination among intelligence and law-enforcement agencies were once again exposed during the Supreme Court suo motu hearing of the Hazara killings.

The court observed that either the intelligence agencies were negligent in performing their duties or they did not share the gathered intelligence with police and other law-enforcement agencies.

Poor coordination among intelligence and law-enforcement agencies is a long-standing issue in Pakistan and one of the main hurdles in evolving a comprehensive strategy to counter urban terrorism. Another crucial factor is the absence of inter provincial coordination to counter common security threats.

Though law and order is a provincial subject and federating units are independent when it comes to evolving their own security policies the nature of threats posed by urban-based terrorist groups demands broader and consensual strategies and coordination among the provinces.

After February’s carnage in Quetta, the Punjab government has once again come under criticism for what is described by some political analysts as its political strategy of appeasement towards violent sectarian groups based in Punjab in return for electoral success in the upcoming general elections and its continuous denial of the presence of terrorist networks in the province.

There is evidence to suggest that the Punjab government’s conciliatory approach towards the militants has made the province relatively more secure compared to other regions of the country in the past one to two years. On the other hand, the sectarian militant groups based in Punjab continue to play havoc with the lives of people in other parts of the country.

Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif’s 2010 appeal to the Pakistani Taliban not to attack Punjab and the so-called patch-up of the Punjab government with the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) are seen as having contributed to the reduced number of attacks and the better security situation in the province.

According to the Pakistan Security Report 2012, released by an Islamabad-based research institute Pak Institute for Peace Studies, Punjab faced 17 terrorist attacks during 2012, a decrease of 43 per cent compared to 2011. Out of these attacks, 13 were sectarian in nature. Two attacks reported in Lahore were claimed by the Baloch insurgent group Lashkar-i-Balochistan while the rest of the attacks were perpetrated by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its affiliated Punjabi groups.

The suicide bombing of an Ashura procession in Rawalpindi district and an armed clash between security forces and militants at the Kamra airbase were the major incidents of terrorism in 2012; the TTP claimed responsibility for both the attacks. These attacks in the military-centric north Punjab could be seen as the TTP’s national-level terrorism campaign to show their anger against the security establishment.

Even in the first two months of 2013, four incidents of targeted killings of Shia community leaders were reported in Punjab, representing far less sectarian violence as compared to the other regions, particularly Balochistan and Karachi, where the level of such violence has significantly increased in recent months.

The Punjab government’s approach of appeasing the extremists and making deals with banned outfits could be one of the reasons behind a decrease in terrorist attacks in the province. However, such a policy would eventually lead to greater security threats for the country and also for the provincial government.

The terrorists will not only rely on using Punjab’s territory for launching attacks in other provinces, but can turn against Punjab as well once the appeasement policy is rolled back or they decide to take up arms in the province due to some other reason. More worrisome is the fact that such a policy provides the militants enough space and time to enhance their strength and capability and expand their network.

Malik Ishaq, founding member of the LJ who is considered a ‘good Taliban’ by the Punjab government, is a significant contributing factor in Punjab’s appeasement approach. Although he has been detained because of the public pressure after the killing of the Hazaras, the treatment extended to Malik Ishaq by the Punjab government has so far epitomised the state’s surrender to the terrorists.

It seems that the provincial government is using him as a communication channel to persuade the terrorists to spare the province from their attacks. It is also making compromises on the free movement of the terrorists. Security experts voiced concern over violations of the fourth schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997 (conspiracy and abetment) by the leadership of banned sectarian and terrorist organisations in Punjab.

The federal interior minister had formally taken up the matter, but it was only a political gimmick, and even the federal government failed to develop a consensus among the provinces on a single coordinated counterterrorism policy.

Punjab needs to share the responsibility of countering the menace of terrorism. Its responsibilities are paramount in the context of violent and non-violent religious organisations being the most concentrated in Punjab, where 107 such organisations have their headquarters.

Lahore, which is considered the cultural capital of the country, can also be described as the capital of religious organisations. It is the only city in the whole of South Asia where at least 71 religious organisations operate. Multan is the second major hub in the province where 18 religious organisations have their headquarters.

Kashmir and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa follow the trend with 48 and 43, respectively, but figures for these two regions also include small militant groups and Taliban factions. If these are not counted the strength of religious organisations in the two regions is not that much.

In Sindh, most of the religious organisations have their headquarters in Karachi, mainly because of the city’s ethnic diversity, its social and cultural landscape, and because it is the financial capital of the country and a major donation base for religious organisations.

These figures only take into consideration organisations at the national, regional and provincial level; the number runs into the thousands if small groups at the local level are also counted.

Though Punjab carries an immense responsibility on its shoulders, the other federating units should also come forward and take up the initiative of national-level coordination to counter the threats of extremism and terrorism. Peace and security should not be allowed to fall victim to short-lived political gains.

Courtesy Dawn , Feb 24, 2013

Roots of mistrust
Published: Feb 11, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

CAN militants reignite the insurgency in India-held Kashmir? This apprehension is a major hurdle in the trust-building process between India and Pakistan. Delhi is still fearful that the militants based in Pakistan’s tribal areas could turn against India once they are finished with their job in Afghanistan.

The incidents last month on the Line of Control (LoC) manifested, though after a long time, the typical nature of cross-border attacks and clashes between troops on both sides. No element of militancy was involved in these incidents but they triggered the apprehension that militants could jump in at this critical juncture when the two countries were trying to sustain a bilateral dialogue and the whole South Asian region, particularly Pakistan, was passing through a transition of strategic readjustments.

Policy circles in major world capitals are discussing post-2014 Afghanistan, emerging regional challenges, the changing dynamics of the terrorism threat and, of course, the emerging shift in Pakistan’s threat perception. Whatever the reasons for and implications of the current regional and international reconsiderations, Indian apprehensions of Kashmir-centric militancy seem an attempt to ensure international guarantees and to keep building pressure on Pakistan in this regard.

The Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a premier Indian security establishment think tank, projected in its recent report that “having designated domestic terrorists as the principal threat, it would be in Pakistan’s interest to either engage them head-on or redirect them with state support externally. It is likely that Pakistan would choose the latter course of action”. The think tank also tried to link the recent LoC incidents with efforts to create circumstances for such redirection, which it implied could be a result of a shift in Pakistan’s strategy.

The assessment fantasises the Indian threat perception and indicates that the Indian security establishment is reluctant to consider emerging strategic shifts in Pakistan’s security doctrine in line with new security challenges and internal and regional geo-economic realities.

As far as the militant threat is concerned, the Indian approach doesn’t reflect the ground realities. Apart from the Kashmir-focused militant organisations’ weakened capability to re-trigger the insurgency inside Kashmir, their cause and modus operandi now hold little attraction in Kashmir and Pakistan.

The Kashmir spring of mid-2010, which witnessed protests by the youth, was the first manifestation of the fact that Kashmiris are equally fed up with the militancy and the heavy-handed crackdown by Indian forces. It was a prime opportunity for Pakistan to further exploit the situation and take the issue to international forums, but Pakistan limited itself to oral support and only a few official statements were issued at the time.

No doubt the militant landscape of Pakistan has become considerably more complex than it was when the first ban on militant groups was ordered in January 2002.
Banning a few organisations is unlikely to serve the purpose anymore. The groups involved in terrorist activities across Pakistan are largely splinter groups of banned organisations, in addition to a few new groups that have emerged recently. The banned organisations, which were once strategic assets of the state, were initially focused on Kashmir and had ‘nationalistic characteristics’ but after the ban they passed through two major transformational stages.

At the first stage, anti-establishment sentiments grew among some cadres of militant organisations. They strengthened their links with foreign militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas. They absorbed Al Qaeda’s ideological tendencies, particularly those which justified and strengthened their anger against the Pakistani establishment and its changing ‘jihad’ policy.

At that stage, the militants revolted against their leaderships and labelled them stooges of the establishment. The leadership of militant organisations tried to keep such angry militants in their ideological fold but failed. The internal confrontation and rifts among these groups gave birth to a new phenomenon. The militant leadership became disillusioned and their cadres that had joined Al Qaeda hijacked the cause of ‘jihad’ and took it to a new level that was also anti-state.

At the second stage, after rejection from Al Qaeda, the Taliban and their former fellows, the militant leadership, preferred to become part of Pakistan’s far right, a vocal supporter of jihad and only active at the level of rhetoric.

The Deobandi militant groups including Jaish-i-Mohammad, Harkatul Mujahideen and Harkatul Jihad-i-Islami had suffered much as compared to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). But ultimately all the groups chose to stand with the far right for one reason or another.

Obviously India is more concerned about the Jamaatud Daawa and the LeT but the former has deliberately tried to keep its distance from the latter and from militant movements in the tribal areas. These movements had become self-reliant both in ideological and logistical terms. The JuD took it upon itself to condemn dissident thoughts among militant groups and the LeT distanced itself from all such groups, and even spurned any cooperation with the Pakistani Taliban. This defines the direction of all pro-state militant organisations in Pakistan and signifies the far right’s preference for change in the country through peaceful means, while justifying the use of force to protect regional interests.

As far as Kashmir’s indigenous groups are concerned, most of them eventually disappeared and those remaining have lost their operational capabilities. The United Jihad Council, the alliance of Kashmiri militant groups, is no longer functional. Former militants are on the way back to their homes in India-held Kashmir and now it depends on Indian authorities to reintegrate them in society.

There is no denying the fact that militancy is a grave internal issue for Pakistan and has less potential to turn or to be turned against India, unless a crisis situation is created in India-held Kashmir such as the one in the aftermath of the 1987 election there.

Though militants cannot trigger an insurgency in Kashmir, a few groups still have the capacity to launch scattered terrorist attacks inside India. Or, actors such as Al Qaeda and the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan can plan to sabotage ongoing regional changes and the trust-building process between India and Pakistan.

The Indian policy of viewing the LoC incidents or other incidents of terrorism in India from a traditional perspective of distrust won’t help to strengthen bilateral engagement for regional peace and stability. To reduce the impact of such incidents, the restoration of a joint counterterrorism mechanism between the two countries is a possible way forward.

Courtesy Dawn , Feb 10, 2013

Critical responses
Published: Jan 29, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

IN dealing with the menace of terrorism, clarity is finally emerging at the institutional level.

The army chief’s speech last year on Independence Day was encouraging as he stressed clarity on the issue of extremism and terrorism. The judiciary, which was under criticism for acquitting detained terrorists, has showed the resolve to prioritise the issue. The chief justice of Pakistan, on a number of occasions, has emphasised the need for collaborative efforts to eradicate extremism.

The National Assembly has passed the fair trial bill, which authorises the state to intercept private communications in order to find incriminating evidence against terrorists. Although the invasion of privacy and denial of civil freedom continue to rightly elicit strong reservations, it is hoped that the use of technology to obtain evidence would lead to the discouragement of torture that is employed to extract ‘confessions’ from suspects.

The federal cabinet also approved the draft National Counterterrorism Authority Bill 2012. A properly constituted and mandated authority could contribute to evolving meaningful counter-extremism initiatives.
These are the positive responses, but in the absence of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, these initiatives may not bring about the desired results.

Many ideological, political and operational ambiguities still persist. Public opinion on how to deal with terrorists in the tribal areas is still divided, and opinion leaders and experts also do not appear convinced about the implications of, or prospects for, a military operation. But without going into the operational complexities of an operation in North Waziristan, it is worth noting that the military offensives in Swat and South Waziristan Agency proved productive and significantly decreased the threat to internal security from terrorism.

Many challenges have the potential to increasingly hurt internal security in the coming days. The rise in sectarian violence, heightened ethno-political tensions in Karachi, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and its affiliates and the Balochistan imbroglio will remain serious security challenges this year.

The security challenges will not go away simply because there are isolated responses here and there. A comprehensive counterterrorism and counter-extremism strategy is needed to connect these responses. That will not be possible without political consensus. This year will be one when the political leadership in Pakistan will have no alternative but to clearly state its vision when it comes to dealing with security challenges, or it will risk becoming irrelevant.

With this perspective in mind, policy institutes and security experts recommend certain steps which can help connect the responses from various quarters so that a broader strategy can be evolved.

The foremost need is to improve coordination among the various agencies tasked with counterterrorism. The National Counterterrorism Authority (Nacta) can be an effective tool for coordination. At the same time practitioners should be trained in conflict resolution and management so that these techniques are used before force is employed.

There is a need to incorporate more changes in the Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2012, including addressing procedural and definitional issues. There should be safeguards to prevent militants from collecting funds and using dubious systems like hawala to move money from one place to another. No new weapons licences should be issued to those suspected of such practices. Licences already issued should be cancelled. The government needs to regularise all commercial laws.

Legislation alone can never be an effective tool in dealing with terrorism. The capacity of the legal system, including the anti-terrorism court (ATC), judges, lawyers and the prosecution department, must also be enhanced. Apart from transparency and appointment of capable judges to the ATCs, the Supreme Court and the high courts should monitor the functioning of these courts.

There is a desire among some sections of the religious leadership in Pakistan to play an active role in curbing violent tendencies. They can offer an alternative to the Taliban groups and strive for change through peaceful means. This would not be an easy task and the option of using force against Al Qaeda and inflexible elements among the Taliban should remain on the table and, in fact, be an unambiguous provision in any future peace agreement. A strategy based on an accurate assessment of the militants’ ideological and political strengths should be used to engage them.

However, different approaches would be needed to engage different groups. A successful policy in one area may not work in another. A persistent, flexible and accommodative approach which can adjust to changing situations might do the trick.

The firefighting approach of the state has become redundant and the current strategy being implemented in Balochistan needs comprehensive revisiting. The first step towards resolving the crises in Balochistan is to acknowledge their gravity and talk to the stakeholders with a view to finding solutions. It is indeed high time that rhetoric in that regard was translated into action and talks held with all groups, especially with the most disenchanted nationalists, in a manner that inspires confidence and sincerity of purpose.

Curbing violence in Karachi is not as much a problem of law enforcement as it is of political commitment. Apart from political initiatives, the government needs to develop a comprehensive security policy for Karachi.

Finally, an informed public opinion is badly needed to counter critical threats. The unity among terrorist groups is the source of their strength. They also gain strength from fragmentation and confusion over the war on terror that is displayed by the security, political and civil society leaderships in Pakistan. Both the state and society need to combine their strengths to encroach on the ideological and political domain of the extremists.

Courtesy Dawn , Jan 27, 2013

Epitome of hate
Published: Jan 15, 2013

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE terrorist sectarian outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ), which has been active in Pakistan since the mid-1990s, has become a strategic asset for many including Al Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the so-called non-violent religious sectarian parties.

Lately divided into many factions and small terrorist cells, the LJ is once again coming under a unified command, which could be a major reason for the escalated sectarian violence during the last few weeks.
The outfit has undoubtedly become the second most lethal terrorist group in Pakistan after the TTP. A comparison of the geographical spread of incidents of sectarian violence from 2009 to 2012 suggests that Karachi, Quetta, Gilgit and Kurram Agency have become regular hotspots of sectarian violence, the areas where the group is largely operational either alone or in collaboration with the TTP and foreign militants.
Although the nexus between the militant sectarian Sunni groups and the TTP was already well-established it was for the first time that in 2012 the TTP claimed responsibility for several attacks on the Shia community in different parts of Pakistan.

The LJ was believed to be involved in 128 terrorist attacks across the country in 2012, largely in Karachi and Quetta; these attacks ranged from sectarian assaults to strikes on the security forces. LJ and other such terrorist sectarian groups, which had absorbed Al Qaeda and Taliban ideological tendencies, increasingly returned to their primary sectarian agendas.

Once a breakaway faction of the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), now known as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi has an ever more violent anti-Shia agenda.

Although it claims to be a separate entity, whatever it does furthers the cause of the SSP in one way or the other. The group solely depends on the SSP for human resources and justifies the killing of Shias in Pakistan. A recent statement circulated by a faction of LJ led by Asif Chotu declared Shia Muslims the major obstacle in the way of enforcement of Sharia in Pakistan. The SSP denies any direct link with the terrorist group, but the LJ is the major source of its vigour that it exploits for political gains. Though a faction within the SSP is against sectarian violence its voice is diminutive in the larger discourse of the organisation.

The LJ had lost central command when the police launched an extensive operation against the group in the late 1990s and later when it was proscribed in August 2000.

These steps caused the emergence of internal differences and divisions among the group. Thus many splinter groups emerged.

After 9/11, LJ terrorists had joined the angry Kashmiri jihadists and tribal Taliban, who were not happy with the sudden change in the state’s policy that abandoned jihad in the region. The major terrorist attacks between 2001 and 2007 in the country were launched by this emerging alliance. The nexus was further strengthened when these small groups joined Al Qaeda and the tribal Taliban. Such alliances ideologically transformed the sectarian groups injecting in them global jihadist tendencies.

This was the time when the LJ was losing its sectarian identity and the group was become a tag name for small terrorist cells. Qari Hussain, the trainer of suicide bombers who was killed in a drone strike in 2010, had infused new life into the group while recruiting Punjab- and Karachi-based youths and re-initiating sectarian terrorist attacks.

Tariq Afridi, head of the TTP’s Darra Adam Khel chapter, was the second person who revitalised the violent sectarian agenda of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and launched deadly terrorist attacks in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The release of Malik Ishaq, founding member of the group who was facing trial in the killings of more than 100 Shia scholars and community leaders, further emboldened the group.

Although these facts injected new life into the agenda and operations of the group, on the organisational level it remained splintered and disconnected until recently. Its Balochistan chapter, led by Usman Kurd, which targets the Hazara Shia community in Quetta, had little interaction with groups in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Seven other LJ groups are active in Karachi and Punjab, including the Attaur Rehman alias Naeem Bukhari, Qasim Rasheed, Muhammad Babar, Ghaffar, Muaviya, Akram Lahori and Malik Ishaq groups. These groups have devised their local agendas as well and indulge in local turf wars.

Asif Chotu, once a close aide of Lashkar-i-Jhangvi founder Riaz Basra, is reorganising the group. He had joined the TTP in 2010 and reunited the scattered members of LJ and on behalf of the TTP launched several operations across the country. He has approached other factions as well and now most of the splinter groups have come under one umbrella because of his efforts.

It is a dangerous development, which can lead to an escalation of sectarian violence across the country. The LJ nexus with Al Qaeda and TTP has not only broadened its ideological horizon but also equipped it with lethal operational tactics. It may not be the LJ of the 1990s, which was mostly involved in targeted killings, but its new face is extensively lethal in terms of operational capabilities and connections with terrorist groups.

The TTP will not let the group focus only on sectarian killings but could use it to hit other targets as well such as security forces, foreign interests and political leadership.

On the other hand, the state and political leadership seem ignorant of the fact that a new nexus is causing a new, critical threat to loom. A few mainstream parties appeared to have kept links with sectarian organisations for electoral success. Sectarian groups welcome all political parties because they seek political legitimacy through these alliances.

Law-enforcement agencies appear to have no clear countering strategy mainly because of the frail threat perception and lack of inspiration to take action against homegrown terrorist threats.

Courtesy Dawn , Jan 13, 2013

Minimal role for police
Published: Dec 19, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE police are responsible not just for maintaining law and order but also for keeping intact the faith of the common man in state systems. Their behaviour towards citizens plays a critical role in nurturing law-abiding attitudes.

In countries such as Pakistan, where the police have an additional role in countering terrorism and insurgency, the department faces problems because of lack of capacity, training and logistics, and because of political influence and departmental structure issues.

Engaging the police in rehabilitation or de-radicalisation programmes would appear a challenge, particularly when security forces — including the police — are the militants’ targets. The security forces’ struggle and physical sacrifices in maintaining order in conflict zones notwithstanding, the issue of their operational capacity and counterterrorism training is also generally overlooked in policy discourse.

In Pakistan, a rehabilitation programme for terrorist detainees was built in the post-insurgency perspective of Swat in which the police play a minimal role. The military is running the project and wants to extend it. The Punjab government has taken a similar initiative, assigning very little role to the police.

The police infrastructure in Pakistan comprises the four provincial police organisations and those operational in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s total population is estimated to be around 180 million, and the combined federal and provincial law-enforcement forces (including the paramilitary and related wings of the intelligence organisations) have a total strength of close to 575,000 personnel including 354, 221 police personnel. The police-to-population ratio is therefore one police official for every 304 persons.

This fares well vis-à-vis the UN standard for peacetime policing, which recommends one police officer for every 400 persons. However, given the nature of the crisis in Pakistan, especially terrorist activity and the insurgency situation in Fata and parts of Balochistan coupled with rising crime figures, the numbers are not satisfactory.
Further, the capacity of the police is constrained by political manipulation, the lack of forensic services, inadequate training and equipment, corruption and weaknesses in the judicial sphere.

The police do not enjoy the trust of the citizenry due to rampant corruption and what is generally perceived by many as discriminatory responses towards citizens. At the same time, the police are a permanent target of militants, along with other wings of the security forces.

In 2010 and 2011 alone about 1,458 personnel — including 423 policemen of low and high ranks — of the security forces lost their lives, mainly in terrorist attacks or clashes with militants. Another 2,818 were injured, including 634 policemen.

These realities leave little space for the police to effectively engage in de-radicalisation and rehabilitation programmes. There is need for thorough police reform and the creation of a comprehensive, multi-faceted de-radicalisation programme.

Nonetheless, lessons can be learned from how de-radicalisation programmes in different countries use the police and security forces at different stages.

The de-radicalisation programme in Indonesia is based on the belief among those in charge that the police can change the jihadis’ assumption that government officials are anti-Islamic. The police not only treat jihadi prisoners kindly but also support them financially.

In Malaysia, the police play a major role in monitoring militants after their release. That programme has another dimension too: coercion and threats are also brought to bear in order to deter militants from re-engaging in militancy and terrorism. Militants are beaten, tortured and subjected to long periods of solitary confinement in addition to other punishments.

Germany’s disengagement programme is based on multiple initiatives. A high level of cooperation and coordination among various agencies such as the police, municipal corporations and NGOs is deemed the programme’s basic strength and the basis of its success.

It can be discerned from the practices cited above that a comprehensive de-radicalisation programme in Pakistan has the space to engage the police, particularly in post-release monitoring and in facilitating the reintegration of freed individuals.

For instance, like the German model, a multi-level coordination mechanism can be evolved that may connect district or sub-district-level police offices to different departments/institutions of technical education and financial assistance such as the Baitul Maal through the district coordination officers (DCOs).

According to the Fourth Schedule of the anti-terrorism law, the police must maintain a register that holds lists and records of suspected terrorists that can prove useful for DCOs in assessing the needs of released prisoners and ex-militants and referring them to relevant departments and institutions.

The purpose should be to prevent recidivism by providing proper facilitation to released prisoners or ex-militants to learn skills, obtain an education and reintegrate in society. Successful de-radicalisation programmes place much emphasis on the post-release stage where rehabilitated detainees are provided sufficient and prolonged ‘after care’.

Besides post-release monitoring, keeping regular liaison with ex-militants, and coordinating with other state institutions in a broader de-radicalisation programme, another vital role played by the police in such initiatives could be behavioural: that is, to treat people kindly in police stations and prisons.

Similarly, the police can coordinate with family members of detained militants and encourage community involvement in their rehabilitation and reintegration.

Courtesy Dawn , Dec 16, 2012

The fiscal side
Published: Dec 19, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

Pakistan’s economic system is widely believed to contain inherent discriminations. The resultant economic pressures, growing economic inequalities and a sense of deprivation and disempowerment in the least developed province of Balochistan have triggered conflicts at the socioeconomic and political levels.

The Baloch consider the current revenue collection and allocation mechanisms as well as economic development and economic opportunities discriminatory. They harbour grievances at not getting their due share in the resources. The most heightened form of this concern relates to the ownership of and control over the mineral resources of the province.

Balochistan has huge natural mineral reserves and its gas fields supply about 19 per cent of Pakistan’s total gas requirements (down from 70 per cent about a decade earlier), generating $1.4 billion in revenues annually. With regard to control and distribution of resources, the province has long-standing complaints towards the successive federal governments.

Despite possessing huge natural resources, Balochistan is the poorest and the least developed province of the country. Around 58 per cent of its population lives below the poverty line. In addition to low income, poor households are characterised by low levels of education, lack of drinking water and dearth of health and welfare services. As many as 92 per cent of the districts have been classified as ‘high deprivation’ areas compared to 50 per cent in Sindh and 29 per cent in Punjab. Less educated and less urbanised than the rest of the country, the province also has far greater dependency ratio.

Besides continued neglect and inconsistent policies by the central government, there are certain structural problems associated with its political, administrative and development crises. Before August 1, 1970, — the day Balochistan became a province within the federation of Pakistan — its administrative position was much different from the rest of the federating units.

While its structure was that of a state union, a sort of federally administered tribal area also existed in the province. That meant that Balochistan remained excluded from the administrative set up and political dispensation that prevailed in other provinces for about 22 years. The impact is visible in today’s Balochistan. The violence and the security crisis in the province have also had an exceedingly negative impact on its development, particularly on education.

However, many of these and other concerns regarding control and allocation of resources, and development have been addressed by three major initiatives of the present government: the Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package, the 7th NFC Award and the 18th Constitutional Amendment.

The Aghaz-i-Huqooq-i-Balochistan package presented a set of recommendations for a joint sitting of the parliament on November 4, 2009. However, the tight military control, weak provincial government, structural administrative hurdles and lack of political consensus are the major hurdles in the way of implementation of these initiatives.

The construction of Gwadar port is also a worrisome development for India for a number of reasons. It complicates India’s naval strategic planning as it diversifies Pakistan’s naval defence. Moreover, India sees the port as another link in China’s chain encircling India.

Courtesy Dawn , Dec 16, 2012

Under the garb of charity
Published: Dec 04, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE growth of faith-based charity organisations in Pakistan can be linked to increasing religiosity in society. These organisations are mainly part of the larger religious political discourse in the country and, in one way or another, convert religious tendencies into support for religious political parties.

The expanding support has multiple levels as these parties, and militant or sectarian groups, are all benefiting from this conversion.

Like other societies, the subcontinent has a long tradition of charities in different forms. Shrines and khanqahs have played a similar role, which has been assumed by organised charities. The landscape of Islamic charities is quite diverse in Pakistan, ranging from local-level welfare organisations to national- and regional-level relief bodies.

Broadly, these can be divided into three main categories. The first includes subsidiaries of religious political parties such as Al Khidmat Trust affiliated with the Jamaat-i-Islami. Then there are charities that have no such affiliation, such as Al Rasheed Trust; the third category is of charities established by militant groups, such as Al-Rehmat Trust linked to the banned Jaish-i-Mohammad.

Religious political parties have charity wings not just for welfare purposes but also because they help boost their public image and provide employment to members and supporters. Although such charity wings collect funds from the masses, their relief operations are not beyond political biases, which also impacts their credibility. The charity wings of many religious parties become operational during natural disasters or other crises and do not conduct regular relief operations.

Purely faith-based charity organisations on a large scale are missing in Pakistan. The agendas of even the ones established with such purpose were later taken over by groups with political, ideological and, in some cases, militant objectives. That has been the case with Al Rasheed Trust, which now operates as Maymar Trust or Al Akhtar Trust of Karachi.

Militant groups with charity credentials are also facing internal transformation, manifesting the increasing divide between structured militant groups such as the Lashkar-i-Taiba and semi- or non-structured ones like the Punjabi Taliban and the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi.

Most structured and organised militant groups in Pakistan were formed in the 1980s and 1990s. After 9/11, many of them faced government restrictions and thereafter devised new ways to survive and keep their financial channels intact.

In 2002 and 2003, the state proscribed most of these groups, including the Jaish-i-Mohammad, Harkatul Jihad-i-Islami, Harkatul Mujahideen, the Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan, Lashkar-i-Taiba, Jamaatud Dawa, Hizbul Mujahideen, Jamiatul Mujahideen and Al Badar Mujahideen.

These militant groups have since established what most of them call public welfare wings as a front for their activities, or they resurfaced after the ban as charity organisations to boost their image and circumvent official curbs.

This ploy has not only helped them gain social acceptance but also enabled them to expand their support base and ultimately add to their financial resources. Some militant groups, in an attempt to diversify their assets, set up commercial ventures such as English-medium schools, healthcare centres, transportation companies, residential projects and media groups; some also acquired farmland on a large scale.

While militant groups have kept the supply lines for their financing intact, many of them also found ways to cultivate and consolidate financial resources abroad.

Not only do they conduct bank transactions, but informal hawala channels and other illegal means are also used to bring funds into Pakistan. Some groups have even established their own currency exchange networks, while others continue to use smugglers’ networks to bring in funds raised abroad.

The capacity of militant groups and affiliated organisations to raise private donations has traditionally witnessed a sharp increase after natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods.

After the 2005 earthquake, Al Rasheed Trust raised Rs950 million for relief work within five months. It used the funds for welfare activities, including providing food and medical treatment and reconstructing damaged madressahs and mosques.

Al Rehmat Trust, a charity associated with the Jaish-i-Mohammad, raised Rs600m in funds and supplies after the earthquake.

Al Asar Trust, affiliated with the Harkatul Mujahideen, was a new and relatively unknown welfare organisation back then, but even so it managed to raise Rs280m in the ensuing months. It is not clear how much of that money it spent on relief activities, but such activities have certainly earned it goodwill among the masses.

Major religious charities, including Al Khidmat Trust of the Jamaat-i-Islami and the Idara Khidmat-i-Khalq of the Jamaatud Dawa, claim to have raised billions of rupees through private donations. It is important to note that these claims were made post-9/11, with government sanctions in place and militant organisations officially barred from raising funds. The situation was totally different earlier. In 2001, before the events of Sept 11, the Lashkar-i-Taiba had collected Rs90m from direct private donations and had a very organised jihad fund collection system across the country.

The charitable operations of militant groups helped them expand their infrastructure and networks. However, it can be discerned from the recent history of radical and militant organisations that when the infrastructure of such an organisation expands on a large scale, the group’s stakes increase in the very system that it had previously been opposing.

For example, the Jamaatud Dawa cannot afford any major confrontation with the state that could force it to abandon its activities. Contrary to this, militant groups that failed to develop their organisational infrastructure were subjected to divisions and became more violent.

Obviously, structured militant groups’ charity credentials have forced them to compromise on their ideological ambitions, which created rifts among the groups; their splinters emerged as non-structured groups that occupy the parent groups’ ideological realm, while blaming their leaderships for being state puppets of traitors to the cause of jihad.

That may be seen as a positive outcome of their inclination towards charitable operations but the former militants’ flexibility has not yet proved that they have completely abandoned their militant agendas. Besides, their increasing influence could change the dynamics of religiosity and prompt expansion in religious parties’ support.

Courtesy Dawn , Dec 02, 2012

Sectarian infiltration
Published: Nov 19, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

SECTARIAN discrimination is increasingly penetrating individuals’ attitudes and behaviours in Pakistan. That has been the outcome of sectarian tensions that have been nurtured at the level where they can be described as one of the structural problems that lead to the cessation of state functions.

Multiple factors have been described as the root causes of sectarianism and sectarian-motivated violence in society. But one factor, which usually has not received as much attention, is the administrative side of the problem, or how local administrations deal with issues involving different sectarian groups, such as disputes over mosques, routes for Ashura and Eid Milad-un-Nabi processions, allotments of plots for religious purposes, allocation of auqaf property, etc.

These issues are apparently not considered contributing factors in the worsening sectarian divide in the country. And yet at the district and sub-district level, these very issues are a major source of concern and occasionally lead to violence.

Usually state functionaries and even security experts do not consider such issues in a broader perspective. Sectarian sensitivities are not the reason behind the state’s refusal to tackle the administrative aspect. It is, in fact, a collective denial on its part that such challenges exist — which is a major stumbling block in evolving a comprehensive response to such issues. Many examples prove that religious and sectarian disputes were initially local in nature but their imprudent handling by administrations transformed them into national crises.

The Lal Masjid crisis was mainly the fallout of a three-month occupation of a children’s library near the mosque in response to the demolition of the Hamza mosque, which the Capital Development Authority (CDA) claimed had been built illegally on state land. CDA was planning to raze other illegally constructed mosques in the city, including parts of Jamia Hafsa, which was also managed by the Lal Masjid clerics.

The clerics, Maulana Abdul Aziz and his brother Maulana Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, and 300 pupils began a protest which grew into a movement for the implementation of Sharia. Security analysts believe that the motive behind the movement was to continue the occupation of state land as no one had dared to raise objections to such illegal occupation before.

An important factor noted during the initial stage of the Lal Masjid crisis was the lack of coordination among the law-enforcement and civic agencies in Islamabad. A vigilant and coordinated response from the local administration had the potential to resolve the dispute. Rather than evolving workable mechanisms, the lesson the local administration has learned is to ignore such rapidly growing constructions in the federal capital.

Sunni Tehreek (ST) in Karachi is a prime example of administrative mismanagement of local sectarian disputes. The ST first emerged in reaction to the occupation of Sunni mosques by rival sects. The initial demands of the ST included a non-discriminatory stance in making appointments to important religious posts in the city government. The law-enforcement agencies in Karachi failed to adopt a proactive approach to prevent such disputes, which further worsened the situation.

Most sectarian disputes in the city are vicinity-centric but contribute in a major way to sectarian strife across the country. Similar stories abound in Kohat, Hangu and Dera Ismail Khan which are other flashpoints of sectarian violence.

In many cases, the resolution of sectarian disputes and tensions has not appeared to be the priority of local administrations. The latter have only responded when the situation was found to have markedly worsened.
Almost all district governments across the country have interfaith harmony committees comprising religious scholars from different faiths and sects, but these bodies are not functional or are used by law-enforcement agencies for nothing more than spying purposes.

The local administrations usually only call a meeting of these committees ahead of the Ashura procession, and other religious processions. No doubt such bodies can play an effective role in resolving sectarian disputes but the bureaucratic mindset is a major hurdle in the way and it has evolved only a fire-fighting approach.

Another dangerous tendency, which is becoming more evident in the bureaucracy, is sectarian biases that complicate efforts to resolve such disputes. These biases can be found in appointments to religious posts and allocations of plots for religious purposes. Usually, such proceedings are not reported in the mainstream media but religious publications are full of such stories. The real concern emerges when such stories focus on officials in law-enforcement agencies.

This reflects that sectarian outfits and their sympathisers have not only infiltrated government departments but have also influenced the mindset of officials who are expected to be above such biases.

A systematic probe is nowhere in sight to determine what motivates state functionaries to join the sectarian cause. Different countries have adopted various measures to shield their officials from such inclinations, but Pakistan is yet to establish a mechanism to screen security personnel for links with extremist and sectarian elements.

The vulnerability of the state institutions and mismanagement of sensitive issues is what escalates the sectarian divide. The communal divide already has touched unprecedented heights and it has become difficult to even raise one’s voice in support of religious freedom of certain communities in Pakistan; the sectarian divide is not far behind as another hate-filled fault-line.

The failure to address issues that can be resolved through a little vigilance and common sense reflect that the administration and bureaucracy also need ideological overhauling to refresh their vision.

Courtesy Dawn , Nov 18, 2012

Caught in the middle
Published: Nov 11, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

The PTI is generally typecast as a Pakistani middle class archetypal party, with the backing of the youth bulge, aiming to bring about change in the country while engaging in the traditional craft of power play.

Revolutions of all shades have long been the mantra of urban-based political parties. The PTI portrays itself as an agent of reform in Pakistani politics, but is struggling to keep its momentum amidst the dynamics of power play and an ambiguous model of change, which it seeks to exploit to create a support base.

The party leadership realises the need to adopt robust political tactics for electoral success. But the PTI has also taken extreme positions on certain issues, mainly security-related. It has also tried to take the moral high ground to increase its political profile against the political elite of the country. All this may come across as paradoxical, but it is compatible with the urban middle-class thinking pattern.

The urban middle class is caught between modernisation and conservatism. The average Pakistani wants to be progressive in a conservative framework but has not managed that very well. The middle class in developing countries including Muslim states, mainly Turkey and Malaysia, has somehow resolved this dilemma but Pakistan is still in a state of confusion.

The manifestation of this mindset in political and ideological realms can be summed up thus: a desire for Pakistan to be a politically sovereign and assertive state, with all the benefits of international engagement but without any compulsion or reciprocity; economic self-reliance with the advantages of globalisation; individual freedom and choice but ‘piousness’ and conservatism at the societal level; ideologically less receptive to new ideas; emotionally reactive and inclined to put the onus on others. In this perspective, the PTI’s approach to critical issues, mainly related to security, extremism and governance is quite understandable. The approach can be branded as idealistic, actually rather simplistic, that the party holds solutions to all the problems and can deliver those within a short span. This is what the common man wants to hear but does he consider it pragmatic?
Another related question that may help understand the PTI phenomenon is whether it is a unique party or movement in the history of Pakistan. Although parallels and overlaps can be found among the mainstream and peripheral political and religious parties, PTI supporters feel pride in pointing out ‘distinctions’ that set their party apart. However, closer scrutiny may suggest otherwise.

A similar anti-corruption and anti-US campaign was launched in the early 1990s by Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) chief Qazi Hussain Ahmad. Many similarities can be drawn between the circumstances of the two periods — the hype over corruption and the situation in Afghanistan were central planks of the campaign then, as they are now. Qazi Hussain had knitted the movement around a similar urban middle class and the youth bulge. He had formed a youth party called Pasban, and in order to make the JI’s political and social credentials more moderate and accommodating, had established the Pakistan Islamic Front (PIF) for electoral politics.

The JI chief was inspired by the electoral success of the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria and Necmettin Erbakan’s Welfare Party in Turkey and he followed their strategy that reliance on a purely religious anti-West agenda was not enough to win popular support.

In order to motivate the youth and attract the urban middle class, Pasban adopted popular methods such as massive youth shows, street parades, plays, sports festivals and public welfare activities. But among the most popular were the anti-corruption squads and catchy slogans. However, the campaign ended in failure, created rifts in the party. Pasban and the PIF were finally dismantled and the JI took a long time to recover.

This was the time when PTI was in its infancy; many half-hearted Pasban members joined the party. PTI chief Imran Khan tried to organise his party along similar lines but left-wing dreamers led by Meraj Mohammad Khan initially dominated the PTI. After the party’s first electoral defeat, Imran Khan realised that the leftist ideology might be good as an alternative opinion in society but it could not help in electoral politics. He then started on a new journey to the power corridors and got close to Gen Pervez Musharraf. At the same time, he also developed cordial relations with the JI and nationalist parties.
This was the transformation stage for the PTI during which it absorbed the popular argument of the left, Pasban-oriented youth activism, right-wing ideological tendencies and the tactics of political power play.
The country has passed through the same transformational phase over the decades — from the left-right divide, to dictatorships, ethno-political confrontations and then ideological and strategic pressures. These have shaped the prevalent thinking patterns.

That may not apply to the entire urban middle class, as it has evolved differently in Karachi, with a comparatively developed and pragmatic profile. The MQM, the political voice of Karachi’s majority, has taken a clearer stance on critical challenges including extremism and terrorism. One can disagree with the politics and other alleged activities of the MQM, but its stance on critical national challenges reflects the mindset of the industrial-based urban middle class whose economic stakes lie in internal stability.

On the contrary, ideological and political ambiguities prevail in the services-based urban middle class in central and north Punjab and urban areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These are potential constituencies for the PTI. But the MQM has more potential to further consolidate its electoral strength in urban Sindh although it has a smaller constituency. The PTI has many contenders in its vast constituency, including experienced mainstream and regional right- and left-wing parties, which know how to manipulate the confusion and keep their positions on critical issues intact.

The main differences between the PIF and Pasban of the 1990s and PTI today are the religious and conservative credentials, which the JI had tried to hide and the PTI wants to flaunt. The PIF proved a fatal experience for JI and the jury is still out on the PTI’s fate.

Courtesy Dawn , Nov 04, 2012

In the name of God
Published: Nov 11, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

As many as 239 religious organisations operated in Pakistan at the national and provincial level in 2002; presently reduced to 232. They pursue multiple agendas, such as transformation of society according to their ideologies, enforcement of Sharia law, establishment of Khilafah (caliphate) system, fulfilment of their sectarian objectives and achievement of Pakistan’s strategic and ideological objectives through militancy.

Although general trends are easy to identify, the categorisation of religious parties is not quite as straightforward, mainly because most of the religious organisations are working for multiple agendas, either themselves or through affiliated groups and entities.

A closer look suggests that even today most religious organisations in Pakistan move around, or at least at some point had links, with the main religious parties which were active in the country in the 1950s, including the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI), Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP) and Jamiat-i-Ahle Hadith. These included All Pakistan Shia Political Parties, which became Tehrik Nifaz-i-Fiqa-i-Jaffria in the late 1970s.

Almost all other religious outfits, whether working for missionary, sectarian or educational/charitable pursuits or engaged in militancy, are affiliated with or are breakaway factions of these five major parties. Most importantly, even the affiliates or splinters believe in the agendas of their parent organisations.

The major difference is that the parent organisations’ focus is on Islamisation and that of the splinters on religio-socialisation. The parent parties which have a religious agenda and focus, are part of Pakistan’s mainstream politics, believe in the constitution of Pakistan, participate in electoral politics, and are classified as religious political parties.

In the last two decades, another form of religious organisation has emerged: agents of Islamisation and religio-socialisation but with the belief that change is impossible within the constitution of Pakistan and the current political dispensation. They deem democracy and the democratic process inadequate for the change they pursue and advocate.

Some of them — such as Jamaatud Dawa, the Khilafah movement, Hizbut Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroon — deem that democracy is an idea contrary to Islamic principles of governance and want to replace it with their own version of Sharia. Some groups such as Tanzeemul Akhwan and Tanzeem-i-Islami believe that Sharia cannot be introduced in its entirety through the democratic electoral process and consider the use of force or toppling of the government as alternatives.

They have sectarian and militant tendencies but the dominant approach is renewalist, characterised by their quest for a complete change of system: contrary to the religious political parties’ approach that focuses on gradual change within the system.

All parties having a specific sectarian focus promote antagonism against other sects of Islam or engaging in sectarian rhetoric or armed conflict are classified as sectarian outfits, notwithstanding their participation in electoral politics and in militant activities. Examples include Deobandi outfits Ahl-e-Sunnat-Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ), and Barelvi groups Sunni Tehreek (ST) and Jamaat-i-Ahl-e-Sunnat.

Courtesy Dawn , Nov 02, 2012

Signs of frustration
Published: Oct 23, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

SIGNS of panic are evident in Pakistani Taliban ranks following the attack on Malala Yousufzai. They are clearly trying to recover from their biggest defeat on the propaganda front after the attack on the 14-year-old in Swat.

The damage was done by the initial claiming and justifying of the attack on Malala by the Taliban spokesperson. Subsequent mud-slinging by the Taliban has also seriously backfired. It may lead to fissures among the Taliban over their propaganda strategy, which had been proceeding largely smoothly, despite defeats on the military front. In the Malala case, there is a likelihood that the militants may launch indiscriminate attacks in frustration.

In recent years, the real strength of the militants belonging to most groups has been their ability to sell their cause; and through their propaganda strategies they have tried to counterbalance differences between the capabilities of the security forces and the militants. Their utmost weakness also lies in their strength — that they cannot tolerate any voice that challenges their cause or ideology. This is a common characteristic of major militant movements the world over.

The militants had carefully crafted a propaganda strategy, built around the cause of struggle against oppressive forces in Afghanistan and gradually expanded into the realm of the state system, the socio-cultural way of life and, most dangerously, in the sectarian domain.

The short-term goal of the Pakistani Taliban was to liberate Afghanistan from the US-led forces through ‘jihad’ and a secondary objective was to enforce a new social, political and economic order based on their ideology or interpretation of Islam. The long-term objective was to drive out the ‘infidel’ forces from all Muslim lands. The Taliban associate their identity with various Islamic and Islamist movements across the world and scoff at geographical boundaries of states.

An average Muslim may not disagree with this cause, and when the objectives include anti-imperialism people consider it a revolutionary movement. The Taliban have tactically manipulated their agenda. Religious political parties that are part of the mainstream electoral process and moderate Islamic scholars have struggled to counter the Taliban on the ideological front.

Apart from their well-defined ideological inspiration, the Taliban have got logistic support from international terrorist groups and used terrorism to achieve objectives which can be summarised as follows:
1. To destabilise the state’s security apparatus so that people look towards the Taliban for protection.
2. To force the government not to interfere in Taliban-controlled areas so that they can continue their activities unhindered.
3. To force the government to bring structural changes in laws or the constitution, or to bring a new system according to the Taliban agenda.

Some Taliban groups have sectarian agendas, especially against Shias and followers of Sufism. They are also well connected with global terrorist groups, such as Al Qaeda, which have even more dangerous agendas of destabilising or toppling the government and capturing territory.

Until 2004, the main focus of the Pakistani Taliban was on protecting foreign militants, recruiting for the war in Afghanistan, training the recruits, and securing their position against security operations. Their main strategic victory that made them a major player in the area, however, came after a tactical change in their operations: they began kidnapping security and other government officials in 2004.

Although suicide attacks on security forces that started in 2006 targeted the morale of the security forces, it was the kidnapping strategy that elevated the Taliban to a position where they could negotiate with the government on their terms and bargain for the release of captured militants as well.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has provided shelter to smaller groups working under the command of Mehsud militant commanders. Baitullah Mehsud had tried to unite all these groups under the banner of Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban’s supreme leader. Every group that wished to join the TTP had to take an oath of allegiance to Omar and proclaim its commitment to the enforcement of Sharia.

Contrary to common perceptions, the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups are bound by ideological, ethnic and socio-political ties. The Pakistani Taliban are an imitation of the Afghan Taliban and their raison d’être is linked to their Afghan counterparts. If they detach themselves from the Afghan Taliban, they lose their justification to exist. In this context, the formation of the TTP in Pakistan was an important development which brought together scattered tribal Taliban groups and also other Pakistani militant groups, such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, and splinters of Kashmir-based groups.

The Taliban have remained resolute in pursuing their strategy of propaganda and ideological propagation. They are trying to appeal to the people in the name of religion and ethnicity, using a combination of temptations and threats to keep them from siding with the ‘enemy’. They are extremely intolerant of their ‘ideological enemies’, who can be classified into two broad categories: those people following and supporting practices the Taliban deem un-Islamic, and ‘infidels and their friends’.

In the current context, it would be difficult for the Taliban to modify the cause and propaganda strategies as they have marked clear ‘us-versus-them’ boundaries. It is now time for them to revise their arguments, which still appeal to fragmented segments of society. But they will not be able to reverse the narrative against them. Not only religious-political parties but also the new far right, the Difaa-i-Pakistan Council, seem to be on the defensive. These are the actors who transmit the Taliban’s narratives and serve as connections between the masses and the militants.

Obviously, the mainstream media is a new front for the Taliban, where they are fast losing sympathies. It is not the media’s war but a media war, where opinion leaders need to be well equipped with arguments. The dilemma with the electronic media is that political parties’ representatives have taken over the job of opinion leaders, and they lack clarity on the issue and perceive every issue through the prism of their political parties’ interest. They need to realise that in this new phase of insurgency arguments have more value than bullets.

Courtesy Dawn , Oct 21, 2012

Wider perspective needed
Published: Oct 8, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

AFGHAN President Hamid Karzai lashed out at the foreign media recently for painting a gloomy picture of Afghanistan after the pullout of Western troops. It appears that anxiety and frustration are increasing across regional and important Western capitals regarding the future of the country.

The media is expected to portray precisely what happens in the country but the real pessimism on Afghanistan appears to emanate from recent reports and analyses by US think tanks. Conversely, optimism is growing in the Taliban camp. Although the balance seems to be in favour of these ‘optimists’ a big question mark remains on their ability to sustain it. The shift is certainly not in favour of Afghans, Pakistan or the wider region.

Policy papers appearing in recent months indicate three major factors behind this pessimism: the post-withdrawal Afghan security situation, reconciliation with the Taliban and India vs Pakistan as stabilising or destabilising agents in the region.

Although most analyses cover other internal and external factors — mainly sustainability of the political and economic set-up, governance and role of other regional actors — they fail to connect with policy options. Understandably, the scope of these studies is limited to pre- and post-withdrawal scenarios, which ultimately creates constraints in the framework.

Although US security think tanks including Rand Corporation see mixed success on the military front, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a renowned US think tank, in its recent report titled Waiting for the Taliban in Afghanistan, paints a bleak picture of the country. The Carnegie report does not see any clear future plan.

The withdrawal will leave the country worse off than it was before 2001 in some respects. Among other recommendations, the think tank endorses talks with the Taliban and urges Washington not to further compromise its ability to open negotiations with the Taliban.

Other leading US think tanks express concern that peace overtures towards the Taliban might empower them again and hand them a victory of sorts, but these think tanks lack other workable alternatives. They are more concerned about Afghanistan’s immediate neighbours and see them as spoilers. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies, in its fresh assessment, stated that “these states’ interests will not always coincide with Afghan and Western interests for the region”.

Obviously, that is US policy input coming from the intellectuals but one critical aspect, which is absent in most assessments, is the Taliban position. The Taliban seem to be clever players in the game and have kept their cards close to their chest.

The authors of a recent and creative study titled Taliban Perspectives on Reconciliation by the London-based Royal United Services Institute have brought the Taliban perspective into the debate. They note that the Taliban are open to negotiating a ceasefire and, most importantly, deeply regret their past association with Al Qaeda. The report is based on interviews of four former senior Taliban leaders. The authors have come up with a bold statement that “the Taliban are willing to accept long-term US military presence and bases as long as they do not constrain Afghan independence and Islamic jurisprudence”.

The Taliban have denounced such claims and issued clarification in their official mouthpiece monthly Shariat, stating that former Taliban Shura member Agha Jan Mutasim was removed from office in 2010 and that he must not be considered a representative of the Taliban and further that there is no change in their policy or stance that had often been shared with the media by senior Taliban. The denials notwithstanding, the report is significant as it demonstrates a change in the viewpoints of some Taliban leaders who had recently detached themselves from the movement. It highlights differences within Taliban ranks.

Understanding the composition of relations between the Taliban, Al Qaeda and other insurgent groups remains a struggle in Western policy discourse. At least clarity is increasing on the level of Pakistan’s relationship with the insurgents. Robert Grenier, a leading expert on the Haqqani network and its nexus with Pakistan, has stated that while Pakistan tried to influence them it certainly did not control the Haqqanis.

The most important contribution in understanding the dynamics of the nexus among insurgents comes from Gretchen Peters. In her well-researched report Haqqani Network Financing: The Evolution of an Industry, she traces how a militant group transformed into a mafia controlled by a few individuals, developed its own economy and defined its relations with state and non-state actors. Protecting their own interests would be their priority. Their stake in the conflict economy has increased the prospects for their reconcilability, compared with the Quetta Shura and the Hizb-i-Islami that are mainly in the political power game.

Al Qaeda is in the ideological driving seat and denouncing them would be counterproductive for the Haqqanis and the Taliban and they cannot afford to lose their ideological legitimacy.

The concern in policy and intellectual circles in Kabul is because the response from the Taliban is quite frustrating as they have not come up with specific demands nor shown flexibility towards accepting any solution within the Afghan constitution or one that is compatible with traditional standards of reconciliation.

Lack of transparency, clear mechanisms and strategy in the reconciliation process are other major causes of concern for them. But optimists in the Afghan capital see strategic agreement as a tool in the hands of President Karzai, which he is using quite effectively. They see it as a balancing act, but how it would be effective in reconciliation with the Taliban and other insurgents remains to be seen.

The key lesson that can be drawn from the intellectual exercise is that everyone sees the future of Afghanistan through the prism of their own state’s strategic interests.

The Afghan leadership has opted for an outward-looking approach to cope with internal challenges. It is safe to suggest that it would be quite some time before anyone looks at Afghanistan without the help of such strategic prisms.

Courtesy Dawn , Oct 07, 2012

A militant’s stereotype
Published: Sep 24, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

A MILITANT, if we were to stereotype one in Pakistan, would appear to have three characteristics. He would be considered emotionally charged with a narrow worldview, be seen as religiously conservative and appear to have poor educational credentials. This stereotype would usually be applied to a madressah graduate.

These stereotyped notions portray a person who is barbaric in both thought and appearance and who belongs to a primeval or tribal society. The metropolitan mindset is afraid of this image, which reduces the level of sympathy for a fellow human being and also probably his chances of reintegration in society.

But empirical data provides a different picture and is not in conformity with the stereotypical image. It is certainly not a given that a militant bears all these characteristics. He could be well educated, graduating from a modern educational institution, be modest, accommodating and well-behaved in his personal life and aware of societal and cultural norms.

Empirical evidence collected by security institutes and think tanks on militants’ profile shows that they come from diverse educational, social and ethnic backgrounds. A study based on the profiles of 20 militants conducted by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) shows that only two had come from madressahs. The majority had received a graduate-level education and most of them also had an interest in sports and social activities. Their early lives did not demonstrate any signs of abnormal behaviour.

Many of them were known to be fond of books — their reading was not found to be confined to literature on a specific ideology, sect or interest. For example, one of the militants mentioned that he was fond of philosophy, history and fiction and he had extensively read Karl Marx. Dr Mubarak Ali, a Pakistani historian, and Ghani Khan, a secular Pushto poet, were his favourite writers. In fact, before joining militant organisations, listening to music, watching television and movies were tendencies common to most of the 20 militants.

Most were not extraordinary in their childhood, but, quite naturally, their parents wished they would be successful in life. But once they fell into the militants’ trap, their families suffered much — mainly at the hands of law-enforcement agencies, something the 20 militants regretted. They still aspired for a normal life but were not hopeful of achieving that.

Politics and religion were critical aspects of their lives. The soul of the militant was caught between two different ideals. For example, some of the militants had tried to simultaneously value and practise the teachings of Baacha Khan, Mullah Omar and Ayman al-Zawahiri. Another cited Ahmed Shah Abdali, Allama Iqbal and Haq Nawaz Jhangvi as his ideal figures. It seemed that they were trying to reconcile their militant tendencies with influences which had come through their educational curriculum.

Their religious and political affiliation or support had been diverse as well. They had at some point in their lives backed the secular Awami National Party, the Muslim League, and mainstream religious parties including the Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam. But now they considered all political parties and the military leadership responsible for the crises in the country. They cited the failure to enforce Sharia, economic disparity, absence of justice and pursuit of pro-US polices as the causes of the crises. They were not very optimistic about the crises ending soon and the solution, they believed, was jihad.

There was a consensus among all 20 militants that the US was the biggest enemy of Islam.

While the common Pakistani may hold similar views, two key factors delineated the militants from the rest of their countrymen.

The first factor was the influence on their lives of preachers from militant organisations who, through their publications and literature, had indoctrinated and recruited them. The second factor was that they were politically conscious and not satisfied with the situation in the country and the Muslim world.

An important finding noted in the PIPS study was that to a large extent the recruiters had not exploited the militants’ socioeconomic deprivations (although these factors compelled some militants to join extremist organisations), but only played on their religious sentiments to urge them to extricate the nation and the ummah from the prevailing crises.

After joining the militants, most of them were not comfortable with their new lives and it took them several months to get used to the unfamiliar environment. It was noted that the number of new recruits quitting the organisations and going back to their previous lives remained quite high during the initial stages. To counter these attempts, different strategies were adopted and recruits were offered financial benefits and initially easy assignments at the camp or offices.

The militants who were arrested and detained by the law-enforcement agencies were found to be more hard-line. They alleged that some of their companions had either been killed after arrest or tortured in custody and complained that several innocents, mainly their family members, had also been arrested.

The general profile of these 20 militants showed they were young, not properly guided or supervised by their parents, and were inspired by militants’ literature and publications, which remained easily available across the country. But, they still harboured hopes and aspirations for a normal life.

Although the state has made a few attempts to exploit this desire among militants for reverting to a normal life and has set up some rehabilitation initiatives in Swat and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, these programmes are on a small scale and their effectiveness has also been called into question.

Disengaging a militant from violence and extremist tendencies is an uphill task because of his entrenched ideological and political associations. The Swat model can be replicated in other parts of the country after addressing its deficiencies and intellectual and financial constraints. But at the same time, the civil administration there and in all conflict-affected areas needs to shoulder responsibility.

In other countries, such initiatives have been taken by the political government and implemented by the civilian administration. Only a representative and accountable political set-up can have the credibility, legitimacy and mandate to take on the ideological and political sensitivities involved in the de-radicalisation process.

For effective reintegration of militants, breaking of the stereotype is vital. Militants should be punished, prosecuted and brought to justice if they are involved in terrorism or violation of the law. At the same time, they should not be labelled on the basis of certain narratives, which may not be completely different from the majority’s thinking patterns. Countering narratives is a separate area and deserves due attention, but first considering militants a part of society and reflecting on what prompted them to go to extremes is imperative.

Courtesy Dawn , Sep 23, 2012

Give peace a chance?
Published: Aug 26, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE sudden increase in surveillance across the country to avert possible terrorist attacks has many looking for the reasons behind the increased efforts at this juncture.

More vigilance could simply be the outcome of the Kamra airbase attack and the alerts that intelligence agencies have been sharing with law-enforcement agencies against that backdrop. However, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has interpreted it as a precursor to a military operation in North Waziristan Agency. The TTP spokesperson has even claimed that the government plans to launch the operation in the tribal agency in the last week of August.

Public opinion on how to deal with the situation in the tribal area is still divided and opinion leaders and experts also do not appear convinced about the implications of, or prospects for, a military operation. The main arguments can be summed up thus: this is not Pakistan’s war; not all Taliban are bad; the military must protect its strategic interests and launching an operation under US pressure will hurt these interests; the operation will be counterproductive and could trigger a wave of terrorism in the country and lead to terrorists spreading out across the country; drone attacks are counterproductive and a hiatus in them will help improve Pakistan’s internal security (although that assertion has not been borne out by facts so far); and if the US can initiate talks with Taliban, so can Pakistan.

These perceptions reflect three different approaches. The first is regional and has a strategic focus. The second emphasises internal security concerns. The third is a mix of the broader ideological and political narratives of the ummah, Islamisation and reactionary thinking, and is popular among a large segment of religious clergy and the masses and influences policy debates. But, as the Oct 18 all-parties conference resolution indicates, all these approaches somehow agree that peace should be given a chance.

That stance seems to suggest that Pakistan has not tested that option already. Yet the state has given at least 13 chances to militants through peace deals which were generally agreed to have benefited only the militants. Many analysts reject this view by saying that these pacts were made by an unrepresentative regime under Gen Pervez Musharraf. But two of the agreements, in South and North Waziristan, are still intact. Through each of these agreements the state has compromised on its writ, allowing militants to further consolidate their grip on their areas.

After the Oct 18 resolution, a similar approach was initiated with the Taliban through direct and indirect channels. The move proved futile as the TTP and the Punjabi Taliban resisted such efforts and Al Qaeda foiled them by forming a shura-i-murakeba to resolve the militants’ internal disputes, bringing all Taliban factions, including the groups headed by Hafiz Gul Bahadar and Maulvi Nazir, under one umbrella. These two were supposed to be the ‘good’ Taliban. The Taliban’s argument for not responding to the state’s overture was purely ideological; they declared that their struggle would continue until the enforcement of Sharia and that they would not accept any demands to end their support for foreign ‘mujahideen’.

Pakistani analysts divide the Taliban and other militant groups into two categories: those who are in agreement with the state and those who are not or do not wish to be. But all of these groups are in agreement with each other, and their nexus has grown ever stronger. Alarmingly, those who are considered ‘good’ Taliban are equally responsible for attacking security forces and foreign elements are also found in their fold.

The security statistics and data demonstrate this complexity. Thirty-one drone attacks have been reported in North Waziristan since January 2012. Of these, 12 were reported in Miranshah, the stronghold of Hafiz Gul Bahadar, and 78 fatalities were reported in these attacks. Many of the victims were believed to be foreign or TTP militants and Punjabi Taliban.

Mir Ali town, the supposed operational hub of TTP in North Waziristan, was hit in five drone strikes, two of which targeted militants affiliated with Gul Bahadar. Thirty security personnel were killed in 12 militant attacks on security forces in North Waziristan in the first eight months of 2012. Only one attack was reported from Mir Ali, and the rest from Miranshah and Datta Khel.

Some media reports indicate that a military operation in North Waziristan will focus only on the TTP and its affiliates, but how that would be possible in such a complex scenario remains an open question. The TTP and Al Qaeda will use ideological, ethnic and socio-political ties with other Taliban factions, including the Afghans and the Haqqanis, to stress a natural cohesion among their operations and goals. This strategy had been instrumental in persuading Pakistani sectarian groups such as Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and splinter groups of Kashmir-focused militant outfits to side with the TTP. The militants prioritise and follow their own interests whether they are in a peace deal or not.

Without going into the operational complexities of an offensive in North Waziristan, it is worth noting that the military offensives in Swat and South Waziristan Agency had proved productive and significantly decreased the threat from terrorism to internal security. A 24 per cent decline in terrorist attacks was recorded following these operations. The operational and technical aspects of a possible offensive will get great attention in the coming days, but facts must not be lost sight of in policy- and opinion-making debates. These should help develop informed public opinion, which is badly needed to counter critical threats.

Courtesy Dawn , Aug 26, 2012

Understanding the threat
Published: Aug 26, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

It is imperative to abandon the discriminative approach that looks at and treats problem of sectarian violence differently from the ongoing wave of militancy

At least thirty people have lost their lives in eleven incidents of sectarian-related terrorist attacks and targeted killings since July 20.

The August 16 killing of mostly Shia passengers at Babusar Top Pass was the worst sectarian attack carried out this year after a similar attack on Shia passengers in Kohistan on February 27. The attack was claimed by Darra Adam Khel chapter of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) which is notorious in sectarian killings.

The same day, three men belonging to Hazara Shia community were shot dead in Quetta. A new group Jaish-e-Islam accepted the responsibility for attack.

Six new groups have claimed responsibility for different sectarian attacks carried out in 2012. Does this indicate the emergence of new violent sectarian groups or merely tactical use of new names by the same old groups?

It will take time to ascertain the first probability. The use of tag names by the terrorists however is not a recent trend. There have been many incidents in the past where terrorists, belonging to the same or similar organisations, used tag names merely for operational purposes.

The terrifying aspects of recent spate of sectarian violence, however, are the sectarian groups’ ideological and operational transformations.

Sectarianism is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. It has time and again resulted in sectarian tensions and violence. The country has two regular patterns of structural violence, sectarian and ethno-political, which are major security irritants in Pakistan.

Both emerged in the 1980s and claimed thousands of lives even before 9/11.

Initially, Karachi and southern Punjab were the hotspots of ethno-political and sectarian violence, respectively, but later they took several parts of the country into their fold. Sectarian violence, however, was never supported by such a wide array of arguments justifying violence as it is supported today. Neither were sectarian groups so well connected to other actors of violence before the Soviet-Afghan war.

Sectarian groups have explored more profound grounds to justify sectarian killings ranging from Islamisation discourse to regional and international political scenario. There are two major reasons for their transformation.

First, after the sectarian groups had joined the bigger alliance of al-Qaeda their targets changed, at least for the time being. Kashmir-focused militant groups went through the same situation as their many splinters had cut off ties with the parent organisations declaring them puppets of state agencies and developed a relationship with al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda not only transformed sectarian groups’ operational capacities but as well as broadened their sectarian view. Pro-al-Qaeda and Taliban groups believe that the opponent sects, whether they are in minority or majority, are hurdles in the way of establishing Islam according to their concepts. They mainly seek support from their arguments while criticising religious rituals and practices on shrines and religious congregations. Their literature is full of these kinds of the rhetoric but one concerning aspect is that they see opponents suspiciously and apply religious directives, which apply to spies and enemies in the war.

Second, sectarian groups detached themselves from the dominating religious discourse, whose main emphasis was on Islamisation and sectarian supremacy through political means and jihad against external forces (mainly other states) to safeguard Pakistan’s ideological and geographical boundaries.

After these sectarian groups detached themselves from their parent organisations, organisational structures became irrelevant for them and even organisational tags lost their attraction for them. A fluid organisational identity provided them with more protection.

Eventually the neo-sectarian terrorists have not only reactivated the traditional hot spots of sectarian tensions but also found new grounds.

In 2010, more than 60 per cent of the total casualties of sectarian violence in Pakistan were concentrated in the cities of Karachi, Lahore and Quetta.

In 2011, the ratio of such casualties in these cities stood at about 42 per cent of the overall sectarian-related casualties in Pakistan. Furthermore, the total number of people killed and injured in sectarian-related attacks and clashes in 2011 in Hangu and Nowshera districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Mastung district in Balochistan and Khyber and Kurram tribal districts in FATA represented 38 per cent and 24 per cent of the dead and injured in sectarian violence in Pakistan, respectively.

In 2012, perpetrators of sectarian violence look relatively more focused on Gilgat Baltistan region, Quetta and Karachi.

Eliminating growing sectarian tendencies seems to be a tough and long-term job, which will require a collective response from state and society, mainly the religious clergy. Curtailing and weakening their bond with al-Qaeda and Taliban is a job of the security establishment.

In this context there is need to review the countering approach both on conceptual and operational level. It is imperative to abandon the compartmentalisation approach that looks at and treats problem of sectarian violence differently from the ongoing wave of militancy in the country.

At the same time, a clear operational approach based on a distinction between the challenges of a tribal insurgency and the pervasive terrorism in the country is required. Al-Qaeda, the TTP and sectarian groups in Pakistan have a nexus, but their operational strategies and partnerships may differ to varying degrees. Countermeasures at the security, political and ideological levels need to factor in those differences and respond accordingly.

The sectarian violence seems the part of urban terrorism strategy of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Police can contribute more in these areas to counter this threat. The federal and provincial governments need to focus more on providing police with better training and equipment.

There is a pressing need to utilise the Special Investigation Group(SIG) effectively. Apart from intelligence-sharing and coordination among the various agencies, a cohesive legislative framework to deal with terrorism is indispensable. Parliament needs to take up the issue immediately.

Legislation alone can never be an effective tool to deal with terrorism until the capacity of the legal system, including the judges, lawyers and the prosecution, is enhanced. Apart from transparency and appointment of capable judges to anti-terrorism courts (ATCs), the Supreme Court and the high courts should monitor the functioning of ATCs in accordance with the Supreme Court’s judgment in the 1999 Sheikh Liaquat Hussain case.

Courtesy The News , Aug 26, 2012

Debate on the letter.
Published: Aug 13, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issued two warnings last week. One was to the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI), which is already being discussed in the media, and the second addressed religious scholars who are not supporting the militants’ cause.

The warning sent to leading religious scholars by Ihsanullah Ihsan, the TTP spokesperson, advises them against making alliances with liberal segments of society and warns them to stay away from elections as a device to introduce sharia in the country. The four-page letter also justified Taliban actions against the Pakistani state and attacks on the military by arguing that the government was not an Islamic one and that it was fair to wage ‘jihad’ against it and the military.

Although the letter contains nothing new regarding the Taliban’s arguments justifying their cause and views against democracy, the timing of the warning is crucial, especially in the context of the upcoming elections. This indicates that the TTP wants to exert pressure on religious political parties to stay away from the electoral process. Although different Taliban factions made similar attempts in the last general elections and had some impact in the Waziristan and Malakand regions that failed to become a popular call and the same is expected in the future.

The timing of the letter is more significant in the context of an extensive debate among religious scholars over the justification of violence by the militants. Religious publications are discussing the issue through different perspectives and the debate is ultimately creating alternative arguments to militant ideologies. The way pro-militant forces are responding shows that they feel more insecure and threatened by the counter-arguments as compared, perhaps, to the use of force.

Monthly Al-Shariah, published from Gujranwala, has come up with a special and lengthy issue titled ‘Jihad: in classical and contemporary contexts’ which includes debates on takfir and khurooj. These two concepts provide the ideological basis to Al Qaeda and militant forces across the Muslim world.

Apart from the critical review of Ayman Al-Zawahiri’s booklet, in which he basically declared the Pakistan constitution un-Islamic, Prof. Mushtaq Ahmed gives a clear view of the issue of revolt against the Pakistani state and argues that sharia could not endorse any such attempt. This monthly magazine is considered a serious, academic and reputed publication in the Deobandi school of thought. Another prominent Deobandi scholar, Mufti Muhammad Zahid, has come up with admirable work on the tradition of tolerance among Muslim scholars in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Maulana Tahir Ashrafi has written a book on minorities’ rights in Muslim states. These are a few glimpses of the recent attempts. The TTP could apparently not ignore these efforts and had to come up with a strong reaction.

This is the first time in Pakistan that an intellectual response has come from religious scholars against growing extremist tendencies in the country. Previously, a few fatwas (religious decrees) were issued by different religious parties but these remained ambiguous because on the one hand these decrees condemned terrorist attacks, yet on the other tried to justify the cause and grievances of the terrorists.

The recent debate has tried to cover every relevant aspect, including the liability of a Muslim citizen to obey his contract with the state, and has raised critical questions regarding people’s defiance as a justification for self-defence, for forcing the rulers to enforce sharia and abandon policies against national reformation, or for replacing an un-Islamic system of government with an Islamic one.

The loss of lives and property in armed revolt and the consequent chaos and mayhem are bigger troubles than wicked rulers. If the state commits acts of oppression and violence against a group, can the latter raise arms against the former in self-defence or revenge? If not, then what alternatives are available in sharia to that oppressed group? If the government of a Muslim country helps non-believers and infidels in their act of aggression and attacks another Muslim country, what is the legal responsibility in Islam for citizens of the former country? Should they approve of and join their government’s support to the aggressor, remain neutral or help the Muslims under attack?

These are a few questions which are being discussed among religious scholars. Although religious scholars do not regard democracy as a complete form of government, it can be useful and effective insofar as the desired outcome of khurooj — that is, to change the rulers — can be achieved peacefully through elections. Interestingly, some scholars argue that even if rulers impose excessive taxes and force people to pay without a legal justification in sharia, it is better for the people to defend themselves by adopting ways other than khurooj.

Another important observation is that when ideological differences pertain to conflict between believers and non-believers in a Muslim-majority, or Islamic state, a Muslim is not allowed to harm fellow citizens. The security and protection of the latter’s life and property is obligatory for Muslims. Islam has forbidden individuals to take the law into their hands and made it abundantly clear that only the state has the authority to provide justice to victims and punish offenders.

These are healthy signs that religious scholars have realised the sensitivity of the situation and are trying to respond to critical ideological challenges without the patronage and support of the state. The one favour that the state can do to these attempts is to provide a free environment to these scholars, so that they continue their scholarship without any pressure from the extremists.

Courtesy Dawn , Aug 12, 2012

The missing context
Published: July 30, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

EVEN though they’ve been around a long time, Pakistan’s militant groups remain shrouded largely in mystery.

The common Pakistani knows little about militants’ presence around him and few have knowledge about their objectives, agendas and structures — although the common ideological narratives and worldview may provide a common thread.

There could be many reasons for this lack of understanding. First, most militant groups operate under the guise of charities and actively strive to hide their motives and objectives from public view. Their recruitment patterns are becoming very sophisticated and a new trend of targeted indoctrination and recruitment has emerged.

Secondly, the glorification of militant jihad has engendered certain tendencies of acceptance among the masses; until they suffer directly at the hands of the militants, they tend to reject all criticism as conspiracy theories.

Because of the bitter experience of the people in Swat and parts of Fata at the hands of the Taliban, recent polls show that opposition to militancy is higher in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and some tribal agencies as compared to Punjab and Sindh. Yet a generally vague threat perception — not only among the masses but also at the policy level — undermines any gains from this unfavourable view of the militants.

Meanwhile, internationally even most leading experts on terrorism have a sketchy understanding of Pakistani militant groups.
This could be on account of limited access to primary sources, the lack of opportunities to interact with militants and poor understanding of the local social, religious, cultural and class structures that can contribute to unreliable assessment and analysis.

Many foreign analysts claim that they have access to their states’ databases, including intelligence departments’ resource centres. The analysis they come up with raises questions about the reliability of these databases. Cited across the world, these reports are often full of elementary factual errors. This is not to suggest mala fide intentions behind the reports but to point out the lack of intellectual depth and the failure to focus on perspective.

Ironically, many leading Pakistani experts quote these reports extensively, invariably seeing local militants through Western lenses. This reflects their indolence and lack of capacity in understanding local problems in the local context.

Does that mean that the militants are successful in deceiving the whole world? Do they have a conscious strategy to operate behind a smokescreen of ambiguities? But militant groups do not operate like criminal syndicates; they fight for certain political and ideological causes and need public support to sustain their activities. Therefore, they also have to be on the surface to sustain and expand their support base. The religious and ideological discourse acts as a catalyst for them, and the lack of understanding about them both at the national and international levels has contributed to their strength.

Cultivating primary sources in and rapport with militant groups is a risky proposition for journalists and researchers. The risks are outlined by the abduction and murder, thought to be a consequence of his level of penetration into militant ranks, of journalist Saleem Shahzad in May 2011. He had developed a good understanding of a few groups in Pakistan. Dealing with such threats urgently is obviously of critical importance and depends largely on a researcher’s perception and priorities. Research and investigative journalism on matters of politics, economy and crime is also difficult but the knowledge-base on these subjects is not as skeletal it is on militancy.

Consequently, only a few perceptions have developed that help in understanding the phenomenon of militancy in Pakistan.
Three broad sets of perceptions are available at the national and international level.

The first approach deals with historical perspective and links the emergence of militant groups with the religious discourse in the country and the influence of the Islamisation movements across the world. Wahabi or Salafi influences are considered the transforming agents in this approach, which argues that militancy is a violent expression of this discourse and cannot be dealt with without reform of the whole discourse. This approach does not provide any comprehensive solutions and merely suggests long-term initiatives such as promotion of alternative narratives, counter-arguments, modern education and cultural fusion.

The second approach places emphasis on the security and conflict perspective. It links the current state of militancy to lingering conflicts in the region, including Kashmir and Afghanistan, and sees them as the core problem. This approach helps explain and understand the strategic positions of states including notions such as ‘strategic depth’.

Understandably, it favours the resolution of long-standing border and territorial conflicts but at the same time assumes that militants or non-state actors are under full control of the state and the solutions lie in the hands of the state.

In Pakistan, many perceive that after the coalition forces leave Afghanistan, many of the militant groups will lose their legitimacy or raison d’être, which will lead to reduced security threats inside the country and most groups would be reconciled through negotiations.

This approach does not satisfy counter-terrorism practitioners and policy analysts who see the militants as an autonomous phenomenon that has developed a stake in the conflict economy, and developed cooperation and links with international terrorist groups and local crime syndicates.

The third approach perceives them as a lethal threat to internal and external security and something that needs to be dealt with an iron hand.

These approaches see militants from different viewpoints, varying from national security paradigms to strategic perspectives.
For the US, the concern may be confined to the militants’ international links and the potential threat they pose to regional security. For India, they are an irritant that could trigger a bigger conflict in the region. To Pakistan, they may be a threat to internal security.

Some analysts also favour a combination of the three approaches, although it is yet to seen if that would be feasible. One thing is clear: all are concerned about the militant groups’ operational capabilities and the ideological and political consequences of their actions but there is little interest in the circumstances of their birth and prospects of longevity.

Courtesy Dawn , July 29, 2012

Assessing capabilities
Published: July 16, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE terrorist attack on trainee jail wardens from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Lahore has exposed once again the lapses in the capabilities of security forces to counter these threats.

Terrorist attacks had decreased by 56 per cent in Punjab in 2011 compared to 2010, which might have led to complacency in the security forces’ surveillance and intelligence-gathering, offering an opportunity to the terrorists to strike.

The terrorists have been using a range of tactics in target killings in Punjab. In May this year, they attacked a police picket in Lahore killing two policemen and injuring two others. The same picket had been targeted by a suicide bomber in 2009. In another attack that was believed having sectarian motives, renowned Shia religious scholar and educationist Dr Shabihul Hasan was gunned down in Lahore. In an attack similar to the Lahore assault, unidentified assailants attacked a military camp in Gujrat, also in Punjab, in the first week of July, killing at least eight security personnel.

This may lead one to assume that perhaps the same group is involved in these attacks, but at the same time the change in tactics and in the frequency of attacks reflects that the terrorists are under some pressure or that they lack human resources. There has been a clear decline in the number of suicide attacks in Pakistan in the first quarter of 2012, as 13 attacks have been reported so far, 65 per cent less than the attacks in the same period in 2011. The space for terrorists in Pakistan’s tribal areas is shrinking and the ongoing military campaign against them or drone strikes or indeed both could be the reason.

After the killing of Qari Hussain and Badar Mansoor, both masterminds and trainers of suicide bombers, it seems that the terrorists are missing their destructive skills or are preserving their human resources until they have regained their operational capabilities.

The security officials in Punjab immediately linked the attack on the trainee jail wardens in Lahore to the resumption of Nato supplies through Pakistan. However, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack and called it a response to the mistreatment of jailed Taliban.

The security officials’ claim can be seen as an attempt at saving face by diverting attention away from their negligence and failure. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the Taliban travelled all the way from Fata or Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to launch the latest attack; local elements are bound to have played a considerable role. This attack indicates that the terrorist support networks are still active in urban Pakistan and sleeper cells exist. This also raises questions, not for the first time, about terrorist getting support or intelligence from within the security agencies.

After the recent wave of terrorist attacks, the Punjab government had admitted for the first time that the southern belt of the province was a breeding ground for militants. The Punjab chief minister stated at a ceremony that he had launched Daanish schools in the region to prevent the youth from falling into extremists’ hands. Although it is partially true that the problem is only in the south of the Punjab this realisation has not translated into an appropriate response to the challenge. And that is a flaw not only in the Punjab government but applies to all provinces and to the federal government as well.

This is a critical issue, which deals with threat perceptions of the security apparatus in Pakistan, and prevents the formulation of an effective response to security threats. A clear approach based on a distinction between the challenges of a tribal insurgency and the pervasive terrorism in the country is required. Al Qaeda, the TTP and other militant groups in Pakistan may have a nexus but their operational strategies and partners are different. Countermeasures at the security, political and ideological levels need to factor in those differences and respond accordingly. Understanding the nature of the challenge in each context is also important.

This is the main hurdle in the formulation of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy. In the absence of such a strategy, law-enforcement agencies develop certain responses, which may be effective at times but cannot have a long-term impact, as they are not part of the broader strategy and each institution tries to respond in its own way. Working in this manner, there is little prospect of them adopting new approaches to tackle the menace.

Even though non-collaborative responses by security forces have had some success, which must be acknowledged as terrorists have been forced to change their tactics and adopt new strategies, the security forces can learn from the terrorists how to rapidly adjust to new challenges.

The security forces’ focus has so far been on countering insurgency in the tribal areas, mainly through the use of military force against the militants, encouraging local communities to confront them and engaging the militants in talks. So far, the first component of the strategy has proved effective but has not yielded the desired results. The law-enforcement agencies can only cope with the new challenges by putting in place improved investigation, intelligence-gathering and intelligence-sharing mechanisms, and by developing a rapid response system.

Accurate threat perception is crucial to effectively responding to the sort of terrorism Pakistan faces. A clear approach based on a distinction between the challenges of tribal insurgency and urban terrorism is required at the policy level. Most importantly, law-enforcement agencies need to continuously review not only their own capabilities but also those of the terrorists.

Courtesy Dawn , July 16, 2012

Why Pakistani Taliban matter
Published: July 01, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

UNLIKE the Afghan Taliban, the international community does not appear keen to engage the Pakistani Taliban in talks.

The emphasis in western and regional capitals is on reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban and that obviously forms part of the Nato exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Although there is little reason so far to be optimistic about the future of engaging with the Afghan Taliban, at least weighing the different options is under way. One may be excused for concluding that the western and regional capitals consider the burden of sorting out the Pakistani Taliban to be Islamabad’s alone.

The security, strategic, political and ideological implications of the post-Nato scenario in the region and the future of the Pakistani Taliban is not getting the deserved attention in Islamabad’s policy circles. No rationale for this attitude is available, except for the ambiguous threat perception about the Pakistani Taliban, especially amid false notions of their reconcilability and the externalisation of the threat.

In that context, there is a need to identify the potential of the Pakistani Taliban and their strength, which may help remove any ambiguities in threat perception. The Pakistani Taliban’s main strength lies in their ideological bond with Al Qaeda and their connection with the Islamisation discourse in Pakistan. They gain political and moral legitimacy by associating themselves with the Afghan Taliban. Their tribal and ethnic ties provide social space and acceptance among a segment of society.

At their core, the Pakistani Taliban espouse Deobandi sectarian teachings. This commonality allows them to function under a single umbrella, even though their political interpretation of Deobandi principles is at times not monolithic. As a group, they maintain a dogmatic stance by espousing an interpretation that is intolerant of all other Muslim sects.

This ought to isolate the Taliban from the majority of Pakistanis who adhere to the Barelvi tradition. In reality, this was only
partially the case when the insurgency began as the Pakistani Taliban craftily created a narrative around their movement that found sympathy across the sectarian divide. They strove to portray their struggle as one aiming at driving out foreign ‘occupation’ forces from Afghanistan in the short run, and all ‘infidel’ forces from Muslim lands in the long run.

By doing so, they not only tied in with transnational jihadi groups in a material sense but also presented themselves as ideologically similar. More tangibly, the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership, especially its first head Baitullah Mehsud, also tried to portray the outfit as an operation under Mullah Omar’s Afghan Taliban. Every militant faction that wished to join the TTP had to take an oath of commitment to the enforcement of the Sharia and of allegiance to Mullah Omar. By doing so, Baitullah hoped to gain more legitimacy and further portray his struggle as Afghanistan-focused.

Baitullah knew that existing as an overt anti-Pakistan group aiming to target the Pakistani state would quickly generate a consensus against his activities, and therefore he used the TTP’s ideological, ethnic and sociopolitical ties with the Afghan Taliban to stress a natural cohesion between their operations and goals. This strategy was also instrumental in attracting other sectarian groups, such as the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ), and splinter groups of Kashmir-oriented outfits to work closely with the TTP.

The Pakistani Taliban not only had a well-defined ideological base, the geo-strategic milieu also worked in their favour.

While the Pakistani Taliban may not enjoy moral or political support from neighbouring states, they have strong connections with non-state actors in those territories, which allow them to thrive despite opposition from the Pakistani state.

The TTP has connections with smugglers and mafias in the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and have support from international terrorist networks, including Al Qaeda. Coupled with the Pakistani state’s belief that the conflict in Afghanistan is upsetting the regional power balance in favour of its adversaries, and that the war is entertaining covert wars of international and regional spy agencies and players, it has distracted the counterinsurgency focus.

Another strategic advantage for the Taliban has been its dynamic leadership; evident especially in the case of killed leaders such as Nek Muhammad, Abdullah Mehsud, Baitullah Mehsud, as well as the current TTP head Hakeemullah Mehsud, who emerged as a ‘charismatic strategist’. Hakeemullah also quickly realised the benefit in associating himself with global terrorism rings, and used it as a means to enhance his own and his outfit’s stature.

Hakeemullah’s appearance in 2009 in a video with a Jordanian suicide bomber, who later killed several CIA agents in the Afghan province of Khost, put his name on the list of high-value militant targets for the US. This endorsed his stature as a worthy successor to Baitullah. Similarly, TTP’s fingerprints on the failed Time Square bombing by Pakistani-born Faisal Shehzad in May 2010 elevated the TTP’s stature as a group that could directly threaten America on its own soil.

The challenge for the Pakistani state is complex, with dire implications for the country’s internal security. Al Qaeda, the TTP and militant groups in Punjab, Karachi and elsewhere have developed a nexus. Splinter groups of banned militants organisations or emerging groups have been involved in the recent wave of terror in mainland Pakistan.

These groups, tagged as the ‘Punjabi Taliban’, are the product of a narrative of destruction fostered within the country over the past three decades. Their agendas revolve around Islamisation and sectarianism. Their operational capabilities have been enhanced by Al Qaeda providing them training and logistics, and by the Pakistani Taliban offering safe sanctuaries.

Breaking these links between Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and mainland militant groups is not an easy task, especially when the state continues to lack the vision to build a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy, and the capacity for effective implementation.

Even if all of these things materialise, the central, and the most difficult, task for the state in the post-Taliban insurgency scenario will be to overhaul and rehabilitate tribal society, as well as restructure the administrative, political and economic systems in the areas where the Taliban claim to provide an alternative to the state.

Courtesy Dawn , July 01, 2012

Season of agreements
Published: June 18, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

SUBSTANTIAL changes on the international strategic landscape are not only set to change the role of various players in Afghanistan but will also have a long-term impact on the strategic outlook of the region. The United States has crafted an exit strategy as China has shown interest in a broader role in Afghanistan.

This is not simply an issue of changing priorities in Afghanistan; it is part of global strategic shifts. The Euro-Atlantic region and Asia overall are trying to adjust to the new change. The US security policy shift from Central Asia and Europe to Asia-Pacific, particularly the southern part of the region, and the Middle East has triggered the scuffle.

The Nato countries are adjusting their positions and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is trying to come up with a response. China, India and even Afghanistan have responded rather well but Pakistan’s position is not clear yet.

Although the mercury had been rising on the international strategic stage since 2011 May and June this year have proved the hottest months so far. The Chicago summit in May and the SCO moot in early June have come up with clear indications of security and defence strategic shifts.

The fundamental goal underpinning the US shift lies in the military sphere and economic interest under a broader
geographical vision of the Asia-Pacific region. A new regional design in the form of economic and political arrangements in East Asia is developing that has significant implications for American interests and policy. As per the official version, the US has a similar approach in the Middle East both in the economic and strategic spheres.

Does that mean that the US will leave behind a vacuum in the region when its troops leave Afghanistan? That is an important question, particularly in the context of Afghanistan’s strategic engagements with the US and India. However, it is obvious that China and Russia not only have a better image in Central and South Asia but also have influence both at the state and society level. For the US it is not an easy task to encircle China or Iran, which is a major irritant for the US.

The strategic objectives of the US in this region were mainly related to internal security, particularly guarding the US against any terrorist attempt from jihadis. The growing Chinese interest in Afghanistan has similar objectives aimed at working as a counterbalance to Indian and US influence and to secure Beijing’s own geo-economic interests. China had already entered into a strategic partnership with Afghanistan to boost cooperation on the political, economic, cultural and security fronts.

For Afghanistan, this partnership is an attempt to create some strategic balance with Pakistan and to pressurise the latter into taking action against terrorists on its territory. China does not seem satisfied with Pakistan’s efforts against the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (Etim) militants in its tribal region, and the Sino-Afghan partnership can help increase pressure on Etim elements on Afghan soil. Ultimately, it will bring more pressure to bear on Pakistan in both strategic and political terms.

The US approach in Afghanistan seems to be that it can counter internal security threats even with a limited military presence in Afghanistan, while using drone strikes as a key instrument of its strategy. As far as countering Iran’s nuclear ambition is concerned, Washington’s reliance will increase on Ankara, as Turkey is already playing the facilitator’s role.To further strengthen their policy objectives, the US and India have signed an agreement for holding regular trilateral talks with Afghanistan to help Kabul strengthen its grip on power.

Although media reports state that the new arrangement would allow a three-way consultation process, like the trilateral arrangement the US has with Pakistan and Afghanistan, the agreement indicates that Pakistan’s role is severely undermined as an effective partner, and that can be a destabilising factor in the region.

This reduced role in the regional strategic equation would obviously be a headache for Islamabad. The dynamics of international engagement with Pakistan are changing, as the international community’s concerns grow about Pakistan’s internal security and the presence of transnational terrorist networks on its soil.

The various approaches of engagement with Pakistan may vary for different states but terrorism remains the central theme.

Terrorism is not only weakening Pakistan’s bilateral relations with China but also with Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Pakistan still has a few windows open in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia. It can strengthen its strategic position by joining the SCO as a full member. Although China and Russia have differences of opinion on the issue, no SCO state wants to see the forum become a stage for proxy wars between the two South Asian nuclear adversaries India and Pakistan.

The new challenges are emerging at a very fast pace, and Pakistan has to respond swiftly. The response can come through a clear vision and the leadership has to bring innovation to the policy discourse.

Pakistan can learn from the Euro-Atlantic nations that are evolving a new strategic framework based on five principles; first, a move from residual hostility and strategic rivalry to strategic cooperation; second, a historic Euro-Atlantic reconciliation; third, a new narrative recognising the stakes in security and prosperity for all and the risk in the weakness and tribulations of any member; fourth, energy security based on independence rather than competition; and finally, the institutions on which the Euro-Atlantic states rely for security must be strengthened and welded into a division of labour enabling them all to meet the 21st century’s new security challenges Although the dip in tensions between India and Pakistan is a positive sign it needs to be put into a proper framework, and Afghanistan can also be engaged.

The Euro-Atlantic framework, with a few amendments, can provide the future course for this troubled region. Pakistan should take the lead in initiating this process, not least because it needs to restore the balance of things in its favour.

Courtesy Dawn , June 18, 2012

The Pakistani spring
Published: June 04, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

EVEN after several attempts in the last few decades, Pakistan has been waiting for its own version of the Arab spring.

The Arab spring in the Middle East is itself in transition and it is difficult to predict the course it will take. The Islamist forces there have not only become part of the mainstream but have also gained a substantial stake in power. Many wonder if the Islamists in Pakistan can go down the same road.

The Islamists in the two scenarios operate in contexts that are poles apart. In the Arab world, Islamist forces suffered for long under very harsh dictatorships, while their namesakes in Pakistan enjoyed perks and power as supporters of almost all governments; here, they have influenced the policy discourse.

The lessons the Islamists learned in the Arab world persuaded them to modify their approach and this has contributed towards their successful entrance into the corridors of power. They have also succeeded where others failed, leaving the West no option but to recognise their mandate — which was not the case when the Islamic Salvation Front scored an electoral victory in Algeria or Hamas in Palestine. The West may simply have learned that pressure on liberal democracies may be counterproductive but credit is also due to the Islamists whose accommodative, persistent and flexible attitude paved the way for ‘Islamist democracies’.

Constitutionally, Pakistan is already an Islamic republic — a status which has eluded most of the Islamic world so far.

Making comparisons in two important aspects would be worthwhile; first, the level of anger and frustration among Muslim youth, and secondly, what they want to achieve. In Pakistan, the anger against the ruling elite is rising. The major contributing factors identified are political, economic and ideological.

By contrast, in the Arab world, demands for freedom of expression and better economic conditions were the triggers for the spring. On that stage, the constitutional legitimacy of Islam was not the protesters’ destination. The Islamists are trying to develop good governance models and trying not to disturb the social contract which their societies have had for a long time.

That has been the key to their success.

In Pakistan, whenever the Islamists have got the opportunity to taste power, whether through democratic means or by allying with military dictators, they have influenced the constitutional sphere to push through their narrow agendas. This has created resentment against them among the urban classes.

From Mufti Mehmud’s government in the then NWFP in the 1970s to Gen Ziaul Haq’s Majlis-i-Shura and the Muttahida
Majlis-i-Amal’s provincial governments in the western border provinces, the Islamists have tried to build legal fortifications around the fort of Islam of their interpretation.

Despite the contrasts, the Arab world has remained a source of inspiration for Islamists in Pakistan. Different religious parties in the country have maintained links with the governments and Islamist elements in the Arab world, although often these links have only remained confined to groups with a shared sectarian identity. It seems that the religious political parties in Pakistan have failed to make use of the anxiety prevailing among the masses to start a meaningful movement aimed at realising the change they seek.

The Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), which has considerable links with Islamist movements abroad (mainly with likeminded Brotherhood movements in the Arab world) has failed to mobilise its supporters. Some analysts argue that Pakistanis appear least concerned about the sea change in the Arab world on account of internal political, economic and security crises. This may not be the case after all, as religious publications have certainly focused on the changes in the Arab world — yet unfortunately along sectarian lines. The Arab spring is indeed influencing the Pakistani youth and Islamists in certain ways.

As Pakistan’s young are largely confused in their ideological and political vision, the thinking patterns in Pakistan are
dominated by an ideologically strong national state vision with a good governance model. In the peripheries, ethnic identity and secular tendencies have taken on growing importance. Islamist forces were used to force peripheral tendencies through the ‘mainstream’ vision, but now it seems that divergent trends are also emerging.

The prevailing trends offer space for new political forces that can satisfy both tendencies. The Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf is trying to exploit mainstream tendencies and Islamists have the potential to manipulate a favourable outcome in other areas.

But the political landscape in Pakistan is diverse, competitive and complex. It would be a harder task to generate a change on the pattern of the Arab spring.

The Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) (JUI-F) seems to believe that it has correctly assessed the changing scenario, is taking a more pronounced anti-establishment stance and trying to gain ground in the political mainstream. However, the party is beset by a conformist support base and deficient organisational structure. Although the madrassahs have increased their influence in Pakistan, their students and teachers come mainly from the peripheries and lack the capacity to influence the local political discourse.

For mobilising the required wave of change, a good organisational network and likeminded people among the leadership are needed — and the JUI-F lacks both. The JI qualifies on both counts but it is persisting with its traditional political path despite recent changes.

Pakistan has received some negative influences from the changes in the Arab world, too. Each school of sectarian thought is trying to interpret those changes through a sectarian prism. During the unrest in Bahrain, Pakistan’s religious parties held street demonstrations in support of their faith-fellows. Even the Jamaat-ud-Daawa was quite active in supporting Saudi Arabia. Investigators connected attacks on the Saudi consulate in Karachi and the killing of a diplomat with the events in the Gulf. As tensions increase in the Gulf, the sectarian divide increases in Pakistan.

The current trends show that the Arab spring may not trigger the same wave in Pakistan but its influence over the religious discourse may continue to have a negative effect, at least until the fate of the change in the Arab world itself takes definite shape.

Courtesy Dawn , June 03, 2012

After Osama bin Laden
Published: May 24, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE 9/11 attacks had turned the world upside down but the death of the architect of those attacks have not evoked a response even remotely comparable to the US attacks in September 2001. In fact, Bin Laden’s killing has not had any significant impact anywhere except in Pakistan. For over a year now, since Bin Laden’s killing by US forces, Pakistan has been trying to find a way to overcome the embarrassing implications and repercussions of the incident. A recent statement by Pakistan’s federal defence minister about the country’s efforts leading to US intelligence agencies reaching Bin Laden’s hideout is an attempt at damage control.

 A Pakistani security official’s briefing to some foreign journalists on the role of Pakistan’s intelligence in reaching Bin Laden was a similar but belated effort to try and clear the country’s position. Pakistan had lost that opportunity in the immediate aftermath, when Barack Obama publicly thanked Pakistan for its support. But the impact of Bin Laden’s death was miscalculated by the Pakistani security establishment.

 The fear of revenge attacks by Al Qaeda and its affiliates and misperceptions of a public backlash in Pakistan and across the Muslim world were the leading factors that contributed to their assessment. The wave of retaliatory attacks apprehended by the establishment never materialised.

 Contrary to various assessments, Pakistan faced few revenge attacks from Al Qaeda, although the number was higher compared to other parts of the world. Attacks claimed by the Taliban as a response to Bin Laden’s death included the May 2011 attack on Frontier Constabulary (FC) headquarters in Shabqadar area of Charsadda district, as well as attacks on US regional assistant security officers in Peshawar amongst others. The most devastating and embarrassing attack was the one that targeted Pakistan’s Mehran naval base in Karachi, where two PC-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft were also destroyed. Pakistan’s major security threat today comes from the Punjabi and tribal Taliban who have transformed into Al Qaeda franchises. A centrally controlled leadership might not contribute enough to restrain these home-grown militants from pursuing their agendas.

 The Al Qaeda ideology and training have made these local groups more lethal. They are now strategically more diverse and their targets have also expanded beyond conventional sectarian motives to anti-state ones and whenever they find favourable circumstances they can turn into global jihadis.Although Bin Laden had lost operational control of Al Qaeda before he was killed, his purpose had been served by that point.

The militants no longer need a charismatic personality to keep their structures intact.

 As far as the public reaction is concerned, findings of opinion surveys by some international forums reveal that the death of Bin Laden has not contributed much to changing the people’s threat perceptions. Their threat matrix still fluctuates between the US and Al Qaeda. The common man still perceives the US as an external threat and Al Qaeda and its affiliates as an internal threat to the country.

 If asked to choose between the two, they may be inclined towards Al Qaeda. The factors that had contributed to the security establishment’s assessment have proved wrong and the country is still facing the consequences.

 The first casualty of the May 2, 2011 incident was the Pakistan-US relationship, and although both sides are now trying to repair ties, civil-military relations in Islamabad fell to their lowest ebb, which ultimately led to the so-called memogate scandal. It seems that the political government has come out of the post-Bin Laden crisis and the security establishment has made compromises so far. The positive outcome of the crisis has been parliament’s active involvement in foreign policy formation.

 Although parliament has not come up with any creative policy options, and even failed to provide broader principles for foreign policy mainly touching upon the tactical issues in the perspective of Pakistan-US ties, its ‘interference’ in major state policy formation is nevertheless encouraging and needs to be sustained.

 In a broader perspective, Bin Laden’s death did not change the dynamics of international security challenges. Irrespective of the peaks and valleys in the level of threats, terrorism only changes its form and the challenge very much remains. The US cannot declare victory even after its decade-long war on terrorism.

 The battle in Afghanistan is still testing Nato forces. Pakistan is also in a dilemma of which threat to prioritise; the conventional one or the challenge posed by non-state actors? Al Qaeda itself faces many challenges as the process it had triggered seems to have gotten out of hand.

 The documents recovered from Bin Laden’s hideout show that he had lost operational control over Al Qaeda for all intents and purposes and was dependent upon a courier for communication with his fellows. This could be one factor that led to the decentralisation of Al Qaeda.

 Bin Laden’s importance for the militants was symbolic and his authority was supreme although he was not exercising it.

Ideology is the major bond that glues together the Al Qaeda franchise, and Bin Laden was the glue for Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

The Al Qaeda central command now depends on affiliates and allies, who often have only peripheral or ephemeral ties to either the core cadre or the affiliated groups. The post-Bin Laden era has not brought the sort of optimism for the international community that was expected. But for Pakistan, the key test is one of how to develop or strike a balance between challenges and responses.

Courtesy Dawn , May 20, 2012

Paradoxical patterns
Published: May 07, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THINKING patterns in Pakistan do not appear to be monolithic. Rather they are mutually contrary to a point where their paradoxical nature is the prominent feature.

Osama bin Laden’s neighbours in Abbottabad still do not believe that the world’s most wanted man had been living among them for years. It’s a belief that the majority in Pakistan shares with them. Another popular perception is that Bin Laden and his men were not involved in the 9/11 attacks, which they consider were a conspiracy hatched by the American or the Jews.

Simplicity is a key advantage for any narrative but behind oversimplifications there often are manifestations of certain protective behaviours to counter collective fears. Every society and nation has certain moral, ideological and social values, which shape collective pride. Any action that hurts a collective sense of pride stimulates protective sensors,
which manifest themselves in paradoxical narratives.

In many cases, the individual and the group know that a certain type of behaviour is potentially harmful and self-deluding but still they persist with it, much like a smoker who knows the hazards of the habit but still persists even as he flirts with the idea of quitting.

Similarly, a state may realise the consequences of indulging in armed conflict but paradoxically remains engrossed in it. Clear thinking and wisdom are among the first casualties when collective ego rears its head.

The US is not an exception when it comes to the war, and has apparently given little thought to how it will cope with human rights issues, of which it claims to be a custodian.

Moreover, its approach on the war on terror has sought to legitimise what is clearly outlawed under international law and shown the way to other states whose aggression against violent or non-violent non-state actors outside their territories include Israel’s invasion of the West Bank.

The victim states generally lack comparable military muscle and try to respond by citing sovereignty, though that also generates paradoxical tendencies. Paradoxical approaches can be found in the notion of good and bad Taliban in Pakistan and in the establishment’s behaviour towards Baloch separatists in comparison with the so-called jihadi forces, who are responsible for bleeding Pakistan.

These are international and security paradigms of paradoxical practices, which have adjusted to the challenges through diplomacy, political engagement and frameworks of mutual interest. The real issue is the people’s paradoxical thinking patterns, which are more challenging and countering them is more complex.

The average Pakistani wants to be progressive in a conservative framework. He is caught between two competing narratives: the one which is primarily grounded in religion and is now championed by militant groups makes him want to see his religion triumph; the other, usually put forward by the government and sections of the media, is geared towards making people realise the significance of progressing in the world.

These paradoxical thinking patterns can be summed up thus: a desire for Pakistan to be a politically sovereign and assertive state, with all the benefits of international engagement without any compulsion or reciprocity; economic self-reliance with the advantages of globalisation; individual freedom and choice but at the societal level ‘piousness’ and conservatism; ideologically less receptive to new ideas; emotionally reactive and inclined to put the burden on others.

Everyone in Pakistan experiences these paradoxes in their daily lives, with slight variations. The popular slogan of the moderate majority has nothing to do with the ground realities. Many studies conducted by Pakistani and foreign scholars and research institutions also endorse that the space for moderate discourse is shrinking in Pakistan and paradoxical thinking patterns prevail.

Most of these studies indicate that religion is an issue of identity for the average Pakistani but that he is confused on whether he should seek guidance from it for solutions to all his problems. This is demonstrated by a large proportion of respondents in a survey by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies supporting the country’s hybrid legal system in which the Sharia is not the only source of law.

However, in the same survey a fairly large percentage also thought that democracy would not make a difference in dealing with the challenges facing them. The same confusion can be seen in society overall.

At a historical level, it may be argued that two factors played an important role in developing such a state of mind in Pakistan. The first pertained to the departure of the country from its non-Muslim heritage, culture and roots that created an identity crisis. The second was a conscious alignment with the Islamic world as an extension of the first factor, but this has proved to be a fatal exercise.

At the behavioural level, it shaped a majority mindset. The fear of failure was at the core of the experiment. The majority mindset snubbed every voice that attempted to challenge it. It triggered a process of marginalisation and exclusion at the ideological level that brought ethnic and sectarian minorities into its fold of exclusion.

Interestingly, the numbers and ratio of marginalised voices has increased to a level where the majority seems too puzzled to reconcile with new realities. Punjab has become the majority symbol and the custodian of ideological and political discourse in the province.

A compensative approach started when major ethnic communities, mainly the Pakhtuns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Urdu-speaking in Sindh got economic and political incentives but on the condition they adopt the majority’s norms. The process has not been completed and though it does not seem peculiar in the societal expansion
discourse the majority has failed to evolve any ideological compensative approach which has nurtured paradoxical behaviour.

Evolving a more balanced approach is an uphill task but a number of studies suggest avenues that are worth trying. The key drivers that can help rationalise behaviour patterns are media, the curriculum and religious clergy in addition to the state’s direct intervention.

Courtesy Dawn , May 06, 2012

Since Bin Laden
Published: May 02, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

A video released by Al-Sahab, the media wing of al-Qaeda last month shows Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its ally Punjabi Taliban were behind the guerrilla terrorist attack on Pakistan Navy’s Mehran Base in Karachi on May 22 last. In the video, four TTP militants were shown recording their statements prior to the terrorist attack and said that their mission was meant to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Security agencies and analysts had predicted retaliatory attacks after bin Laden’s killing on May 2, 2011 in Abbotabad. As the so-called retaliation did not materalise at the scale predicted, many interpret that as regression in the al-Qaeda camp.

Interestingly, a few weeks after bin Laden’s death when no major response had emerged from the terrorist outfit, a senior US analyst claimed that al-Qaeda would retaliate after the 40-day mourning period was over, as per the Islamic tradition. However, al-Qaeda’s brand of Islam does not believe in 40 days of mourning. When no retaliation came even after the stipulated period of time, the analyst declared the group was history.

Contrary to various assessments, the world has seen few revenge attacks from al-Qaeda. In Pakistan, five attacks were claimed by the Taliban as a response to bin Laden’s death. These include the May 2011 attacks on Frontier Constabulary (FC) headquarters in Shabqadar area of Charsadda district, US regional assistant security officers in Peshawar, CID police station in Karachi, and the September 2011 attack on Deputy Inspector General of FC in Quetta. The Mehran Base attack was the most devastating of the lot in which two PC3 Orion maritime patrol aircrafts were also destroyed. The initial suspect in the attack was not al-Qaeda and the media tried to find a foreign hand. The al-Qaeda video suggests otherwise. This was the attack which allegedly led to the killing of journalist Saleem Shahzad who had reported about al-Qaeda’s sleeper cells inside Mehran Base.

Although this attack fuelled apprehensions about further revenge attacks the last quarter of 2011 was comparatively peaceful in Pakistan. Security analysts attributed that to a number of factors, mainly the ongoing military campaign against militants in parts of the Federally Administrative Tribal Areas (FATA), increased surveillance by law enforcement agencies and the arrest of 4,219 suspected militants in 2011. The killing of key militants in US drone strikes in Fata was another factor but it was less effective than the one in 2010. Some security analysts also consider decentralization of the TTP and talks between militants and the state as important factors in the decline in violence. Al-Qaeda’s increasing concentration in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula was believed to be yet another reason.

Apart from these factors, the documents found from bin Laden’s compound reveal that he had already almost lost operational control over al-Qaeda and was dependent upon a courier for communication with his fellows. This could be one of the factors that led to decentralisation of al-Qaeda. Bin Laden’s importance for the militants was symbolic and his authority was supreme although he was not exercising it. He was the glue for al-Qaeda and its affiliates.

His successor, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, has failed to exert such sway. Al-Qaeda central command has loosened after bin Laden’s death. Ideology is the major bond which glues the al-Qaeda franchise. Its central command now depends on affiliates and allies, who often have only peripheral or ephemeral ties to either the core cadre or affiliated groups. These affiliates engage in an increasingly violent campaign of attacks across the Middle East and North Africa, where support for al-Qaeda remains fairly high, compared to Pakistan and other South and East Asian Muslim states. The number of attacks by al-Qaeda and its affiliates is on the rise even after bin Laden’s death, but these attacks are getting more communal and sectarian in nature and al-Qaeda has failed to launch a major terrorist attack in the US and Europe.

Although bin Laden’s death has had significant impact on certain regions, especially West and North Africa, but it has not changed the security dynamics in Iraq and Pakistan, where al-Qaeda affiliates have returned to their previous agendas, which are primarily sectarian and anti-state.

A look at Pakistan’s security landscape confirms that. Most of the critical internal security threats are still there. The traditional hotspots of sectarian and anti-state violence in Pakistan are still active, indicating that structural violence may persist in the years to come. Security experts believe that sectarian violence would continue as a long-term challenge because there were now strong nexuses among sectarian groups, Taliban and al-Qaeda.

Although military operations and some state initiatives have contributed to blocking the flow of funds to the militants, they continue to devise new ways to generate money and have increased links with criminals with that aim. Terrorists are involved in abductions for ransom across Pakistan. Some reports also suggest that the terrorists are also aiding criminals in their activities. The writ of the state has partially been restored in parts of Fata, but the security situation remains volatile as militants dislodged from their strongholds manage to relocate to other parts of the region. The critical challenges in Balochistan and Karachi remain unaddressed.

Apart from these critical security challenges, bin Laden’s death also did not help reduce the level of the threat. Many tribal and Punjabi Taliban factions have transformed into al-Qaeda franchises, and a centrally controlled leadership may not contribute enough to restrain these home-grown militants from pursuing their agendas. Al-Qaeda ideology and training have made them more lethal. They are now strategically more diverse and their targets have also expanded beyond sectarian to anti-state and whenever they find favourable circumstance, they can turn into global jihadists. Although bin Laden had lost operational control of al-Qaeda, his purpose was served. The militants do not need a charismatic personality to keep them intact.

Courtesy The News , April 29, 2012

Head in the sand
Published: April 23, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

EXTERNALISATION of threats remains a core flaw in Pakistan’s internal security approach. The security establishment, policymakers and opinion-makers and most of society badly suffer from this fallacy, which merely affords them an escape from responsibility but no cure for the menace that haunts Pakistan.

The terrorists take full advantage of the approach, and despite their heinous acts a big segment of society sympathises with their agendas. Several public opinion polls suggest that the majority considers that a foreign hand is involved in the current spate of violence in the country. The security establishment appears to believe the same.

From Karachi to Gilgit-Baltistan, the threat is aggravating as Pakistan faces multiple forms of terrorism: global jihadism, sectarianism, separatism, ethnic and communal target killings and criminal and tribal clashes. The terrorists have applied old and new tactics, guerrilla warfare, suicide attacks, ambushes, target killings, bombing and other organised attacks on the security forces and state installations. Pakistan seems to have become a fertile ground for terrorists to invent and employ new operational tactics.

Statistics show that insecurity is increasing alarmingly in the country. Pakistan was among the most volatile countries in the world in 2011 and the first quarter of 2012 shows a similar trend. Some new threats have also emerged while the dynamics of some of the old ones continue to evolve.

Contrary to the common perception, Afghanistan had proved less prone to terrorist attacks compared to Pakistan. Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta are still among the most volatile cities in the world. Afghanistan, is considered a ‘war-torn’ country and despite ethnic and sectarian diversity and tensions on certain levels similar to those in Pakistan, these factors are not triggering violence there. A comparison between the two countries demonstrates that Pakistan has multiple violence triggers, which the terrorists exploit.

Despite the complex challenges, Pakistan has not developed a comprehensive internal security strategy. Law-enforcement agencies respond to threats, with mixed results, as these responses are not part of a broader strategy.

The focus has so far been on countering the militant insurgency in the tribal areas, mainly through the use of military force, raising the local communities to confront the militants, and engaging the militants through talks. Although the state also claims development to be a key pillar of its counter-insurgency campaign, a proper development strategy remains lacking.

Most of the development funds have been spent on those displaced as a result of the anti-Taliban military operations. Little attention has been paid to countering urban terrorism, which poses a critical threat to the country. Law-enforcement agencies have consistently failed to keep up with the emerging challenges, not least because inadequate ideological narratives have prevented them from expanding their vision.

The government has also failed to establish a substantial counter-terrorism narrative or force and, as far as the latter is concerned, is relying largely on existing human and logistical resources. The Pak Institute for Peace Studies has been emphasising since 2006 that law-enforcement agencies can only cope with the new challenges if improved investigation, intelligence-gathering and intelligence-sharing mechanisms are put in place and a rapid-response system developed.

Accurate threat perception is the key to effective response to the sort of terrorism Pakistan faces today. A clear approach based on a distinction between the challenges of tribal insurgency and urban terrorism is required at the policy level.

Prompt promulgation of anti-terrorism laws is another neglected area. Certain amendments in the anti-terrorism law are pending in the Senate. Expediting those would certainly help. The absence of the requisite legal provisions deprives the state of certain powers that are crucial for dealing with terrorism, such as a bar on banks and financial institutions to provide any financial support to members of proscribed outfits.Successful prosecution is not possible without sufficient evidence, which has been hard to compile against suspected terrorists. It is also important to train the police better in investigation and crime scene examination.

The government has taken an initiative with the help of the US and a few European countries to set up a Special Investigation Group (SIG). The group was trained by US and European experts, but even four years after its establishment, it is yet to prove its utility. That is so in no small part because of a prosecution system that allows little room for innovative approaches.

At the same time, an effective witness-protection programme remains missing. Without that, witnesses crucial to the prosecution’s case find it prudent not to testify and put themselves or their families in danger. Although military authorities had asked the government to make appropriate changes in the law of evidence, but the issue is still pending.

There is an urgent need to review counterterrorism strategies and evolve new approaches in view of the changing nature of threats. This is essential not only at the level of security agencies but also for policymakers, civil society, the media and other stakeholders.

The federal and provincial governments need to focus more on providing police with better training and equipment. There is a pressing need to utilise the SIG effectively. Apart from intelligence-sharing and coordination among the various agencies, a cohesive legislative framework to deal with terrorism is indispensable. Parliament needs to take up the issue immediately.

Legislation alone can never be an effective tool to deal with terrorism until the capacity of the legal system, including the judges, lawyers and the prosecution, is enhanced. Apart from transparency and appointment of capable judges to anti-terrorism courts (ATCs), the Supreme Court and the high courts should monitor the functioning of ATCs in accordance with the Supreme Court’s judgment in the 1999 Sheikh Liaquat Hussain case.

These are the broader policy framework components, but these cannot be implemented until the security establishment develops accurate threat perception and does away with the fallacy of externalisation.

The journey to a secure and peaceful Pakistan cannot be initiated without addressing internal threats also.

Courtesy Dawn, April 22, 2012

The bounty and crown
Published: April 16, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE far right in Pakistan may finally have succeeded in grooming a leader to give public expression to their discourse.

It is essential for any ideological movement to have a charismatic leader as the face of the movement. Prof Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, chief of Jamaatud Dawa (JuD), is one such leader, who finds himself in the kind of limelight he may not mind. The US bounty on him has only added to his charisma that the far right has cherished.

This is not to say that the far right in Pakistan has been without leaders, but, despite its huge human resources, there have been two major constraints; first, the right to ownership, since the direction of ‘jihad’ had been external, and second, the complex internal dynamics.

Many Pakistani groups took part in the jihad in Kashmir and Afghanistan. Some, in fact, contributed much more than their Afghan or Kashmiri counterparts.

However, such contribution could not be highlighted because that would have contradicted Pakistan’s official stand that these were indigenous movements. And so Gulbuddin Hekmatyar of Hizb-i-Islami and Syed Ali Gillani of Jamaat-i-Islami were nurtured as the heroes in Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir respectively. After the Taliban movement surfaced in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s, the group’s supreme leader Mullah Omar emerged as the new hero. Although Osama bin Laden, too, seemed to occupy that place for a while, the search of the Pakistani far right for an indigenous hero continued.

The internal dynamics were even more complex in the last decade of the last millennium. The far right was fragmented along sectarian, political and personal agendas.

Although militant organisations were freely operating inside the country, major religious political parties, with whose patronage or affiliation the militants were functioning, were not ready to share with them the mainstream political leadership.

They strove to be the custodians of the far right and of the militant discourse emanating from Pakistan.

Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam or JUI-F, not only nurtured the Taliban but also launched a countrywide anti-US campaign in July 1999 to mount pressure against a possible strike in Afghanistan to target Osama bin Laden.

The Pakistani media even referred to him as ‘Osama bin Laden the second’.

After 9/11, the JUI-F was active from the platform of the Afghan Defence Council. The movement, later in the form of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, eventually garnered electoral success in the 2002 general elections.

To become acceptable to the international community and enjoy the benefits of power, the maulana gradually detached himself from the violent expression of the far right and connected his party with the Deobandi political discourse.

Maulana Masood Azhar, head of the banned Jaish-i-Muhammad, was another contestant for the crown. An aura of a spiritual jihadi leader was built around his personality and his release from Indian captivity in exchange for passengers of a hijacked Indian plane in late 1999 boosted his image. But differences within Deobandi militant outfits in Pakistan and his alliance with the Sipah-i-Sahaba damaged his case.

A Pakistani militant outfit hobnobbing with sectarian organisations was a definite no-no until the late 1990s. The thinking went that any outfit fighting for a nationalist cause, mainly in Kashmir, could not commit a bigger sin than associate itself with violent sectarian groups in Pakistan.

Hafiz Saeed had been groomed well. He already had good academic and ideological credentials and unquestioned loyalty to the state. He had served in different government institutions, including the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), and also taught at the University of Engineering and Technology in Lahore.

Saeed had a post-graduate degree from a Saudi Arabian university, where he developed good ties with the clergy and the royals, which served him well.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz — a rich Saudi businessman — was co-founder of Markaz-i-Dawatul Irshad, established by Hafiz Saeed. This was the predecessor of JuD. Saeed’s background as a member of the Jamaat-i-Islami helped him organise his party in a structured manner.

Above all, he proved himself as hardcore anti-India on both the militant and political fronts. These were already the makings of an ideal leader of the far right.

Although it was JuD’s militant wing Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) that pioneered fidayeen strikes in Indian-held Kashmir, when militant factions in Pakistan turned against the state Hafiz Saeed declared that suicide attacks inside the country were prohibited by religion.

Many analysts suspect that JuD had links with Al Qaeda but it severed those because of its equation with Riyadh. The reason was that Saudi Arabia’s biggest terrorist challenge came from those who accused other Muslims of apostasy, and Pakistan was also facing the wrath of terrorist groups who had absorbed similar tendencies and developed a close association with Al Qaeda.

These groups included Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and the so-called Punjabi Taliban militants.

When the Saudi government launched a programme in 2003 to engage religious scholars to build a response against extremist tendencies and terrorism, the impact on the Salafi clergy in Pakistan was immediately discernible.

JuD took it upon itself to condemn such thoughts among militant groups and the LeT distanced itself from all such groups and even spurned any cooperation with the Pakistani Taliban. This may help put in context recent media reports that JuD is playing a role in militants’ rehabilitation in Pakistan.

This defines the direction of all pro-state militant organisations in Pakistan and signifies the far-right’s preference for change in the country through peaceful means, while justifying the use of force to protect regional interests.

Hafiz Saeed has successfully projected the notion and through his public stances pushed the state onto this path. As the centre right and liberals seem confused and directionless, the increasing strength of the far right will have internal and international implications.

In addition to his credentials, Hafiz Saeed seems to be pursuing an agenda that resonates with his constituency. The US bounty will only add to his allure for the far right.

Courtesy Dawn, April 12, 2012

Political extremism
Published: April 09, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THERE is growing realisation in Pakistan that extremism is becoming a major challenge for the country. Apart from its consequences on matters of law and order and security, which the country has been facing for over a decade, it has also penetrated the public discourse and policy formulation.

Intolerance has a stranglehold on society and the space for free and open dialogue has shrunk, even in intellectual circles. Now parliament is feeling the heat and seems reluctant to prepare a framework for foreign policy in the face of a direct warning from the radicals. The political leadership is trying to adjust to the new phenomena and has failed to formulate a clear policy on the issues of terrorism, extremism and of violent actors across the country.

However, the mere realisation of the issue is not enough; a comprehensive response is unavoidable and can only come through proper understanding of the phenomenon. Not only the religious forces, the establishment and the political elite too are equal shareholders in the problem, not least because the extremists also seek to push through their agenda using political means.

The causes of extremism are usually a combination of factors, rather than any one single feature, which pushes mainly young people into the embrace of radical groups. Many studies suggest that both distinct and identical factors of extremism may influence certain individuals and groups belonging to various segments of society. It is clear today that politico-ideological factors drive the process of extremism in Pakistan whereas socio-psychological ones facilitate it.

Radical ideologies in Pakistan have not inspired, at least so far, a huge number of individuals who would have otherwise become the basis of a mass revolutionary movement.

Individuals radicalised under the influence of various factors join the ranks of whatever radical groups they find operating around them.

Pakistan’s political culture, which is an undemocratic one, is essentially a factor for extremism in society. Although constitutionally and legally all citizens are guaranteed equal political opportunities, the reality is different.

Some social strata find that they have no political rights and no stake in the system. This sense of political deprivation and exclusion is so entrenched in some groups and regions that it has prompted the people to resort to violent means to alleviate their political deprivation. This asymmetric political culture is hence a direct cause of extremism among the deprived.

Balochistan, in particular, and the tribal areas, to some extent, are just two examples of that. Various factors have promoted a political culture of conflict and dissension in Pakistan.

The withering away of state-society relations and people’s disillusionment with the state and its institutions provide space to non-state actors, including radical ones, to operate parallel systems of justice, service delivery and security. The radicals exploit the people’s unfulfilled desires to their advantage and get public support and recruit people. The state-led efforts of Islamisation, or the politics of Islam, have also confused people’s priorities between the Sharia and the constitution. Religious extremists and radicals, whose political ideology prioritises Islam and Sharia over Pakistan and its constitution, respectively, have strong appeal for many in the country.

This crises-ridden political culture of Pakistan has played havoc with peaceful and harmonious political and social values among communities. The people largely lack trust in the political leadership and institutions. In this situation, any call for a resort to radical means carries greater attraction. Such a scenario provides fertile ground for radicalism to flourish.

Oppression, lack of justice and politico-economic inequalities are strong contributing factors towards extremism and militancy in the country.

Pakistani state and society have  failed to address various forms of inequality which have fuelled alienation and resentment among those on the margins of society.

Repeated demands for expeditious justice and widespread complaints about the decay in the judicial system contributed to circumstances where the government capitulated to the Taliban’s demand for the Nizam-i-Adl Regulation in Swat. The armed campaign by the Taliban also played a role.

Victims of chronic inequality — economic, social, political, legal or in any other form — eventually start viewing the sociopolitical, economic and legal systems as flawed and as favouring one section of society over other sections. It makes them think about rebelling against the system, at times in the form of militancy. Peaceful societies are peaceful largely
because they have achieved political, legal and civic equality.

A sense of humiliation, political grievances and breakdown of the existing culture or political structures are behind extremism in developing countries including Pakistan. Radicalism and terrorism are strategic choices of radicals and terrorists to correct perceived grievances or injustices. Radicalism — use of force for political ends — is a way to compensate for powerlessness, exclusion, alienation and despair. It improves the status of radicals. The ingredients of such status are power, privilege and prestige.

By default, design or misplaced intentions, the ruling political leadership in Pakistan has led the nation on Islamist trajectories. The politics of Islamisation has also supported the larger religious discourse that demands enforcement of the Sharia advocated by militant groups as an ideological tactic to get support for their political goals.

With regard to their concern in promoting Islamic nationalism, Pakistani society has undoubtedly become more conservative in terms of public practice of social and cultural mores over the last three decades. Although this societal shift presaged growing intolerance of any but the strictest interpretations of religion as practised by a particular sect, it did not, for
the most part, manifest itself in violence.

The political leadership has always made lofty claims of national progress and political parties have promised to take the nation to unparalleled heights if voted in. But once elected they have forgotten the promises.

It has been the same story with military dictators ruling the country. They too have not been averse to promising the people the moon, only to prolong their rule. The people have always been let down. This has bred a perception of exclusion and deprivation among certain groups. The frustration caused by that perception has apparently contributed to extremism in Pakistan.

Courtesy Dawn, April 08, 2012

The case of JuD
Published: March 26, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THERE is substantive evidence to suggest that Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) is gaining ground in Pakistan. Irrespective of the causes, the rise of the group from within a relatively smaller religious sect and its ability to create an immense impact both on public and policy discourse in Pakistan is considered by its associates as a great ‘triumph’.

Having conceived its objectives in a narrow sectarian and anti-democratic perspective, the JuD is now struggling to adjust itself as an important player in the country’s religious-political landscape.

During the last one decade or so, it has launched and led many mass movements: a campaign against the Prophet’s (PBUH) images by a Danish cartoonist; countrywide protests against the Iraq war; Tehrik Hurmat-i-Rasool (in reaction to the desecration of the Quran in Guantanamo some years ago); a movement against the women’s protection bill; and the pro-Saudi Arabia campaign in the context of Riyadh’s role following the unrest in Bahrain. The group is now among the leading members of the Difaa-i-Pakistan Council (DPC).

Once the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) had the ability to mobilise the immense mass movements and its participation in any religious and political agitation was considered the key to success but now the JuD has taken over the role. One reason could be that the JuD has built its organisational structure on the pattern of the JI. Also, the top leadership of the group has served in the JI. Is it a sign of transformation of a hard-core militant organisation into a mainstream religious political party? Is the JuD following a pattern similar to that of Hezbollah and Hamas?

It can be discerned from the recent history of radical and militant organisations that when the infrastructure of one among such organisations expanded on a large scale, the group’s stakes grew in the same system it had been opposing previously.

Contrary to this, militant groups that failed to develop their organisational infrastructure were subjected to divisions and became more violent. The JuD has succeeded over time in diversifying its infrastructure and resources, employing the strategy of social delivery programmes and exploiting contemporary religious and political issues.

At the same time, despite internal and external pressures, it has succeeded in keeping its militant network the Lashkar-i-Taiba (LeT) intact. Many militant groups in Pakistan, contemporaries of the JuD, could not diversify their ideological and physical resources and ultimately faced erosion within their organisational structures. Their breakaway factions got involved in terrorism inside the country, which forced them to limit their links with them and remain underground.

Nevertheless, the JuD is on the surface and owns a solid and stretched-out infrastructure inside Pakistan which includes more than 300 offices, mosques and madressahs. The group has set up many commercial ventures including more than 400 English-medium schools, colleges, transportation companies, residential projects and media groups and has acquired farmland on a large scale.

Its charity wing has one of the biggest fleet of ambulances in the country, seven hospitals and more than 200 health centres.

The group has the second largest charity network in Pakistan after Maymar Trust, formally known as Al-Rashid Trust. This means that the JuD cannot afford any confrontation with the state that could force it to abandon its activities in the country.

In the beginning, the JuD’s ideological discourse was built on an extremely narrow sectarian agenda of spreading hatred against the Shia and Barelvi communities, as reflected in its earlier publications. But after 9/11, it adopted a reconciliatory approach and invited opposing sects to its platform to ‘wage a joint struggle for a common cause’.

The approach worked and not only the JuD but the Ahle Hadith school of thought too gained ground in public and religious discourses. The JuD even struck roots in the Hindu-dominated districts of Sindh, where more numbers among the local population were seen to embrace Islam.

It must be a good feeling among JuD’s brothers in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that the militant group has had a significant impact on Pakistan where these countries had been spending enormous resources on promoting their orthodox school of thought for decades, but had failed to attract the Sunni majority.Is JuD’s active participation in political rallies and membership of an alliance of political parties and individuals a sign that the group has ambitions to move towards electoral politics? Though their rejection of democracy was one of the prime objectives behind the establishment of the JuD, the group leadership appears to have changed tack.

It seems that the group has the willingness to participate in electoral politics but is concerned about the absence of an electoral support base. Nevertheless, JuD members had contested local bodies elections in their individual capacity and supported different candidates in previous general elections. The JuD’s taking part in electoral politics would be an interesting phenomenon for political scientists to see how a militant group had completed its lifecycle in Pakistan.

The JuD still believes in achieving its goal through the use of violence but it is becoming extremely cautious in its sociopolitical rhetoric. Although it has not yet abandoned ties with Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) it avoids admitting its links with it at a public level.

It may not be because of any fear of public reaction but mainly to avoid external pressure. There is a dissident voice also in the organisation that this indifferent policy towards LeT could lead towards complete detachment from it.

The assessment of JuD’s probable political transformation is only relevant if the group is considered as an independent entity with no links to and patronisation from any quarter of the establishment.

Certainly, establishments use non-state actors for their legitimate and illegitimate purposes, but non-state actors gradually become independent and it becomes difficult for the establishments to control them as it happened in the case of many militant
organisations in Pakistan which were created in Afghanistan and Kashmir but later turned against the state.

For instance, Ilyas Kashmiri, once an asset, rebelled and dealt a blow to the security forces. He was considered the mastermind behind some major attacks on security forces in Pakistan.

Courtesy Dawn, March 25, 2012

Institutional response
Published: March 12, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

TERRORISM is not a mere security issue. It disrupts society in ways that go beyond the body count, particularly in its physiological, social and economic aspects. Maintaining, and in some cases restoring, the confidence of people in a terrorism-hit state is an uphill task, but efforts are made to sustain the same often through responses on the security front.

Usually, the state ignores or pays less attention to the associated challenges that accompany violence. Economic assistance for the victims emerges as an immediate challenge as does development in the affected areas.

In Pakistan’s context, the issue of IDPs is also a critical one. Rehabilitation of victims of terrorism, IDPs and terrorist detainees help keep up the public’s confidence in the state. Quite obviously, ad hoc reaction to challen-ges cannot garner that and an institutional response is needed.

It is crucial to develop a comprehensive institutional response, especially since terrorism and conflict in Pakistan seem set to continue in the near future. That has more than a bit to do with the fact that the state has not evolved a strategy to deal with conflict, including the ethno-political and sectarian violence, a nationalist insurgency in Balochistan and, most importantly, the networks and structures of terrorists that remain intact, despite extensive military campaigns in the tribal areas.

For victims of conflict, the immediate crisis that emerges after a terrorist attack is critical. The government usually does not prioritise a response to that as highly as it does the security response. A little more attention to these issues can make a huge difference, not only in building faith in state institutions, but also in contributing towards saving the population from terrorists’ influence and propaganda.

Compensation or assistance for civilian victims of terrorist attacks is a critical issue across the country, which deserves the attention of the state. It has assumed greater importance in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata because of the impact of the conflict there. Lack of reliable data and long delays and complexities in the process to access assistance have emerged as key obstacles.

The Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC) and the Institute of Social and Policy Science (I-SAPS) have done some excellent work on the issue and both have been working on increasing awareness and sensitising in that respect.

I-SAPS, in a recent report titled, Compensating Civilian Victims of Conflict and Terrorism, noted that even federal and provincial governments did not have any budget lines for that purpose. After every act of terrorism, officials announce financial assistance for the victims, but every case of compensation has to be sent to the chief minister for approval.

Apart from lack of a uniform procedure, political influence also plays a significant role — from determination of the compensation amount to its disbursement. In Fata, another issue that has emerged in recent years is the government distributing compensation money for victims of terrorism mainly to lashkars or peace committees for further disbursement, which has given rise to complaints of embezzlement.

In recent years, the scale of internal displacement induced by conflicts and natural disasters has grown exponentially. The largest IDP population is from Fata and Swat in the Malakand region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The state’s response to internal displacement in Swat was comparatively quick and effective but in Fata it was considered slow and inadequate. The rehabilitation of IDPs and the rapid completion of development initiatives in the displacement-affected areas in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are crucial. The education sector, which was most affected in the conflict, needs immediate attention in particular.

According to data compiled by Pak Institute for Peace Studies, terrorists destroyed 137 schools across Pakistan in 2011 alone, while 49 incidents of targeting public or private property were reported. These figures do not include the attacks on railway tracks, gas pipelines or power pylons. Twenty-six mosques, shrines and other worship places were also attacked and in these cases the government did not even consider compensation.

Although the Fata Secretariat has launched an initiative called the Damage and Assessment Programme to rebuild the destroyed schools, it is proceeding very slowly because of cumbersome procedures and the lack of interest by government and international donors. Apart from rebuilding schools, shortage of teaching staff is another issue, where the government is yet to pay adequate attention.

The situation is even worse in Balochistan, which is already the poorest and least developed of the four federating units of Pakistan. The government and civil society have been less responsive to victims of conflict in the province. The provincial government does not have a rehabilitation plan, which has contributed to fuelling public sentiments against the state.

The Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies has pointed out in its 2011 issue that physiological services in response to conflict-related traumatic situation do not exist in the healthcare system of Pakistan. Although in the absence of proper healthcare facilities in conflict zones, trauma centres might seem like a luxury, it is also true that terrorism and armed conflict have acute physiological effects on people, that deserve consideration. This is the area which civil society and the media should keep under the spotlight.

All these challenges need a coordinated institutional response. The government needs to evolve a national conflict rehabilitation policy, which should have representation from the relevant federal and provincial departments and institutions, and resources should be pooled by the federal and provincial governments.

Though national and provincial disaster management authorities already exist in Pakistan and some of the challenges fall under their ambit, their performance needs to be made effective, and a special coordinating body should be formed under its supervision to focus only on terrorism and conflict-related disasters.

Courtesy Dawn, March 11, 2012

Jihadi inspiration
Published: March 01, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE ability of radical elements to infiltrate government departments and security agencies is emerging as a critical threat that can undermine the state’s response to militant extremism. Accounts of links of a retired army major, Osaid Zahidi, with militants indicate the seriousness of the issue.

Major Zahidi served in the Military Intelligence for almost nine years and had gone missing in 2010. His family claimed that he had been picked up by intelligence agencies. With the caveat that due process and other human rights must not be abandoned in the name of fighting terrorism, the danger that radicalisation poses across all sections of society deserves the attention of the authorities.

Although the state has taken some measures to address the issue these are mainly security-centric where countering terrorism is the priority. Little attention has been paid to addressing the issue of radicalisation, which prepares the ground for violent tendencies. At the same time, only half-hearted measures have been taken to identify the sources of inspiration that transform radical tendencies into violence. In this context, radicals and terrorists in Pakistan have found a breeding ground for

The phenomenon of radicals penetrating the security apparatus has caused jitters. The detention of Brigadier Ali Khan for suspected links with the banned Hizbut Tahrir was also seen as an example of the growing influence of the radicals.

Former president Gen Pervez Musharraf had stated in 2004 that some junior army and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) personnel had links with terrorist organisations. Later, 57 PAF personnel were arrested in connection with an attempt on Musharraf’s life. At least some of them have been convicted.

Dr Usman, the mastermind of the October 2009 attack on the military headquarters in Rawalpindi, was a deserter from the army’s medical corps. Last year, several government employees were arrested for links with militant organisations. Islamabad police arrested a junior government employee for links with terrorists; in Lahore a policeman who had established links with Al Qaeda had been assigned VVIP duty, while Punjab police recalled four policemen from VVIP duty for holding extremist views.

The talk of screening of the police cadre after Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer was killed by one of his elite police guards in January last year has not proceeded beyond rhetoric.

A systematic probe is nowhere in sight to determine what motivates state functionaries to join the cause of the militants. Major Zahidi might have been persuaded by the militants’ message during his counterterrorism assignment. If this was the case it would not be entirely unprecedented as similar instances have come to light in Pakistan and elsewhere.

Different countries have adopted different measures to shield the officials engaged in counterterrorism operations from radical tendencies. However, as the federal interior minister has conceded, official efforts in this regard have largely been reactive and the government is yet to establish a mechanism to screen security personnel for links with extremist elements.

As far as the common militant is concerned, some sources of inspirations have been identified. Those may also apply to government employees for the simple reason that they too exist in the same society and absorb similar ideological tendencies.

A study by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), an Islamabad-based think tank, on detained militants to identify what motivated and inspired them found that the majority of militants had been incited and provoked through the misinterpretation of religion. Most of the young people who joined jihadi organisations were not under the supervision of their parents. They had been brainwashed through propaganda tools and misinterpretation of Islamic beliefs, especially those regarding jihad, but most importantly literature of religious and militant organisations played a pivotal role in shaping their opinions and radical and violent tendencies.

Although militants also spread their message through radio, the Internet, CDs and DVDs, they still rely predominantly on the print media, because of its extensive outreach and because it is an inexpensive source of information in remote areas. These publications are easily available in the market.

In its report Understanding the Militants’ Media in Pakistan, PIPS noted that by 1989, the number of jihadi publications in Pakistan had reached 150. Most of them were published from Peshawar and Quetta, capitals of the two Pakistani provinces that border Afghanistan. Both cities were hubs of Afghan, foreign and Pakistani militant groups and served as recruitment centres for volunteers from all over the world.

At the same time, dozens of jihadi media products were being published from Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, mainly by Pakistani jihadi groups. Around 100 jihadi monthlies and 12 weeklies were being published from Peshawar, Quetta and Islamabad in 1990. These publications were produced in several languages — 25 in Urdu, 50 in Pushto and Persian, 12 in Arabic and 10 in English.

Such publications that found their way to Pakistan at the time were also published in Iran, the United States, Britain, Germany, Norway, Australia and Switzerland. In the 1990s, Kashmiri militant groups also got into ‘jihad journalism’ and were publishing 22 periodicals in 1994. But after 9/11, most of the militant outfits concentrated on Punjab and shifted their ‘media houses’ to the province. The circulation and outreach of the militants’ press is increasing considerably in Punjab with 70 per cent of the militants’ media products being published in Punjab.

The ease of access to this material at almost all bookstores and newspaper stalls points to the government’s failure to check the propaganda machine of militant organisations which makes young people more susceptible to being radicalised.

These publications are also distributed in government offices free of charge and although the authorities have taken note of it, they have failed to take concrete steps to stop their dissemination. Without minimising such obvious means that seek to motivate people to join a violent cause, no counterterrorism policy can succeed. What is needed is a vision to identify even small openings that have the potential to create a major impact.

Courtesy Dawn, February 26, 2012

Return of the narrative
Published: Feb 13, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

THERE is no denying the sway that narratives have. They run like blood in our veins and some narratives can have such a stranglehold on people that they cloud judgment and block reason.

That may sound familiar in Pakistan where the ideological, social, national and policy discourses have been under siege by certain narratives, which have long been nurtured with blinkered threat perceptions. The irony is that it is these narratives that have taken the security doctrine of the state hostage.

Narratives seldom die. Sometimes they are obscured or even made irrelevant by alternative narratives. The narrative of Pakistan’s ‘strategic depth’ was overshadowed by the events of 9/11 when Islamabad decided to join the international coalition against terrorism. However, in the subsequent decade the achievement has been far less substantial than what was anticipated.
The dynamics of relations between the partners are changing, the Taliban are emerging as legitimate actors and inevitably as victors in the regional theatre of conflict.

The custodians of the strategic-depth narrative are united again and are trying to revive the pre-9/11 discourse. The Defence Council of Pakistan (DPC) is a blend of extremist groups proscribed and otherwise, who share a common narrative whether they are actively involved in violence or merely support it. There are no illusions that their narrative does not deal with the issues of the common man: poverty, injustice and economic and social deprivation.

They have little sympathy for the deprived classes in the country, including the Baloch. They see every issue through the prism of their narrow ideological-strategic perspective and see foreign involvement and conspiracies behind every rights movement in the country.

The sum of their narrative is essentially a combination of some ‘isms’ and anti-this and anti-that. They are anti-West and anti-US, anti-pluralism, anti-democracy (or at least against elected governments that claim pluralistic values, whether they practise them or not), are focused on India and pro-violence in the name of jihad (whether in Afghanistan, Kashmir or against religious minorities and rival sects in Pakistan). Some among them may disagree with one or more components but agree with the ultimate objective of a self-styled warrior state.

Their goal may seem unrealistic and summon images of a mediaeval state, strategic and economically similar to North Korea.
However, the movers in the establishment who are supposed to be behind the DPC may have other designs and their objectives may be to use these elements as a balancing factor in the changing scenario in the region, mainly in Afghanistan and in Pakistan-US relations.

The groups mainly involved in terrorism in mainland Pakistan were once pawns and proxies of the establishment, which can divert them again by reconnecting them with the pre-9/11 narrative. Hafiz Saeed, head of Jamatud Daawa, has asserted in recent statements that after Nato forces pull out of Afghanistan, the Kashmir jihad front would once again gain momentum.

If the establishment has considered the cost of these adventures — which would be nothing less than further radicalisation and an even more intolerant and emotionally charged generation with blinkered ideological, political and social vision — it does not seem too concerned about that. It is unnerving all the same to think that anyone can consider re-engaging with the elements who are blowing up people in cold blood and yet think that they can be used again when their one-time handlers cannot even guarantee a reduction in terrorist attacks inside the country.

In the last 11 years, the bond between sectarian and jihadist organisations has grown stronger. They have tasted a new kind of independence in the tribal areas, apart from Al Qaeda’s ideological influence, and they are fed up with the religious political leadership, which they say has made no progress on Islamisation in the country. Any compromise with them may provide more space to the zealots without furnishing a guarantee that they will accept the erstwhile patronage in exchange.

Punjab- and Kashmir-based militant organisations became invaluable assets for Al Qaeda as their objectives converged. The Taliban absorbed both tendencies and became agents of change in their respective areas. They felt empowered in a system where tribesmen had been the victims of colonial-era laws and the whims of political agents and maliks.

The nexus of these elements still exists and has grown stronger. Prospects for sustainable peace remain bleak unless this bond is weakened. A long-term strategy to weaken this bond can meet the challenge. The Pakistani Taliban may see that they risk losing political and ideological legitimacy by persisting in their ways.

At the same time, the international community is more vigilant on the issue of militancy and terrorism. Even Pakistan’s close allies, China and Saudi Arabia, may not close their eyes to the earlier shenanigans this time. Islamabad’s diplomatic relations with Beijing have long remained exceptionally warm, but in recent years the presence of Uighur rebels in Pakistan’s tribal areas has been a matter of increasing concern for China. Even Saudi Arabia is exceedingly worried about growing radical tendencies in Pakistan and has offered support in the rehabilitation of captured terrorists. Saudi concerns grew on that count acutely when the masterminds of the 2009 attack on Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammad bin Nayef were traced to the Pakistani tribal area.

If the pre-9/11 jihadist narrative were to again dominate the public discourse it would be even more devastating for Pakistan this time. There is no silver lining in such a scenario. And if the establishment fails to reconcile with the violent actors, the narrative will provide further fertile ground for violence. The stakes could not be higher.

Courtesy Dawn, February 12, 2012

Movers and shakers
Published: Jan 31, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

AFTER the assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, head of the Afghan Peace Council, last year, President Hamid Karzai had said in another outburst against Pakistan that since he did not know the address of the Taliban, he would talk directly to Islamabad.

Thanks to the United States President, Karzai no longer has that excuse. Facilitated by Washington, the Taliban now have an office address in Doha, Qatar. Karzai was venting his spleen in September not only on account of losing his main negotiator tasked with engaging the Taliban, but also out of frustration over years of failed attempts to persuade the Taliban leadership to engage in reconciliation.

Kabul had initiated the reconciliation process in 2003 with a plan to reintegrate low- and mid-level Taliban fighters by offering them incentives if they disarmed and disowned the Taliban. After that proved unsuccessful, President Karzai’s government had adopted a direct approach to engage Taliban in the peace process and launched various back-channel overtures including an initiative led by the president’s half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai, who was later killed at his home. The killing was claimed by the Taliban.

The main reason behind the Taliban’s lack of enthusiasm to talk to Kabul has been their doubts about the Afghan government’s authority and ability to deliver on anything that it promises. Even Kabul has not been very clear on the give-and-take it has dangled in front of the Taliban and has considered the militants naïve enough to be satisfied with a few perks in their strongholds. Pakistan had seemed confident that it held the key to the Afghan reconciliation process and manoeuvred to protect its interests in Afghanistan. This could be at least part of the reason for Pakistan’s ambivalence towards and the eventual boycott of the Bonn summit last December.

Reports that the US had been holding direct back-channel talks with the Taliban for the last 14 months seem to have taken both Islamabad and Kabul by surprise. News about the talks was ‘leaked’ to the media after things had sufficiently developed. It lays bare the fact that while talking to the Taliban all the while, Washington had been pushing both Pakistan and Afghanistan to take the lead in starting reconciliation with the militants. This will do little to improve the flailing trust in Washington that Kabul and Islamabad are exhibiting.

Recent developments have left few options for either country to get much mileage out of the reconciliation card. Neither Pakistan nor Afghanistan can oppose talks between the Taliban and the US as both countries had prepared the grounds for this process, albeit with an eye on their respective interests.

Although initially this new tack had resulted in an altercation between the US and the Afghan government, it now seems that Washington wants to lead the peace talks contrary to the earlier rhetoric of any Afghan negotiations and settlement being Afghan-led and Afghan-owned. Parallel to this, the US has also established contact with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s group and wants to open a similar channel with the Haqqani network.

The real surprise has come from the Taliban who seem to have achieved through these contacts something that no one had imagined possible until recently. While continuing to publicly deny assertions that they were involved or interested in any negotiations to end the insurgency in Afghanistan, they succeeded in getting the names of Taliban figures omitted from the UN sanctions list.

They not only brought the US from the battleground to the negotiating table they also made Washington see things their way on the issue of Taliban prisoners at Guantanamo. The Taliban have not disclosed their demands or hinted at what they ultimately want to achieve through talks. The US continues to insist on reconciliation contingent on the Taliban renouncing violence, parting ways with Al Qaeda and embracing the Afghan constitution.

It will not be easy for the Afghan Taliban to renounce Al Qaeda because of the latter’s influence over many Taliban factions and commanders including the Haqqanis. Acceptance of the Afghan constitution in its present form and renouncing violence before foreign troops leave Afghanistan, especially when the US is negotiating strategic partnerships beyond 2014 with Kabul, can cause ripples in the Taliban rank and file. It would be interesting to see the Taliban manage that front.

There are reports that the Afghan Taliban, led by Mullah Omar, are trying to bring on board all insurgent groups on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. This would increase their leverage in talks with the US although there are speculations of this being a primary condition by the US, which thinks that it would be more productive and would save time if they talked only to one party. That would not be a small challenge for Mullah Omar and one where failure would substantially weaken his position in the talks.

It is also important to see how the Taliban manage Pakistan’s concerns and if they can operate a separate channel without consent or acquiescence from Pakistan. Equally important is how Pakistan responds to the emerging scenario. If the US target is Al Qaeda then bringing Pakistan on board may not be too difficult.

Although it is not yet clear if the US-Taliban talks — without direct involvement of Kabul and consideration of Pakistan’s interests — can change the political and strategic dynamics in the region the Taliban have proved that they know how to safeguard their own interests. To say that this has got alarm bells ringing in many regional capitals would be an understatement.

Courtesy Dawn, January 29, 2012

Structural violence
Published: Jan 16, 2012

Muhammad Amir Rana

PAKISTAN witnessed a substantial decrease in the number of incidents relating to violence and terrorism, including suicide attacks, in the second half of 2011.

According to the Pakistan Security Report 2011, released by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) in recent days, the security situation in Pakistan is gradually improving as violence has decreased by 24 per cent in the last two years. The institute has described the security situation by employing multiple variables such as a variety of violent incidents, consequent casualties and state responses on the military and political fronts.

Different factors prevented the militants from escalating attacks in 2011. The ongoing military campaign against mili-tants in parts of Fata, increased surveillance by law-enforcement agencies and the arrest of 4,219 suspected militants in 2011 were however among the main factors. The killing of key militants in USdrone strikes in Fata was another contributing factor but it was less effective compared to 2010.

Some security analysts also consider the decentralisation of the Tehrik-iTaliban Pakistan (TTP) and talks between militants and the state as important factors in the declining trend. Al Qaeda`s increasing concentration in Africa and the Arabian peninsula could be another reason. If similar trends are seen, it may reduce the intensity of the violence which had emerged particularly after 9/11 in Pakistan.

Post-9/11 terrorism in Pakistan, particularly characterised by terrorist attacks on the state and its institutions, the security forces, educational institutions, socalled `un-Islamic` practices and cultures, civilians, markets and shops etc, was triggered after the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Sectarian and jihadist groups were transformed radically into global jihadist entities under the influence of Al Qaeda.

It does not mean that Pakistan was violence-free before this period. Historical evidence suggests the presence of some long-term or structural forms of violence of a sectarian, ethno-political and intertribal hue.

However, recent trends of decrease in violence, do not hint at a decrease in structural violence in the country which is indeed once again gaining ground; sectarian and ethno-political violence havebecome much more active over the last few years.

Apart from tribal clashes and criminal violence, Pakistan has two regular patterns of structural violence, sectarian and ethno-political, which are major security irritants in Pakistan. Both emerged in the 1980s and claimed thousands of lives even before 9/11. Initially, Karachi and southern Punjab were the hotspots of ethno-political and sectarian violence, respectively, but later they took several parts of the country into their fold.

From 2001 to 2006, a decline in sectarian-related terrorist attacks was observed mainly due to two reasons.

First, the sectarian groups had joined the bigger alliance of holy warriors led by Al Qaeda, which had changed its targets for the time being. Kashmir-focused militant groups faced the same situation as their many splinters had cut off ties with the parent organisations, declaring them puppets of official agencies and had developed cooperation with Al Qaeda.

Nonetheless, political adjustment under pressure of the military regime and district government system played a major role in controlling large-scale incidents of ethno-political violence in Karachi during the same period.

But the situation has started to change once again in the last two to three years.

In 2010, more than 60 per cent of the total casualties of sectarian violence in Pakistan were concentrated in the cities of Karachi, Lahore and Quetta. In 2011, the ratio of such casualties in these cities stood at about 42 per cent of the overall sectarian-related casualties in Pakistan.

Furthermore, the total number of people killed and injured in sectarian-related attacks and clashes in 2011 in Hangu and Nowshera districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and Mastung district in Balochistan and Khyber and Kurram tribal districts in Fata represented 38 per cent and 24 per cent of the overaH dead and injured in sectarian violence in Pakistan, respectively. Security experts believe that sectarian violence would continue to persist as a long-term challenge because there are now strong nexuses among sectarian groups, the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Apart from nexuses among militants, it is also important to understand the political dynamics of sectarian violence in Pakistan. Many of the banned sectarian organisations wear political hats and take part in electoral politics, whether with different names and independent candidates or through making alliances with mainstream political parties.

Through this practice these groups gain political legitimacy. Tehrik-i-Jafaria has remained part of the right-wing Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal, whereas Sipahi-Sahaba was an ally of the Pervez Musharraf-led PML-Q government and now enjoys good relations with Punjab government.

Both organisations have remained involved in promoting sectarian hatred, intolerance and extremism. Interestingly, the major religious-political parties try to keep a distance from sectarian groups although they may share some sectarian and ideological tendencies with one or the other sectariangroup.

For instance, JUI-F has never entered into an electoral alliance with the Sipah-i-Sahaba. Same has been the case for the Jamiat Ulema-iPakistan (Noorani) and Sunni Tehrik.Ethno-political violence in Karachi, which has witnessed an alarming rise in the last few years, is more complex in nature as many criminal and sectarian tendencies merge with it as well. The nature of threats is as much a problem of law enforcement as it is of a political solution.

Apart from political initiatives, the government needs to develop a comprehensive security policy for Karachi. A coordinated effort through inter-agency cooperation along with intelligence-sharing and better policing is direly needed in the city. That would involve systematic scrutiny at a street-by-street level in particular localities.

Stationed in particular localities, police officials far more than the army or paramilitary forces are in a position to develop an understanding of local communities, identify stakeholders, map crime trends, conduct effective investigations and help inform sophisticated policymaking. Better policing is the best longterm antidote to urban crime and chaos.

A similar strategy can be adopted to curb sectarian violence but first all political parties and the security establishment need to adopt a clear approach and not use sectarian groups for short-term political gains.

Courtesy Dawn, January 15, 2012

Strategic Sensitivities
Published: Dec 28, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

PAKISTAN’S strategic sensitivities are growing on its western borders. Pakistan has set up more than 700 security check posts along the Pak-Afghan border, as ‘low-intensity warfare’ has increasingly gained more importance in the national security doctrine despite efforts to ward off such scenarios.

The May 2 US operation to track down Osama bin Laden and the Nov 26 Nato air strikes on two Pakistani military check posts in Mohmand Agency, which caused the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers, the subsequent suspension of supplies to Nato forces in Afghanistan through Pakistan and the vacating of the Shamsi airbase by the US further increased these concerns, which need to be adjusted in the strategic doctrine.

Changes in the strategic doctrine cannot come about overnight and have to factor in how the situation would evolve after the exit of Nato troops from Afghanistan. Pakistan did not have any major armed conflict along the Afghan border and had not deployed regular army units there until after 9/11.

Pakistan deployed its regular forces at the border for the first time to stop infiltration of Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants when US-led coalition forces invaded Afghanistan to oust the Taliban regime from power. Afghanistan has also stationed troops along the border where small-scale armed clashes with Pakistani forces have become the norm.

According to data compiled by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, from 2007 to 2010, Nato forces and the Afghan National Army violated Pakistan’s borders at least 194 times. The violations included missile and rocket attacks on Pakistani check posts by Afghan forces, clashes between security forces and air and land incursions into Pakistan. In 2011, as many as 67 such incidents were reported in which 57 Pakistani soldiers were killed.

A new and worrying development for Pakistan on its western borders has been cross-border attacks by Afghanistan-based militants on Pakistani security forces’ posts. At least 30 such strikes have been reported across Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan at Chitral, Upper and Lower Dir and Bajaur and Kurram in Fata, leading to the killing of 250 Pakistani security personnel and civilians. These militants are part of Taliban factions, who fled to Afghanistan’s border provinces, mainly Kunar, and their attacks have contributed to escalation in bilateral tensions.

The third issue of concern is Afghanistan’s internal stability and the Afghan army’s continued lack of capacity. According to analysts, US and Nato efforts to develop the security forces in Afghanistan have focused on numbers rather than quality. Also, the loyalty and credibility of Afghan security forces remain highly questionable. Analysts argue that the Afghan National Army is far from ready to assume operational command and tackle security responsibilities on its own.

A major concern for Pakistan is the likely scenario of growing instability in Afghanistan after the Nato troops pull out. That can create trouble on the Pakistani side of the border as many political elements in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province are tied to power brokers on both sides. The nature of relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan may trigger border tensions from time to time.

The fourth major reason for growing strategic sensitivities is the concentration of militant forces along both sides of the border, which may continue to play the role of irritant not only in bilateral ties but also in relation to the international community. India’s role in Afghanistan is also an issue central to the changing thinking on matters of strategic interest to Pakistan.

The major casualty in this strategic transformation has been the Afghan-Pakistan Transit Trade Agreement considered an important pact for expanding economic ties between the two countries and also with the Central Asian region. International gas pipeline and electricity transmission projects such as Tapi and Casa-1000 have still not materialised because of security concerns, mainly the decade-long insurgency in Afghanistan.

In this perspective, some attempts have been made by the two countries and by the US to improve the situation. Although most of these attempts were aimed at normalising bilateral relations through developing cooperation in the security and economy sectors, the border security issue has remained at the core of these efforts. In April 2011, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, army chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani and ISI director general Lt Gen Shuja Pasha visited Kabul in a bid to establish an ‘Afghan-led and Afghan-owned joint peace commission’ and made efforts for negotiations with the Taliban.

The process continued relatively smoothly until the assassination of ex-Afghan president and head of the High Peace Council Burhanuddin Rabbani in September 2011. Despite a cooperation mechanism in the form of the Pakistan-Afghanistan-US tripartite commission established in 2003, which also comprises a border security sub-committee, and provisions and blueprints for sharing intelligence under the military intelligence-sharing working group, blame for cross-border incursions and attacks has been hurled from both sides of the border.

A meeting of the tripartite commission’s military border working group was convened in Peshawar on July 6 this year on Pakistan’s request. The committee suggested the establishment of a single point of contact with all Afghan national security forces through a hotline contact between the Pakistan Army and Afghan National Army, regular border flag meetings between local commanders and interaction/jirgas between the maliks of villages on either side of the border. But all these attempts have failed to find a workable mechanism, which has emboldened the militants to roam freely across the border and launch attacks on both sides of the border. This is a very delicate situation for Pakistan as any adjustment in its security doctrine would not only be related to the geo-political interests of the country but also to a change in the military structure which the Pakistan economy would barely be able to sustain. Another important aspect of any possible shift would be the sensitivities on Pakistan’s eastern borders with India. The threat perception on the eastern border would be crucial to adjustments in the national security doctrine.

Courtesy Dawn, December 26, 2011

Afghanistan’s future
Published: Dec 14, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE international leadership meets in Bonn today to discuss, yet again, the future of Afghanistan. The main issues of discussion pertain to the civilian aspects of transition in the war-torn country, post-2014 international involvement in Afghanistan and the reconciliation process with the Taliban.

Although the international community, mainly western nations, have invested rather large sums of money in the infrastructure, economy, security and social sectors of Afghanistan there has been little progress on the crucial elements of political transition and institutionalisation as Afghan society has remained divided. The Taliban have exploited this shortcoming, and the international community finds itself in a fix on how to deal with the issue.

Despite several years of attempts to engage the Taliban in the political process, nothing concrete has been achieved so far, the main reason being the communication gap between the adversaries and the hesitation of the United States to include the Taliban in any peace process without achieving some success against them on the battlefield.

At Bonn too the Taliban will not have representation, as was the case in two important meetings last month at the Istanbul conference and the Loya Jirga in Kabul. In the absence of a central party to the Afghan conflict, the West cannot reach an agreement that leads to peace in Afghanistan before foreign troops pull out of the country.

Terms such as `power-sharing` and `political process` that have been in extensive currency still remain fluid and offer little incentive to the Taliban to soften their stance on the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan. The Taliban are still keeping their links with Al Qaeda as a trump card. Although there is growing realisation in western capitals that Pakistan can help bring the various Taliban factions to the negotiating table, it is the US approach towards the region that sets the tone for the West.

Now is the time to adopt a top-down approach to reach a workable mechanism on Afghanistan before 2014. Measures such as the announcement of a ceasefire can provide the impetus for engagement. Pakistan favours a ceasefire and considers it a first step towards the endgame in Afghanistan, and the US seems to be giving serious thought to the idea.

During her last visit to Pakistan, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had hinted that the US might be open to considering an Afghan ceasefire. Gilles Dorronsoro, prominent analyst, author and expert on the region, favours the idea of a ceasefire as a last resort and argues that even if some of the Taliban accept a deal while others don`t, that should be considered progress.

The West is still sceptical about the Taliban`s response to such an offer, but in the recent past the Taliban have agreed to short-term ceasefires on at least two occasions — once with the United Nations when a weeklong ceasefire allowed health workers to launch a polio vaccination campaign, and again during the Afghan presidential elections in the north-western provinces when the insurgents agreed not to target the candidates and to allow them to set up campaign offices.

It is not at all far-fetched that the Taliban might respond positively if a ceasefire is announced. This idea can be floated for discussion with back channels employed to negotiate a truce with the Taliban. As Gilles argues, it will indeed be a test for the Taliban and to see how they react to such an overture, and will help remove ambiguities about matters such as relations between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which remains a prime concern for the US.

The response of the various Taliban factions to a ceasefire offer would also expose the depth of their ties with Al Qaeda and the probabilities of detaching them from the terrorist network. It can be included as a priority agenda along with a power-sharing formula during negotiations.

The Taliban might make demands for constitutional amendments for a more Islamic dispensation, but the occasion would also offer an opportunity to reach an agreement on issues such as the rights of women, children and religious minorities and the sectarian and ethnic balance of Afghan society.

Concerns have been raised about the make-up of parties at the talks after such a ceasefire, including apprehensions that if Pakistan and the Taliban act in unison they would have virtual veto power on the negotiating table. But the talks should have two levels.

The first one can be at the national level among the Taliban and other major stakeholders in Afghanistan for evolving a power-sharing formula, consensus and a trust-building process on other national issues. Pakistan and the US can act as facilitators.

On the strategic level, the talks could be among Kabul, Islamabad, Washington and the Taliban, aimed at addressing the issues of Al Qaeda on a priority basis and matters of border security and geo-economic cooperation at a later stage.

Pakistan and Afghanistan reaching a non-interference treaty, including commitments against supporting each other`s non-state actors, could be a great achievement for the process. Once this process is completed, the regional stakeholders can be taken into confidence and their guarantees involved, as the US desires.

A ceasefire should not only focus on suspending military operations in Afghanistan but also on an end to drone strikes inside Pakistan. Otherwise, the latter would remain a major irritant in any peace process. Although no major breakthrough is expected at Bonn, especially with Pakistan not participating, if negotiations start in the near future, they can pave the way for a successful gathering with similar objectives in Chicago, scheduled for May next year.

Courtesy Dawn, December 05, 2011

Peace with the Taliban
Published: Nov 14, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

ARE the Pakistani Taliban amenable to negotiations and would that lead to sustainable peace? After the Oct 18 All-Party Conference resolution, which endorsed talks with Pakistani militants, the government has received offers for negotiations from some Taliban factions.

Of 13 peace treaties signed between the state and various militants groups, two are still intact, both of them pertaining to North Waziristan. In each of these agreements the state has compromised on its writ, allowing the militants to further consolidate their grip. The militants have repeatedly violated and revoked the deals. What has changed now that the political and military leadership are once again considering initiating parleys and pacts?

The popular argument in Pakistan is that if the US can talk to the Afghan Taliban, why should Islamabad not do the same? However, it remains to be seen whether talks between Kabul, Washington and the Taliban will yield positive results.

Secondly, a nationalistic trait dominates the Afghan resistance but the Pakistani Taliban lack this `legitimacy`, and ideological and tribal characteristics have persuaded Pakistan to look at the Pakistani Taliban from its own perspective.

Although prospects for a successful peace process in Pakistan`s tribal areas are not entirely bleak, the state must first decide what it wants to achieve. Is the desired objective minimising terrorist attacks in the country, or dismantling terrorists` networks? Are the decisions swayed by a craving to regain lost ground or to reintegrate the militants into society?

Also of crucial importance is what the state demands of the militants, and what it can offer in return. What is required is a comprehensive approach based on a lucid policy that is mindful of the lessons learned from previous peace deals.

With the exception of the Swat peace agreement, all other pacts were signed between the military and the militants, with the principal objective being to secure an end to attacks on the security forces. The local tribes` participation in these talks was nominal, their only function being to serve as guarantors. The state negotiated from a position of weakness, offering too much and demanding too little. Most importantly, the Taliban enjoyed public support at the time, which strengthened their hand at the negotiating table.

Public support for them has plummeted after the military operations in Swat and South Waziristan. The extent of the effect this would have on their bargaining position is of critical importance. Besides other structural and tactical flaws in the previous agreements, a major strategic deficiency was a consistent failure to assess the militants` ideological and political strength.

The real advantage the Pakistani Taliban possessed was their ideological and political cause. The cause has a central place in counterinsurgency studies. Without an attractive cause, a militant movement is little more than a criminal syndicate. The Pakistani Taliban got their political inspiration from Afghanistan, but ideologically they were influenced by both Al Qaeda and Pakistani militant and radical groups.

Initially, the Pakistani Taliban focused on Afghanistan or on acting as facilitators for Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban in South and North Waziristan. Punjab- and Kashmir-based groups introduced foreign militants to the religious discourse for change in Pakistan.

Pakistan`s religious political parties have for long been striving for the Islamisation of the state and the socialisation of society along religious lines. This is a common narrative in Pakistan but after 9/11, militant organisations have promoted this narrative with greater vigour.

Al Qaeda came up with an ideological and political agenda which appeals to militants in countries all over the world. These internal and the external factors transformed the Pakistani Taliban movement. Although many Pakistani Taliban groups had a far from prominent role in Afghanistan, even that became a source of political legitimacy for them. However, under these influences their focus gradually shifted to Pakistan.

Punjab- and Kashmir-based militant organisations became invaluable assets for Al Qaeda as their objectives converged. The Taliban absorbed both tendencies and became agents of change in their respective areas. They felt empowered in a system where tribesmen had been the victims of colonial-era laws, political agents and maliks. The nexus of these three elements still exists and has grown even stronger.

Prospects for sustainable peace will remain bleak unless this bond is weakened. The Pakistani Taliban will fear losing political and ideological legitimacy. A long-term strategy to weaken this bond can meet the challenge.

Fortunately, there is a desire among sections of the clergy in Pakistan to play its role in curbing violent tendencies. They can offer an alternative to the Taliban groups to strive for their causes through peaceful means. This would not be an easy task and the option of use of force against Al Qaeda and inflexible elements among the Taliban should remain on the table and must form an unambiguous provision in any future peace agreement.

A selective approach may also work as the Taliban are far from being a homogenous entity. There are three major factions among them: the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), local Taliban groups (such as groups led by Gul Bahadar and Mullah Nazir, with whom peace treaties are still intact), and other militant groups such as Lashkar-i-Islam who are not part of the two major factions. The TTP itself is an alliance of many small militant groups. Although these groups share common ideological and political views, their objectives vary and include sectarian and Islamisation agendas as well as tribal and ethnic priorities.

A strategy based on an accurate assessment of the militants` ideological and political strengths can be used to engage these factions. However, different approaches would be needed to engage different groups and a successful policy in one area may not work in another. There are other critical dimensions too but the key to success in any peace process lies in active engagement with the local tribes, and political and religious actors in conflict areas. A persistent, flexible and accommodative approach which can adjust to changing situations just might do the trick.

Courtesy Dawn, November 14, 2011

Threat Perception
Published: Oct 25, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

MILITANCY in Pakistan has become a complex phenomenon with ever-changing dynamics. The law-enforcement agencies` response has been slow to adjust to new challenges and not because ideological narratives have prevented them from expanding their vision.

The government has also failed to establish a robust counterterrorism force. The latter is relying largely on existing human and ideological resources. It indicates flaws in the approach to perceiving a threat.

Accurate threat perception is crucial to formulating an effective response to the security threats Pakistan faces. A clear approach based on a distinction between the challenges of a tribal insurgency and pervasive terrorism besetting the country is required at the policy level. Al Qaeda, the TTP and other militant groups in Pakistan may have a nexus but their operational strategies and partners are different. Countermeasures at the security, political and ideological levels need to factor in those differences and respond accordingly. Understanding the nature of the challenge in each context is also important.

The security challenges in the tribal areas and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are inherently different from those in Punjab and urban Sindh. The tribal areas are in the throes of an extremist militancy, which has local and regional context and the militants have resorted to violent acts of terrorism as a tactic against the security forces. In mainland Pakistan, however, terrorism has its roots in the ideological, political and sectarian narratives developed by the religious parties, militant groups and, at times, by the state itself. The disparate nature of threats calls for an equally diverse approach to counter them.

Comprehension of the ideological and tactical evolution of militant groups in Pakistan must be the first step towards evolving a comprehensive policy.

Although considerable literature is available on the historical perspective of militant groups, most of it is based on secondary sources and is loaded with factual inaccuracies. An analysis based on faulty data obviously cannot lead to accurate threat assessments. Furthermore, Pakistani militant groups have kept changing their strategies and tactics according to the circumstances and countermeasures they have faced. The available data is old and few attempts have been made to update it with a view to understanding the patterns of evolution of militant outfits.

Most banned organisations use many covers for their operations. The first response of banned organisations to official clampdown in recent years has been to start operating under a new name. Changed names of charities also mask their links with militant organisations.

The proscribed Jaish-i-Mohammad militant group is now active as Tehrik-i-Khuddamul Islam, while raising funds and launching campaigns as Al-Rehmat Trust, the charity wing of the organisation. Similarly, Jamaatud Dawa is carrying out its activities as Tehrik-i-Tahaffuz-i-Hurmat-i-Rasool, while Idara Khidmat-i-Khalaq oversees the group`s charitable projects and fund-raising through donations, etc.

In this context, understanding the structural complexities of the militant groups can help evolve better counter-strategies. Complex organisational structures and nexus is another major challenge.

The nature and agendas of militant groups in Pakistan in recent years have been anything but stagnant. Militant groups faced internal fissures, external pressures and kept changing their strategies and nexus. The groups involved in terrorist activities across Pakistan are largely splinters of banned militant organisations, in addition to a few groups that have emerged recently.

The banned organisations, which were once acknowledged as strategic assets of the state, have nurtured narratives of extremism or destruction. Although their focus was initially on delivering the Muslims of Kashmir, Afghanistan and other regions from tyrannical rule, a review of their literature and stated objectives lays bare sectarian motives and ambitions for achieving an ultra-orthodox theocracy in Pakistan, though realisation of theocracy in the country was the `secondary agenda` of the militant organisations, once they had achieved their objectives in Kashmir, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Nevertheless, splinter groups of the militant outfits have prioritised the initial secondary agenda and started pursuing it through violent means, which has been their sole tactic in pursuing their objectives. The splinters, which are often referred to as `Punjabi Taliban`, have snapped links with their banned parent organisations, often declaring them puppets of official agencies, and developed a rapport with Taliban and Al Qaeda militants based largely in Pakistan`s lawless tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.

`Punjabi Taliban` is a brand name for terrorist groups detached from the mainland militant organisations, as well as for newly emerged terrorist cells with similar causes. They have developed affiliations with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Among these Punjabi Taliban groups, 24 are breakaway factions of Pakistani militant groups, who were once engaged in Kashmir and Afghanistan, or were part of sectarian terrorist organisations in Pakistan.

According to media reports, amongst these, 12 groups originated in Punjab, four in Karachi, one each in Balochistan, Kashmir and Islamabad and two in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Fourteen new terrorist cells have emerged apparently in reaction to the state`s alliance in the war on terror, military operations in Pakistan`s tribal areas and the security forces` Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad in 2007. Most of these groups do not have any link with existing militant or sectarian organisations and have between five and 12 members. These groups typically contacted the Taliban in the tribal areas and offered their services as volunteers for jihad.

Concentrating on banned organisations alone rather than their splinters, over which the parent outfits have no control, misses a trick and the emergence of further splinters among these organisations can complicate the counterterrorism effort even more. In this perspective, a comprehensive study of the militant landscape of Pakistan is urgently needed.

Courtesy Dawn, October 24, 2011

Advantage Al Qaeda
Published: Oct 03, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

HIGH-PROFILE terrorist attacks in South Asia over the last few years demonstrate that terrorists are either quick learners or are part of the same nexus. Similarities in a few terrorist attacks across different countries and regions can be shrugged off as copycat acts, but when the likeness almost becomes a trademark it merits a closer look.

In recent years, terrorists have gone after new targets and evolved new tactics in a near-simultaneous manner that point to an increasing exchange of notes, so to speak. Shared ideological, political and, sometimes, operational objectives bring terrorists closer.

In that context, similarities between the Sept 13 attacks on US and Nato targets in Afghanistan, the assault on Pakistan’s Mehran naval air force base in May this year and the November 2008 Mumbai attacks may not be surprising.

The operational and tactical likeness of these attacks reflects that terrorists have enhanced their operational capabilities and demands counterterrorism measures that are commensurate with the new challenges.

A broader conceptual framework and effective coordination among states facing the shared threat of terrorism can build an effective pre-emptive mechanism. But such a synchronised effort to take on terrorism has not been achieved even a decade after 9/11. Interstate cooperation against terrorism remains a pipe dream in South Asia in particular, even as terrorists grow ever-savvy and constantly find sophisticated techniques of striking their targets.

The security crisis and the insurgency that erupted in Iraq after the US invasion of that country in 2003 was a watershed moment in the history of terrorism. Iraq proved a virtual laboratory for terrorists where Al Qaeda tried and perfected new and sophisticated techniques of wreaking havoc, which were later exported to other regions, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Al Qaeda’s edge in terrorism expertise influenced the Taliban and other militant movements in the region, which had been under immense pressure from the state after 9/11. Al Qaeda’s support in the form of improved capabilities and techniques for striking their targets was a virtual lifeline for them.

The February 2008 suicide attack in Kandahar that targeted a dog-fight festival was the first in Afghanistan where the tactics could be compared to those involving attacks targeting pilgrims in Iraq starting 2003. The objective was similar: to kill as many members of opponent tribes, sects and political adversaries as possible, even if they were civilians. More destructive suicide jackets were developed to maximise the impact.

Also in 2008, Pakistan saw progression in techniques in three major terrorist attacks which targeted the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) building in Lahore and the Danish embassy and Marriott hotel in Islamabad. In the FIA attack, terrorists used a pickup truck loaded with over 50kg of C4 plastic explosives, in a tactic that was strikingly similar to the April 2005 botched attack on Iraq’s infamous Abu Ghraib prison by Al Qaeda, with the aim of freeing detainees and targeting US forces in a series of car bombings. The method adopted in the devastating Marriott suicide bombing showed their enhanced capabilities and the ability to strike at will the most protected parts of the country.

The Mumbai attacks were another defining moment, when a new technique of urban guerrilla warfare proved brutally effective in the hands of terrorists, who have since developed such tactics further, adding elements of suicide bombing to it and striking in Pakistan and Afghanistan more than a dozen times.

Terrorists imitated the Mumbai attacks in four major assaults in Pakistan in 2009: an attack on GHQ in Rawalpindi, an assault on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore and two attacks on a police training school in the same city. Afghanistan suffered a similar attack in Kabul in February 2010 when terrorists targeted a shopping centre, a guesthouse and a hotel.

One tactic has been to target a particular city through repeated strikes with a view to terrorising the population and enhancing the impact of attacks beyond just physical damage. In 2009, terrorists repeatedly targeted Peshawar in that manner and in 2010 they focused on Lahore. In 2011, Karachi seems to be high on the terrorists’ list. In Afghanistan, initially Kandahar was a magnet for such sustained attacks and now it is Kabul.

At the level of nexus, things have been much clearer. Terrorist groups that shared similar ideological and political ambitions not only borrowed tactics and techniques ascribed to each other, but also mirrored other terrorist outfits’ approaches by merging or otherwise converging, transforming or altering their organisational composition. This happened in the case of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and a few Kashmir-based militant groups, mainly Brigade 313 headed by Ilyas Kashmiri.Under Al Qaeda’s influence these outfits have transformed and have been imitating each other on the tactical, operational and organisational levels. Typically, the influence has impacted smaller groups who had been struggling to survive or had material deficiencies and required external help to survive. Al Qaeda has been more than willing to help out, through both ideological and operational support. There is little doubt that quid pro quo has been involved.

That was the conclusion that slain Pakistani journalist and expert on terrorism reporting, Syed Saleem Shahzad, had reached in his book Inside Al Qaeda and the Taliban, pointing out that Al Qaeda was in the driving seat and that the Taliban and other militant groups were essentially acting like its foot soldiers.

He had argued that the Mumbai attacks were planned by Al Qaeda, which used Lashkar-i-Taiba to execute the plan. He believed that Al Qaeda wanted to destabilise the region to break the alliance of the ruling Muslim elites and the masses with the West and make the region the base for a global caliphate.

The challenges that terrorism poses in the 21st century are complex, and in many cases insurmountable in the absence of interstate cooperation. Effective collaborations are impossible without trust, to state the obvious. When partners in the war on terror talk to each other through the media or consider arm-twisting and threats of use of force to be the preferred modes for winning cooperation, prospects for teamwork are doomed. By acting in this manner, states fall into the trap of terrorists.

No prizes for guessing which party to this new kind of war ends up the winner then and which ends up shooting itself in the foot.

Courtesy Dawn, October 03, 2011

Rabbani’s Assassination: Impact on Political Reconciliation in Afghanistan
Published: September 30, 2011

Abdul Basit

The assassination of Burhanuddin Rabbani, a former Afghan President and the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council, is a serious blow to fragile and fledgling reconciliation process in Afghanistan. The assassin, a suicide bomber, purportedly carried a peace message for Rabbani and managed to reach his residence in Kabul and kill him in a suicide bomb blast. If the attack turns out to be a Taliban authorized operation then peace talks are off the book for the moment.

Prior to Rabbani’s killing the arrest of Mullah Ghani Baradar, Afghan Taliban’s second-in-command and group’s operational chief, from Karachi in February 2010, assassination of Ahmed Wali Karzai, chairman of the Kandahar Provincial Council and President Hamid Karzai's half-brother, in Kandahar in July this year and disappearance of Tayyab Agha, a former personal advisor to Afghan Taliban’s supreme leader Mullah Muhammad Omar after leakage of his secret contacts with the US in Qatar and Germany were also considered major blows to peacemaking efforts in the war-torn country.

The timing of Rabbani’s assassination is very critical for future of political transition and reconciliation in Afghanistan. It has come just two months before Bonn Conference which is scheduled to be held in Bonn on December 5 this year. It makes harder for Afghan Taliban to be part of Afghanistan delegation at Bonn.

Rabbani’s killing gives rise to two possible scenarios espoused by two opposing schools of thought. One school of thought, which primarily comprises of veteran Afghan experts, journalists and diplomats, believes that his killing has diminished all hopes of reconciliation process with Taliban and created an unbridgeable gap. According to this school of thought it will be very difficult to find a new peace convoy of Rabbani’s stature and standing.  

A further dissection of arguments and ideas of this school of thought reveals that the very idea of reconciliation with Afghan Taliban is a non-starter. Rabbani’s killing has destroyed any notion of trust or confidence. It opines that the so-called peace process has been muddled and confusing from the outset. There have been too many channels of communication open without any coordination leading to very public blunders, like talks with the Pakistani shopkeeper posing to be Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor who last year convinced American and Afghan officials of his identity and lured them into talks for almost two months. Few months later–and after the handover of piles of cash to keep him coming back–an old friend of Mullah Mansoor revealed to Afghan authorities that they were talking to the wrong man.

Moreover, different stakeholders have been separately holding negotiations with different factions and commanders of Afghan Taliban at their own without taking each other on board about such initiatives. For instance, Karzai launched a separate peace outreach with the High Peace Council representing numerous political factions. Karzai reportedly met with representatives of Hizb-e-Islami leader Gulbadin Hekmatyar, who is seeking greater involvement at the peace table and direct talks with the United States.

At the same time, US has held secret talks with Ibrahim Haqqani, the brother of Jalaluddin Haqqani, who heads the Haqqani network that is considered by US and NATO troops in Afghanistan to be the biggest threat. The flurry of meetings the United States is holding with the various factions in the Afghan conflict has also extended to Pakistan. Time and again these contacts have been confirmed by officials from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the U.S.

Meanwhile the other school of thought, which consists of new generation of experts on Afghanistan, propounds that despite being a major blow to peace process Rabbani’s assassination will not scuttle the peace process. It believes elimination of Osama bin Laden, in a secret CIA-led raid in northern Pakistani city of Abbotabad, has created positive prospects for counter insurgency in Afghanistan. In their view willingness of Afghan Taliban to distance them from Al-Qaeda and willingness to establish contacts with US authorities bodes well for Afghan peace process.

Most of their arguments regarding positive hopes with the peace process emanate from Karzai government’s up-gradation of its National Independent Peace and Reconciliation Commission to a High Peace Council following last year’s ‘peace jirga’, setting up of a two-tier Afghanistan-Pakistan joint commission during the April 16 visit of Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani to Kabul, and redefinition of US preconditions for talks that the Taliban lay down arms, reject Al-Qaeda and embrace the Afghan constitution, and a stated position that these are outcomes to be sought through talks. It hopes aforementioned conditions are facilitative for peace process.

A dispassionate post-Rabbani assassination analysis of Afghan situation reveals that every stakeholder in Afghanistan including Afghan factions, regional countries and international community is pursuing its own narrow interests. The prevailing security, economic and political situation inside Afghanistan, diverging perceptions and competing interests of regional stakeholders and lack of political will on part of international stakeholders impedes efforts for long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan.

For ensuring smooth political and security transition, a minimum consensus among different Afghan factions, regional stakeholders and the international community is needed in the first place. In the second stage, deliberations and talks between a national representative body of all Afghan factions with regional and international stakeholders can pave the way for long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan.   

The nature of a friendship: making sense of Sino-Pakistani relations
Published: September 30, 2011


The May 2nd 2011 Abbottabad raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden heightened long-standing tensions between America and Pakistan. What little trust still existed between the establishments of the two countries almost completely disappeared. It is in this context that Pakistan made immediately clear that it was not dependent on Washington’s benevolence and that it could turn at any time to its “all-weather friend” China for assistance that is free of criticism. Originating more than 60 years earlier, the Sino-Pakistani relationship until then had gone relatively unnoticed by most observers. After Abbottabad, while American policymakers were busy questioning the reliability of the Pakistani state and suspending some of the huge flows of military aid that had been poured into that country since 2001, Islamabad was swiftly taking countermeasures.

Relations with China were vigorously revamped, with their extensive corollary of official visits, and presented to Pakistan’s (former) ally in the global war on terror as a warning that the American-Pakistani strategic alliance could not be taken for granted. State propaganda about the depth and solidity of the Sino-Pakistani friendship is again in full swing. Generally, Pakistan’s resentment towards America has grown significantly in recent years, especially after the intensification of the drone campaign in mid-2008, and is concomitant with a more pronounced shift towards China as a strategic counterweight.

This policy brief outlines a complex set of interactions between China and Pakistan. Some of them relate to stable factors, such as military cooperation and the rivalry with India,but some involve issues that in the long term could damage the relationship if not properly dealt with, such as Sino-Pakistani economic and counter-terrorism cooperation.

Ultimately, for China, Pakistan today is just one of many players in its regional geostrategic arena, and not the one holding the best cards. The destiny of Pakistan’s relationship with China, and also of its positioning in such a regional arena, will eventually depend on its capacity to restore a state that is functional and that can exert legitimate power in the South Asian subcontinent.

Courtesy NOREF (www.peacebuilding.no), September 27, 2011

A Case for Pakistan-India Mutual Counterterrorism Efforts
Published: September 30, 2011

Nida Naz

Terrorism has engulfed South Asian region. Transnational terrorist organizations pose a common challenge to all countries of the region that calls for mutual and collaborated counterterrorism efforts by these countries. Moreover for effective counterterrorism strategies, intelligence sharing seems necessary in order to crackdown the terrorist networks active across the region. The recent terrorist attacks in India’s metropolitan cities hit soft targets[1] like Opera house and Zaveri Bazaar in Mumbai while (semi-soft target) High Court in Delhi inflicting huge loss to India. These multiple blasts posed a serious security challenge to the Indian government and public. At the same time these attempts of the peace spoilers concerned Pakistan to the highest. Especially in the situation when the peace process halted in 2008 due to the 26/11 Mumbai attacks reinitiated although with traces of grievances marked by hard past of post 26/11 mistrust. A silver lining of opportunity did not fade away this time because Indian government did not instantly blame Pakistan for the recent bombing. Rather the claims of home grown militant organizations Indian Mujahedeen (IM) and Harkatul Jihad Islami (HuJI) confused the investigations and India asked the US for its help in not only fighting the terrorism within India but also to wreck the terrorist having links in Pakistan. To tackle the terrorism smoothly and effectively an efficient way would be India collaborating with not only US but also Pakistan to fight the evil through mutual collaboration and sincere intelligence sharing.

The history reveals that the Pakistan-India peace process had always faced challenging problems posed by peace spoilers. These confrontations become further grim due to trust deficit and unwillingness for information sharing. Devastating November 2008 Mumbai attacks halted the peace process and two countries took three years to restore the relations and bridge the gap.  The shattered trust between the two countries was well seen in the vague investigations and hesitation in sharing the intelligence. Even it remained point of contention in every meeting between two states under re-initiated Indo-Pak peace process in 2011.

On 13th July 2011 right before the commencement of Pakistan and India Foreign Ministers level meetings, Mumbai was again rocked by terrible triple bomb blasts taking lives of 26 people and injured more than 100 others. It could have been an eye roller for Pakistan but the claims of Indian Mujahedeen (IM)–a home grown militant group in India–claimed responsibility of these attacks. This incident of terrorism was taken by Pakistan as traditional peace spoiler’s bid to hamper the scheduled Foreign Minister’s meeting on 27th July 2011. However, as a positive development the Foreign Ministers’ meeting went successful without derailing the peace process. The investigations were not yet completed and the Indian government was still considering security measures to counter any future attacks when another bomb blast was carried out in the capital city of India; New Delhi High Court was targeted on 7th of September 2011 killing 11 people and leaving 61 others wounded. Once again quite a close call as next round of discussions between the commerce ministers of two countries was due in the month of September. Hopes are high for upcoming meeting as Indian government instead of putting blame on Pakistan pointed out at the indigenous terrorist groups. Indian government stance over Dehli blast was highly appreciated by the Pakistani Foreign Ministry. HuJI–militant organization based in Pakistan and Bangladesh–and IM not only claimed the responsibility of the Delhi blast but also threatened India for carrying out future attacks. Therefore India needs to learn the lessons from the 26/11 Mumbai blasts and increase policing and intelligence efficiency to nip the evil in the bud instead of countering the blast at the time of its occurrence. India also asked US for its help in investigation and in keeping watch at the links between indigenous and international terror groups especially based in Pakistan. Apart from Islamist extremist groups many ideological wings are also a threat for Indian security. US also reaffirmed its commitment to the shared struggle against terrorism and has added IM in the list of banned terrorist organizations after the attacks. Hence, if seen in a broader canvas India can emulate US to a certain extent only. However India and Pakistan, which is already a US ally in war on terror, must avail the hidden opportunity in the backdrop of this recent bombings. Through working in collaboration by intelligence sharing and overcoming the mutual trust terrorism can be fought back instead of providing a loop hole to the infiltrators.

[1] lower-profile “soft targets” — defined generally as public or semi-public (some degree of restricted access) facilities where large numbers of people congregate under relatively loose security. Soft targets include various forms of public transportation, shopping malls, corporate offices, places of worship, schools and sports venues, to name a few; Stratfor annual security report 2009.

Flawed surveys
Published: September 13, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

WHAT does public opinion mean? Do opinion polls reflect the public mindset, thinking patterns or just plain anger? These are vital questions in the present national and international context when countless professional and non-professional bodies engage in the survey-oriented business and provide analysis to policymakers, media and opinion leaders.

The recipients of the analysis often blindly trust the findings which end up influencing the decision-making process. A study by three American researchers tilted Islam, Militancy and Politics in Pakistan: Insights from a National Sample raises similar concerns — that many such surveys are flawed for one or more reason and shed little light on answers to the questions that should really matter to policymakers.

Whether it is anti-Americanism in Pakistan, anti-Pakistan sentiments in the US or the issue of radicalisation, findings of opinion polls often seem straightforward and easy to grasp while attractive presentations make them all the more appealing compared to objective analysis. Radicalisation is a complex phenomenon and one that has been the focus of substantial academic work, but for opinion polls usually a very narrow framework is used to determine the level of radicalisation among Muslims. Typically, an attempt is made to map two notions: support for Al Qaeda, and anti-US or anti-West sentiments among Muslims.

Does sympathising with Osama bin Laden mean that the respondent is willing to join a terrorist organisation? These surveys seldom ask the respondent whether he or she agrees with the ideology of a terrorist organisation and would be inclined to actively support it.

Effective use of opinion-mapping tools and keeping the perspective in mind is obviously of crucial importance. Some academic surveys indicate that the major segment of society in Pakistan is opposed to terrorism and the Taliban-style system, but often this segment’s association with religion or preference for Sharia is interpreted to equate it with radicalisation or an inclination for it.

It may be that the surveys jump to conclusion by taking into account the level of religious education of a common person in Pakistan. Even the study by the three US researchers acknowledges that “there is no evidence that support for Sharia per se or even support for parties espousing Sharia indicates a fundamental support for militant groups”.

Norwegian research scholar Dr David Hansen has come up with a better explanation — that the majority in Pakistan has a tendency to voice quite radical expressions, but remains moderate in actions. In his PhD dissertation titled Radical Rhetoric — Moderate Behaviours, Hansen argues that it is vital to understand the gap between rhetoric and action and that during his research on the subject spanning one decade he found that very few people saw any contradiction between using radical rhetoric and remaining moderate in their actions, and that there was little reflection on the possibility of words being translated into action.

Public opinion surveys are no doubt reflections of the public’s thoughts on an issue or issues in a certain time frame and circumstances, but they cannot be taken as determining the thinking pattern, as public opinion keeps changing with time and varying circumstances. For example, a recent Pew survey on Pakistan reflects that support among Pakistanis for Al Qaeda stands at 12 per cent and for the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan at 19 per cent. The survey concludes that fears that extremists might take over Pakistan had declined since 2009, as 55 per cent of the respondents had expressed such concerns.

Although that is a considerable proportion, it is substantially lower than the 69 per cent admitting to such fears two years earlier. The reason behind the receding fears could be the military operations in Swat and South Waziristan. It would also be interesting if the survey gave a breakdown of the areas where the change in opinion was recorded. That might have happened in the urban areas of Punjab and Sindh, where the media has more reach and influence and continuously gives a positive impression about the impact of the military operations against the militants.

But lack of concern for a Taliban takeover cannot be deemed to depict a rise in support for militancy or increase in radicalisation, as support for Al Qaeda is also declining across the country. Interestingly, in 2009 a Pew survey found many similarities in public opinion on the issue of support for Al Qaeda and terrorism across Muslim countries.

Interestingly still, Pakistan and Turkey were among Muslim states with relatively much lower support for terrorism among the people. The people of the two countries were concerned about an increase in extremism linked to religion. If this be the yardstick, one may conclude that the level of radicalisation is much higher in Indonesia, Egypt, Nigeria and Jordan.

Opinion leaders, the media and especially policymakers need to keep perspective in mind while considering opinion polls.

Hansen’s argument can help understand the context of changing opinions as he claims that people have a tendency to be moderate and radical on a selective scale. It is important also to offer insight that enables one to tell apart rhetoric from ambition.

Courtesy Dawn, September 12, 2011

Intellectual response
Published: August 23, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

INTELLECTUAL input has long been the missing link in policymaking in Pakistan. The military and political establishments depend more on their own institutional insight, which obviously reflects a precept vision.

This does not mean that the establishment does not have interaction with intellectuals and experts in their fields, but such contact is limited largely to ‘likeminded’ intellectuals. Even if the sphere of interaction expands, that does not influence or reflect in the policies where the status quo remains.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani recently held a meeting with intellectuals and experts from different fields in order to consult them and make use of their intellectual input for policy formulation. The initiative, called ‘Dialogue with the People’, was reported to be part of the government’s new vision regarding vital issues facing the country.

Referring to this event, a media report said that “for the first time in the history of the country, the prime minister has initiated dialogue with intellectuals”. Although the meeting was not a unique initiative as rulers, mainly dictators, have always sought support from intellectuals, though not necessarily intellect, and tried to engage them, the report did reflect a common perception regarding poor intellectual input in the decision-making process.

Most importantly, the prime minister sought the advice of intellectuals and experts on countering radicalisation and extremism and enhancing harmony and cohesion among various factions of society in the country. But the real question is whether or not the government is committed and able to incorporate their suggestions in official policy. Pakistani intellectuals’ take on radicalisation and extremism often contradicts common narratives promoted by the state and which deem extremism to be a political phenomenon and conceptualise external factors as triggers, such as the invasion of Afghanistan by the US. Intellectuals often lay more emphasis on the ideological and empirical aspects of radicalisation.

A recent study conducted by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) on different perspectives on extremism in Pakistan reflects that social scientists consider it a political phenomenon, triggered by inequality, socioeconomic injustices and state policies. Clerics and religious scholars see the phenomenon in a sociopolitical perspective but through a religious prism. They consider Talibanisation to be an outcome of state polices and the state’s failure to enforce the Sharia. These two perceptions dominate the policy discourse as reflected in the government’s three-pronged approach of dialogue, development and deterrence, although that is yet to be implemented.

The study found that littérateurs and intellectuals associated with the creative arts define extremism as a state of mind in which an individual regards himself as superior to others, and that state of mind reflects imbalanced ideological attitudes that lead to intolerance.

A section of intellectuals also believes that sociopolitical and economic inequalities cause unstable behaviour, which at times leads to violence. Such a pattern of behaviour may be called extremism. More precisely, they have pointed to a cause-and-effect relationship between the psychological and physical aspects of extremism. The psychological aspect includes beliefs and ideologies, while the physical dimensions encompass political, social and economic disparities, the interests of external powers and their pressure that influences individuals, states and collective behaviour at the societal level.

The challenge, of course, is how policymakers can translate this complex approach into policy. The ability to understand complicated ideas defines the intellect, and policymakers have mainly relied on the simplification of ideas and have largely followed public opinion. Public opinion in Pakistan is shaped by the media and religious and political leaders, and ultimately influences political trends in society.

Intellectual influence on public opinion-making is minimal. A number of public surveys suggest that most Pakistanis hold the US responsible for the rise in extremism in Pakistan. Public opinion also considers the provision of justice and the basic necessities as crucial for countering extremism.

These two perceptions cannot lead to a solution to counter extremism, as on the one hand demands are made to cut relations with the US and on the other there is the cry for an economically and politically stable Pakistan with improved governance.

Granted that an effective solution cannot occur overnight; but policymakers are content to go along with a simplistic narrative, irrespective of how counterproductive it can be in terms of aiming for achieving sustainable and effective solutions.

According to the findings of the PIPS study, intellectuals advocate a range of options to counter extremism. The largest section of intellectuals surveyed believed that extremism should be countered by promoting enlightened moderation, rationality and ijtihad. A significant number of intellectuals also favoured strengthening democracy, promoting education and a culture of reading, a balanced media role and declaring Pakistan a secular state in order to counter the spread of radical ideologies. Among the intellectuals, social and political scientists favoured proper policy formulation. Religious leaders, on the other hand, emphasised close ties with the Muslim world and disassociation from the West.

This kind of intellectual input can help the government steer the policy discourse in the appropriate direction. However, the voice of intellectuals has been absent from the process for a long time. This absence has had its effects, the most fundamental of them being that the intelligentsia has often failed to conceive solutions that could be translated into policy with ease and prove effective.

For example, intellectuals advocate the promotion of moderation and rationality but do not usually suggest how this can be achieved. It is not enough to shift the onus on the state. The political government is already tied down and at times dragged along by simplistic and popular narratives. The intelligentsia has more responsibility to make extra efforts to conceive imaginative and workable policy solutions, without compromising fundamental freedoms.

Courtesy Dawn, August 22, 2011

Of Female Suicide Bombers in Pakistan
Published: August 17, 2011

Abdul Basit

As the government and its security forces struggle to prevent the incidents of violence and terrorism in Pakistan, use of female suicide bombers by militants creates a new challenge. A recent suicide attack in Peshawar, on August 11 to be precise, was the third documented incident in a row in which police have confirmed involvement of a woman suicide attacker. Earlier on June 25 this year a young Uzbek married-couple carried out a suicide attacks on a police station in Dera Ismail Khan which claimed lives of at least 10 people. Meanwhile the first ever incident of female suicide bombing was reported on December 25, 2010 in Khar—administrative headquarters of Bajaur Agency—when  a burqa-clad woman lobbed hand grenades into a crowd near a food aid distribution center of World Food Program (WFP) before blowing up herself, killing at least 47 people and injuring 100 others. Use of female bombers in these three attacks raises some important questions, particularly how and why the militants have opted to use females to launch suicide bombings?

The emergence of female suicide bombers cannot be seen as isolated from the overall dynamics of militancy and extremism in Pakistani society. The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) describes the use of female suicide bombers as a part of its new strategy against Pakistani security forces. There can be multiple reasons for using female suicide bombers. Along with smart utilization of human resources, women’s participation in suicide bombing can be used as a propaganda tool by militant organizations to project that they have ‘representatives’ from all segments of society to fight for their cause and struggle.   

Moreover, the use of female suicide bombers provides a tactical advantage to militant organizations for a stealthier weapon. It carries an element of surprise. Furthermore, since in Pakistan women are usually exposed to less stringent security check-ups and searches due to their soft and pacifist image, the rate of success for a female suicide bomber can be much higher than her male counterpart. A veiled woman or a woman in a burqa is unlikely to be challenged or searched in a way a man would be. Women dressed thus come and go through checkpoints and into public buildings all the time, usually without some hindrance. Likewise, for cultural reasons and dearth of female contingents in civilian Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) male personnel of LEAs hesitate to search women.     

As female suicide bombing gradually turns into a regular trend, the country is likely to see more female suicide bombings in future if appropriate measures are not taken to check it. Though at a strategic level the antidote to this problem lies in removing the causes and driving factors of radicalization and extremism in society, immediate responses at tactical and operational levels should focus on recruiting and training more female contingents within the ranks of civilian Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs). These female law enforcers should be tasked to assist and compliment their male counterparts in routine security check-ups and also search operations and house searches without disturbing traditional customs and tradition of the society.

The Tableeghi Jamaat has received bouquets and brickbats but controversy remains on what it is
Published: August 12, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

Tableeghi Jamaat (TJ) has been widely discussed for some time now. It has been of particular interest to scholars in South Asia. Western scholars have written about it too. But none has succeeded in getting into the depth of a religious group that is fast gaining popularity among mostly poor Muslims of the subcontinent. It has received bouquets and brickbats but controversy remains on what it is.

Mainly the western researchers have some fundamental reservations regarding TJ: first, it preaches a traditional version of religion, which promotes a conservative way of life to the youth; second, its loose organisational structure helps terrorists conceal their identity; and lastly, they are concerned about TJ’s direct or indirect linkage with terrorist organisations.

According to the Center for Policing Terrorism, an American research organisation, people associated with TJ in the United States are estimated to be around 50,000. Suspicions about TJ were raised when the so-called American Taliban John Walker Lindh and Omer Padilla came to limelight. They had an association with TJ — and so did the Australian Taliban David Hick. Similarly, one of the terrorists who carried out the July 7 bombings in London had been associated with the Jamaat. The British police have arrested 23 suspect terrorists so far who, in one way or the other, had a relationship with the Jamaat.

But the question arises whether the entire TJ could be blamed for terrorism because some individuals were suspected of involvement in terrorism?

Following issues have been pointed out so far: 

Is TJ directly involved in terrorism?

The answer is negative. But, the possibility of members getting involved in terrorism in their individual capacity has not been ruled out. Other than the American and Australian Taliban and British suspects, At-takfi, who was awarded death sentence in May 2004 blasts in Casablanca, had also been associated with the Tableeghi Jamaat. In this regard, examples can be quoted from Kazakhstan, India and the United States, which are based on police investigations. This is the reason why the West does not consider TJ a high risk group. But, the possibility of Jamaat members getting influenced by other violent groups is not discounted. 

Violent groups from within the Jamaat

Another point under consideration is the possible branching off of a violent group from within the Jamaat that may show tendencies to get involved in acts of terrorism. No solid evidence is available though, except for a coup attempt against the Benazir government in 1995, hatched by few military officers known to be Jamaat-associates. And there were individuals from jihadi organisations as well, suggesting that the plot was an isolated act. 

Jamaat youth moving towards extremism

The possibility of Jamaat-associated youth moving towards extremism is taken as a serious threat. In this regard, much evidence is available in Pakistan and the West. Most of the people associated with jihad and violent sectarian organisations have also been associated with TJ.

Loose organisational structure

The loose organisational structure of the Jamaat is viewed as the biggest threat. It makes it quite easy for terrorist groups to penetrate for recruiting new members and hiding from the law enforcement agencies. Some evidence was found in the US, Europe, Philippines, Indonesia, Yemen and Morocco when members of terrorist organisations travelled for operational and training purposes under the cover of TJ. This phenomenon has emerged in Pakistan too and is a matter of grave concern. Law enforcement agencies claim that many terrorist organisations, including Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, have taken cover under the folds of TJ to avoid arrests, and in some cases, to carry out terrorist activities. Despite the fact that the terrorist threat is increasing, TJ seems to be unwilling to change its organisational structure — partly because some Jamaat elders believe that by introducing a political party style organisation the Jamaat will lose the image of a preaching group and will appear to be pursuing the interest of some particular group. Hence negating the Tableegh principle — “Every believer is a preacher”. The Tableeghis say, the Jamaat will not discriminate against individuals — we are not concerned about their personal deeds outside the congregation; people need guidance and we simply provide that guidance to whoever seeks it. They claim to provide an opportunity for people to voluntarily tread the right path by providing the right environment, and it is the state’s responsibility to punish terrorists and criminals, even if associated with TJ. 

Financial resources

Fingers are also pointed at the financial resources of the Jamaat. Although TJ contends “Allah is the provider: human beings are just a means”, the fact remains that people associated with preaching, and at times also governments in South Asia, have helped construct preaching centres and the running expenditures are met by small donations. TJ does not fund the preaching visits because participants manage their travelling, boarding and lodging. Well-off TJ members do reach out to poor members and financial support is extended.

One can disagree with Jamaat’s impact on society or its role in attracting Muslims to Islam but one cannot discount the fact that the Jamaat successfully introduced renovation in the archaic convent system. The question raised in religious circles is: where will the Jamaat go from here?

A movement that was founded 80 years ago, should have adapted itself to the changing mores of the society. The elders of TJ seem least concerned about altering the structure or the method of preaching.

TJ elders need to pay attention to fears about terrorism and security. They need to restrict the radicals from using its platform. This may be a short-lived trend but the propensity of TJ members getting attracted to radical movements contradicts its own objective of peaceful reformation.

The question remains, what are the chances that TJ will continue to be used by criminal networks?

 Courtesy The News , August 07, 2011

Pak-Afghan Relations after Death of Bin Laden
Published: August 11, 2011

Abdul Basit and Maryam Naseer

Since late 2009, an increased level of interaction and bilateral engagement between Pakistan and Afghanistan has resulted in some significant developments. Besides their concurrence on working together for achieving political reconciliation and peace in Afghanistan and evolving some joint mechanism to counter terrorism and cross-border militancy, two countries also signed the Pak-Afghan Transit Trade Agreement (APTTA) on October 28, 2010 for boosting bilateral trade and exports. Most significantly they agreed on March 16, 2011 to establish a two-tier joint peace commission that indicated that two countries were in agreement to facilitate and strengthen the policy of reconciliation for managing political affairs and countering terrorism. Pakistan then categorically declared that all the policies and decisions which will be taken in the joint commission will be of Afghan interest and that it will support and facilitate an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation and peace.

However in the aftermath of death of Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 the Afghan President Hamid Karzai not only started criticizing Pakistan for Osama’s presence in one of its garrison cities but also asked US to fight war on terror in those areas where Taliban have their sanctuaries, indirectly blaming Pakistan for providing safe havens to militants.

Secondly, an increase in cross-border attacks of Taliban militants inside Pakistan, particularly after death of bin Laden, and retaliatory attacks of Pakistan’s security forces has flared up tension triggering the traditional blame-game between two countries. Since 9/11 cross-border militancy has remained a constant source of friction between Afghanistan and Pakistan but the current wave of cross-border violence is qualitatively different from previous trends as it involves large scale attacks involving a big number of militants. So far most of these attacks have been witnessed in Dir and Chitral districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), and Mohamand, Bajaur, Kurram and South Waziristan agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). These attacks have mainly been spearheaded by Maulana Fazlullah and Faqir Muhammad, heads of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP) Swat and Bajaur chapters respectively. After being dislodged from Swat and other areas of Malakand Division, during military operation in May 2009, Maulana Fazlullah along with several other high profile commanders of TTP fled to Kunar and Nooristan provinces of Afghanistan. Similarly Maulvi Faqir Muhamamd had relocated himself to Afghanistan after Pakistan army launched a military operation in Bajaur Agency on August 7, 2008.

These two developments could have negative implications for the growing convivial relations between the two countries but warmth in relations was once again seen as the President Karzai made a two-day visit to Pakistan on June 10, this year, on the invitation of Pakistani government. Karzai’s endeavor was to ask Pakistan to support Taliban who are willing to have dialogue with Afghan government and arrest those who will try to sabotage these talks. This visit of Hamid Karzai has great implications for Pak-Afghan relations as it comes after bin Laden’s assassination that had prompted the whole world including Afghanistan to question Pakistan for providing shelter to the Al-Qaeda head. Secondly, as the gradual withdrawal of the US and NATO forces from Afghanistan has started, President Karzai’s visit to Pakistan shows Kabul’s intent to take Islamabad into confidence in order to resolve the issues of terrorism and holding direct talks with Taliban. President Karzai nonetheless assured Pakistan that augmentation in Indo-Afghan ties will not have any negative implications for Pakistan. In the executive meetings between President Hamid Karzai and President and Prime Minister of Pakistan the issue of increasing cross-border intrusion of militants was also highlighted.

Both countries have growing realization that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan can cope alone with the challenges of terrorism and internal and regional security. However both countries still need to work hard to remove the irritants and issues that pose hurdles in the revival and strengthening of their mutual relations.

To stem the tide of rising cross-border militant incursions no country has to reinvent the wheel but to seek solution of this problem within the existing bilateral and trilateral frameworks of cooperation. Steps like increasing and enhancing information sharing between Pakistani security forces and NATO/ISAF troops on cross-border militant movement as well as formulation of biometric and electronic data exchange system along Durand Line is required.

Militants’ rehabilitation
Published: August 01, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

COUNTERING terrorism needs a multifaceted approach that focuses not just on confronting it through the coercive apparatus of the state but also through disengagement strategies.

Disengaging a militant from violence and extremist tendencies is an uphill task because of his or her ideological and political association with the cause. A number of countries have developed de-radicalisation programmes to deal with the issue but the level of success remains debatable, notwithstanding the claims made by the states concerned. The rehabilitation of detained militants becomes an integral component of any such programme as part of the prevention strategy.

The prison holds crucial significance in the de-radicalisation strategy as many of these programmes — including those in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the United Kingdom — are run in prisons. The logic for this approach is twofold: first, prisons offer an atmosphere where the detainees have time to think and interact with many influences; second, if the inmates are not engaged in constructive activities, they would be likely to use their time in prison to mobilise outside support, radicalise other prisoners and, given the opportunity, attempt to form an operational command structure.

The Pakistan Army launched an initiative for the rehabilitation of detainees in the conflict-hit Swat region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2009 after a successful military operation against extremist militants there. During the operation, thousands of militants and their active supporters surrendered, were arrested or turned in by their families. They remain in the army’s custody.

In 2010, the army decided to screen detainees in order to identify hardcore militants. A de-radicalisation programme was launched for detainees other than hardcore militants. The initiative is in its initial phase still and there is room to learn from the best practices and make adjustments where needed to improve its chances of success.

The rehabilitation programmes for detainees are usually part of a larger de-radicalisation strategy. Different states use different strategies but there are four major approaches in practice to rehabilitate individuals and vulnerable communities.

These four approaches operate at the security, societal, ideological and political levels, and are based on the concepts of de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation.

There is general agreement that the best practices on countering radicalisation are a combination of all four approaches, ranging from engagement to winning the hearts and minds of the people. But the objective of most of the programmes is neutralising the security threat. Despite sharing common objectives, such programmes in Muslim-majority states have some characteristics that differ from the models developed by non-Muslim states with a sizable Muslim population.

Programmes in Muslim states focus mainly on prevention and creating an ideological response to radicalisation. The Egyptian, Yemeni, Jordanian and Indonesian models essentially developed as ideological responses and the Saudi model emphasised rehabilitation through psychological and social modules, along with ideological responses.

Pakistan’s rehabilitation programme in Swat is not part of a comprehensive policy and is a counter-insurgency initiative introduced by the Pakistan Army. Yet if implemented judiciously, it could provide the basis for a broader de-radicalisation strategy.

The initiative to rehabilitate detainees in Pakistan was taken in September 2009 with an initial cost of Rs4.4m, which was provided by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government. The programme has three main components: Project Sabaoon focuses on juveniles; Project Mishal concentrates on adult detainees; Project Sparlay is for the family members of detained persons.

Rehabilitation efforts have also been divided into four main modules, including an educational module comprising formal education, especially for juveniles, to enable them to continue their education. Another module includes psychological counselling and therapy for developing independent and logical thinking. The social module includes social issues and family participation and the fourth module includes vocational training, such as repairing home appliances, etc., to equip the detainees with skills that enable them to make a decent living. Through the initiative, over 400 individuals have been reintegrated into society so far.

The Swat rehabilitation programme is based on the Saudi model. As is obvious from the difficulties faced by the Mishal project, financial constraints were not considered while designing these initiatives. On the other hand, although Sabaoon is not facing any financial constraints, the absence of knowledgeable and devoted scholars such as Dr Farooq Khan (killed on Oct 2, 2010 by the Taliban) has certainly been a challenge. In addition to these constraints, the initiatives focus mainly on low-cadre militants who come from poor economic backgrounds.

The rehabilitation of this rank is important but the programme needs to be expanded to the mid-level cadre which has more political and ideological tendencies towards radicalisation. If some of them are disengaged from militants and extremism, they can prove valuable assets in the de-radicalisation process, as has happened in Indonesia. Yet bringing about the disengagement of the mid-level cadre is a difficult task and countering its narratives is a challenge. Egypt has a good record in this area.

The Swat model was developed with a post-insurgency perspective and the counter-argument modules focus on defusing anti-state tendencies. However, in Pakistan the militant landscape is quite complex and in the presence of other violent actors, who are involved in international and regional terrorism, this narrative cannot prevent them from joining other groups. The complete denunciation of extremism should be the programme’s objective and a viable ideological anchor needs to be provided in the framework of nationalism and pluralism.

The Swat model can be replicated in other parts of the country after addressing framework deficiencies and intellectual and financial constraints. But at the same time, the civil administration needs to shoulder responsibility. In other countries, such initiatives have been taken by the political government and implemented by the civilian administration. Only a representatives and accountable political set-up can have the credibility, legitimacy and mandate to take on the ideological and political sensitivities involved in the de-radicalisation process.

Courtesy Dawn, August 01, 2011

The Hizb ut-Tahrir threat
Published: July 11, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE arrest of Brig Ali Khan and four majors last month bring Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) into the spotlight. Though HT did not confirm or deny their links with itself, its spokesman in Pakistan said in a recent interview that the idea of resonates with officers of the armed forces.

HT is an ideological group that falls somewhere between political Islamists and militant Islamists, and may also be classified as a kind of a revolutionary Islamist set-up. HT emphatically asserts that the only way to progress, prosperity and development is the implementation of Islam as an ideology in Pakistan, in fact the whole world.

In Pakistan, it has an anti-constitutional and anti-democratic outlook and agenda, and its narrative on militant and violent movements and groups in the country remains vague. This vagueness is a major hurdle in assessing the real threat the group can pose. Most analysts tend to watch madressahs and popular mass movements for signs of radicalisation. The danger with HT is ever more serious and often overlooked because it is not always visible and does not conform to stereotypes.

HT`s political discourse is based on religio-ideological narratives that are already in abundance in Pakistan and are one of the root causes of the main security threats posed to Pakistan`s state and society. HT can, in fact, give impetus to the theo-political polarisation in Pakistani society where space for any discourse other than the Islamist narrative has almost already disappeared. This is a threat in general, irrespective of which Islamist organisation or group is contributing to it; and HT is also a part of this threat augmentation.

HT claims to be a non-violent movement, but has been linked to a number of terrorist plots in Pakistan, including an attempt to assassinate former president Gen Pervez Musharraf. A report by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, quoting an HT member, claimed that the group did not deny the involvement of HT members in some “violent activities” — such as the plot to assassinate Musharraf and the case of an army captain who faces court martial in Kotli, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir on charges of planning a coup on HT`s behalf. khilafat khilafat

Some other factors also suggest that HT may pose potential threats to the security of the Pakistani state and society. Firstly, the frustrated youth associated with HT may get involved in terrorist activities; secondly, HT does not denounce such activities. Thirdly, HT does not discount the possibility of resort to violence via the military, in order to achieve the ultimate goal of establishing the state; it rather obliges it. Naveed Butt, HT spokesman in Pakistan, states that after the establishment of , part of the second phase will be to widen the borders of the state through offensive `jihad` or aggressive warfare. kufr khilafat. khilafat khilafat

At another level, the pursuit of a jihadist agenda cannot be ruled out in the case of HT. It believes that jihad and preaching will be used for “taking humanity out from the darkness of (infidelity) to the light of Islam” after the establishment of Perhaps HT has assumed a timeline for the establishment of their in Pakistan after which it plans to pursue a `jihad` to expand the boundaries of .

However, the question is, if things do not happen according to HT`s expectations, as the dominant discourse in Pakistan suggests, who can guarantee that the organisation, or its members at least, will not adopt the militant or jihadist discourse to achieve their primary objectives, especially when there are already some indications of their involvement in such activities. khilafat

Secondly, HT tries to influence the political leadership, mainly leaders of Islamist parties in Pakistan. It claims, as discussed earlier, that they do not have a clear agenda and that HT can provide them with a viable blueprint for the establishment of , or an `Islamic` revolution, that they are working towards.

Most Islamist organisations are traditionalists in their approach and work under the constitution of Pakistan. HT can lead the Islamists to a viewpoint that is characterised by opposition to the constitution. In other words, HT has the potential to compress the political and democratic space by guiding the Islamist parties and the citizens of Pakistan towards non-democratic and unconstitutional narratives of governance and state-functioning.

Thirdly, HT has been persistently targeting Pakistan Army officials for enlisting and the fact that it has the potential to augment the `Islamic revolution` niche occupied by some senior military officials cannot be ignored.

It is pertinent to mention that in two military coup plots unearthed in Pakistan HT was the prime suspect. A military court in Pakistan-administered Kashmir identified two military officers and two civilians in January 2010 as members of HT and charged them with planning to attack the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan. This facility is generally believed to be used as a base for US drones attacking targets in Pakistan`s tribal areas. The accused were also charged with transferring sensitive information to HT, which had also developed close links with Maj Gen Zaheer Abbasi, the main accused in the foiled military coup in 1995.

Fourthly, HT concentrates considerably on university students and those studying in professional institutions. The infiltration of these groups, especially with an anti-state and anti-constitutional agenda, runs the risk of putting more and more educated Pakistani youth on the path of radicalisation. According to Maajid Nawaz, a former member of HT, the radicalisation of this section of youth could have a poisonous effect on other segments of society, eventually making the core fabric of society prone to extremism because of its Islamist-guided polarisation.

HT certainly has the potential to polarise progress in Pakistan by injecting schismatic dogma into the very classes that Pakistan so desperately needs to progress.

Courtesy Dawn, July 11, 2011

India: The TMC Strives to Give a Meaning to its Victory
Published: July 11, 2011

Nida Naz

The recent phase of West Bengal assembly polls, an Eastern Indian state, made a shining verdict in the electoral history of India while on the other hand increasing post-poll violence is erupting as lava of revenge giving rise to a situation of political antagonism in the region.

The Trinamool Congress (TMC), expecting a “Democratic Change,” overthrew the 34-year political rule of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) with the power of massive public support. The TMC lead by its Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee made a record victory in alliance with the India’s ruling Congress party and won 226 of the 294 assembly seats, leaving only 62 for the Marxists - who had captured 235 seats in 2006. The left-wing accepted the defeat with all humility and promised to make a responsible, supportive and constructive opposition. This success rate of 81 percent indicates that how well Banerjee’s call to “fight Maoists’ bullets with ballots” remained compatible with the people’s urge for a change. While claiming this triumph as the victory of people the party has termed the next five years as the golden era for West Bengal. However, sustainability of TMC’s success would be defined with a trial of time. Materializing its words and meeting its high development claims will put the TMC into the face of multiple challenges during its tenure. Mamata has set herself a goal of ending Naxalism from West Bengal, execution of her announced gigantic developmental plans for the locals and bringing peace in the locality which has a history of Naxalite violence and unrest sprouting from its very soil. At the same time increasing post-poll violence by the Maoists in the region clearly suggests that though CPI-M is no more in government but its supporter Maoist militant wing has not accepted the change and strives to keep its ideology alive through continued violent activities. The recent spate of Maoists’ violence in the Naxalite-hit areas of Orissa and Chhattisgarh along with West Bengal resulted in 97 percent increase in death casualties compared to the previous month figures.

This political violence threatens the very core of the democratic political system. Therefore, at present the TMC has to make very crucial decisions when dealing with the Maoists to gain their support. The party’s policy towards Maoists needs a revisit. In this regard Mamata Banerjee’s open invitation to all the militant groups was an encouraging step towards initiation of negotiation process. A positive response surfaced up when, for the first time, Maoists agreed to talk to the TMC although under certain conditions. De-intensifying the security forces is one of the many critical issues where party has contrasting views as it believes in police’s continued non-political, uninterrupted working unlike Maoists’ demands. The only option the TMC is left with is to maintain peaceful co-existence with the combatant leftists whether it comes on the expense of lowering its-self to their demands or decreasing the military operations. Whatever the strategic plans will be perused concern must remain that the course of action must not be benefiting the Maoists to an extent that they regain their upper hand. Rather, a policy of fulfilling party’s promises to the public would satisfy the people. This will not only keep them dethatched from these extremists but also defeat Naxal terrorism and ideology before it gains strength.

A Tricky Balance
Published: June 20, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

Terrorism is increasingly at the heart of the world`s diplomatic, economic and strategic engagement with Pakistan. Islamabad finds that its pursuit of economic, strategic and political interests is blocked more and more by terrorism and violent extremism.

Recently, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee discussed the potentially disastrous scenarios for Pakistan: militants gaining control over nuclear weapons and their consequent ability to ignite a nuclear conflict in South Asia. The committee noted that both threats necessitated America`s continued engagement with Pakistan. At a press conference with US President Barack Obama during his visit to the UK, British Prime Minister David Cameron also urged the need to engage with Pakistan in a bid to stamp out terrorism.

The dynamics of engagement with Pakistan are changing, as the international community`s concerns about Pakistan`s internal security and presence of transnational terrorist networks on its soil grow. The approaches of engagement with Pakistan may be different for different states but terrorism remains the central theme. casus belli

Pakistan barely averted a at the hands of the US after the May 2 operation inside Pakistan by US Navy SEALs that killed Osama bin Laden. Chinese support was crucial in averting that situation. China not only intervened to end the virtual international isolation that Pakistan found itself in at the time, but also assured Islamabad of its support in the form of aid and investment.

Islamabad`s diplomatic relations with Beijing have long remained exceptionally warm, but in recent years the presence of Uighur rebels in Pakistan`s tribal areas has been a matter of increasing concern for China. The May 2 episode provided China with an opportunity to extract more cooperation from Pakistan to eliminate the infrastructure of Uighur rebels in the tribal areas. Javed Noor, chief of Pakistan`s Intelligence Bureau (IB), visited China in the first week of June and assured the Chinese authorities of full intelligence cooperation on the Uighurs in Pakistan.

The goodwill that Pakistan hoped that visit would generate was compromised amid unconfirmed media reports then that Abdullah Shakuer, an East Turkistan Islamic Party (ETIP) militant known to be present in Pakistan`s tribal areas, could be nominated as the potential successor to Osama bin Laden.

The reports were taken very seriously in academic and policy circles in Beijing, because of Shakuer`s presence in the tribal areas. Pakistan has long maintained counter-terrorism cooperation with China and killed and handed over to Beijing hundreds of Uighur rebels but the Chinese still believes that the rebel network remains strong in Pakistan`s tribal areas. However, in stark contrast to America`s roughshod approach, China`s employs a soft and focused one of gradually engaging Pakistan from the institutional to the state level to expand cooperation against the Uighur rebels. The Chinese approach seems to have yielded more positive results in comparison with US efforts.

The UK has also adopted a pragmatic approach towards Pakistan and focuses on long-term socio-political engagement. The UK is home to a large Pakistani expatriate community and the government harbours justifiable concerns that growing radicalisation in their native towns could have an impact on the expats. It also believes that a segment of the Pakistani expats facilitates links between radical elements in the two countries. Its strategy is to engage the state and civil society in the British-Pakistani community`s native towns for development and proliferation of moderate and tolerant tendencies.

Irrespective of how successful this strategy has been, the UK government avoids any confrontation with Pakistan to ensure continuity of the approach. After David Cameron`s comments in India in the summer of 2010, criticising Pakistan`s failure to tackle the Taliban, the UK has chosen to persist with the Labour Party`s approach that more financial assistance to Pakistan would ultimately serve UK`s national interest and would help enhance internal security.

Many European nations usually follow a tack similar to Britain`s and their terms of engagement with Pakistan now have more emphasis on terrorism and internal security issues. Media reports highlight European security officials` concerns about some 100 citizens who travelled to north-western Pakistan in recent years. These nations consider that there is an increasing need to expand security cooperation with Pakistan to track radicals and protect their Muslim communities from extremist influence.

Central and Southeast Asian states have similar concerns vis-Ã -vis Pakistan. Iran`s approach on security concerns emanating from Pakistan has generally been abrasive. A major cause of friction between the two states has been Tehran`s assertion that militants of the terrorist outfit Jundallah have sanctuaries in Pakistan`s Balochistan province.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards have intruded into Pakistani territory on several occasions in the recent past to pursue alleged Jundallah terrorists. Although Pakistan helped Iran capture Rigi, the head of the terrorist outfit, later hanged by Tehran, Iranian state officials criticise the Pakistani security establishment of failure to do enough against Jundallah. The Iranian foreign minister had even demanded that Pakistan allow Iranian security forces to launch operations against Jundallah in Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan have huge prospects for expanding economic and strategic cooperation but Jundallah is one of the main hurdles casting a long shadow on bilateral relations.

Even Saudi Arabia, another close ally of Islamabad, is concerned about growing radical tendencies in Pakistan and has offered support in the rehabilitation of captured terrorists. Saudi concerns grew on that count acutely in 2009 when Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Prince Mohammad bin Nayef was attacked and the masterminds of the attack were traced to the Pakistani tribal areas.

Pakistani missions abroad today struggle to function normally. Instead of furthering their country`s economic, strategic and political interests, they are forced to be deal with security issues. For Pakistan, the international community`s focus on security concerns is supplanting conventional diplomacy, which helps boost multi-dimensional state relations.

The changing dynamics of its relations with other states has undermined Pakistan`s legitimate economic, strategic and political interests. Kashmir that has remained a key ingredient of Pakistan`s relations with other states is no longer a priority at any international forum. That is just one indication of Pakistan losing ground in state-to-state relations.

Peace and economy are major planks in international relations and both have a cause-and-effect link. For ensuring normalcy and balance in its international ties, Pakistan needs to adjust to the new realities, even with its close strategic allies. This balancing act is far from desirable but Pakistan has few alternatives.

Courtesy Dawn, June 20, 2011

Roots of Terrorism
Published: May 30, 2011

Muhammad Amir Rana

THE assault by terrorists on a naval aviation base in Karachi has once again demonstrated the extent of the roots of terrorism in the country.

Even if the attackers did not have sympathisers and informants inside, the way they carried out the assault shows they had an active network in neighbouring areas and an operational cell through which they managed to procure heavy weapons and carry them into the naval base. The same can be said of other high-profile terrorist attacks targeting security forces throughout the country, including the October 2009 attack on GHQ in Rawalpindi.

The spread and reach of terrorists in Pakistan has become a critical challenge for the state. The attacks that they have launched have shown that they are capable of striking anywhere in the country. And yet ambiguity remains pervasive in society on the issue of terrorism. The collective mindset reflects a state of out-and-out denial.

The conventional approach to threat perception in Pakistan is a major obstacle to understanding the gravity of the situation. Whether they publicly admit it or not, Pakistani security officials and policymakers consider madressahs and religiously inclined communities to be more receptive or vulnerable to absorbing violent tendencies. That approach is also reflected in the country’s counter-terrorism strategies and is on display everyday at security checkpoints, where every bearded man is seen as a suspect. The madressahs indeed have a significant share in the ongoing wave of violence, and many analysts believe that between 10 and 15 per cent of them have direct or indirect links with terrorist organisations. But focusing on them alone amounts to taking a simplistic view of a wider problem.

A closer look at the cadre of militant organisations involved in Kashmir and Afghanistan finds mainly youth educated at formal educational institutions. Student wings of religious political parties as well as sectarian, charity, radical and militant organisations remain active in colleges and universities. Other wings of such organisations seek to influence various segments of society.

Almost every religious organisation, whether its ambitions are political, sectarian or militant, maintains wings with a specific focus on women, traders, lawyers, doctors and teachers, among others. These wings play a considerable role in promoting radicalisation and have an array of tools at their disposal to increase their influence. They consistently rely on radical literature and publications and disseminate the message not only through the usual printed word but also through CDs and DVDs. Militant organisations in Pakistan are increasingly using the Internet as an instrument to promote radicalisation and spur recruitment, with the youth as their specific target.

International terrorist organisations, such as Al Qaeda, have also benefited from this level of radicalisation, by generating financial and human resources as well as cultivating favourable perceptions among the populace in some parts of the country. According to an Asia Online report, several hundred students from Karachi affiliated with the student wing of an offshoot of a religious political party have joined Al Qaeda training camps in North Waziristan Agency in Fata. The report described that as a more dangerous development for Pakistan than any previous Al Qaeda alliance, as student wings can boast Al Qaeda’s recruitment drive and enhance its political influence.

One of the most critical segments of society in the country includes government departments, mainly security institutions, where the infiltration of terrorists and extremists is increasing by all accounts. Former president Gen Pervez Musharraf admitted in 2004 that some junior officials of the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) had links with terrorist organisations. Later, 57 PAF employees were arrested in connection with an assassination attempt on Gen Musharraf. At least some of the arrested PAF employees have also been convicted on the charge. Dr Usman, the mastermind of the October 2009 GHQ attack, was a deserter from the army’s medical corps.

The terrorists have also penetrated other government institutions besides the security agencies. According to the Pakistan Security Report 2010 by the Islamabad-based think tank Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government had constituted a committee to sack government employees found guilty of supporting militants. As many as 165 government employees were sacked on that ground.

The former divisional commissioner of Malakand, Syed Muhammad Jawed, who was taken into custody for suspected links with terrorists, may be one example of the terrorists’ influence in high places. There are many more, which shows the vulnerability of state institutions. Last year, police in Islamabad arrested an employee of the Council of Islamic Ideology, who had allegedly helped Faisal Shahzad, the New York bomb plot suspect who was convicted on terrorism charges.

The challenge is considerable by all means but it has become graver still because a coherent counter-terrorism and counter-militancy policy and the requisite vigilance by government agencies continue to remain absent. Accurate threat perception is the key to an effective response to terrorist threats. A clear approach that does not make distinctions on dubious grounds of good and bad militants is required. Vetting and security clearance of government officials, mainly in law-enforcement departments, is more crucial than ever.

Better policing and coordination among law-enforcement agencies must be the obvious first steps, but it is also abundantly clear by now that a one-size-fits-all security approach would not work in Pakistan anymore simply because of the dissimilar security challenges. For instance, security threats in the tribal areas and parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are inherently different from those in Punjab and urban Sindh. The tribal areas are in the throes of an extremist militancy, which has a local and regional context and the militants have resorted to violent terrorism as a tactic against the security forces.

In mainland Pakistan, however, terrorism has its roots in the ideological, political and sectarian narratives developed by the religious parties, militant groups and, at times, by the state itself. The disparate nature of threats calls for an equally diverse and imaginative approach to counter them.

Courtesy Dawn, May 30, 2011

Resumption of Pak-India Peace Process Amid Transforming Geopolitics of South Asia
Published: May 25, 2011

Nida Naz

The re-initiation of peace process/composite dialogue between India and Pakistan—which was stalled after November 2008 Mumbai attacks— in the wake of 2011 cricket world cup semi-final in Mohali is a good omen for the two neighboring countries for multiple reasons. The context of the current phase of the peace process between the two countries is distinct from the previous ones in many ways.

In the changing geopolitical and geo-strategic environment of South Asia region, the first factor which compels both India and Pakistan to cooperate with each other is the approaching end game in Afghanistan. Despite relentless efforts of US-led NATO/ISAF forces stretched over a decade, Afghanistan’s unpredictable governing structures, volatile security landscape, defunct and corrupt political system, by and large illegal economy with booming opium crops and resilient Taliban insurgent groups point to a bleak picture. In such a situation the draw down, in July 2011, and ultimate withdrawal, till 2014, of US forces from Afghanistan will have far reaching consequences for regional countries. An unstable Afghanistan—where India and Pakistan have high stakes—is in nobody’s favor. To avoid a volatile post-US Afghanistan with an uncertain future demand joint approaches within regional structures. This will require both India and Pakistan to mend their fences because without an improvement in their relations such approaches cannot be evolved.

Besides, the thaw in Sino-Indian relations also presents a unique opportunity to both India and Pakistan to sort out their differences and join hands for making the dream of South Asia regional economic integration possible. Soaring energy needs of China, India and Pakistan also make cooperation a win-win situation not only for India and Pakistan but for China as well. The actual realization of two proposed mega gas pipelines i.e. IPI (Iran, Pakistan and India) and TAPI (Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India) is not possible as long as India and Pakistan do not resolve their differences.

Furthermore, this peace process is taking place at a time when India is vying for permanent membership of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and therefore India’s softened, rather well calculated, policies towards Jammu and Kashmir and extension of an olive branch to Pakistan for reinitiating the composite dialogue speaks volume of underlying Indian intent to cultivate cordial relations with its South Asian neighbors, especially Pakistan. 

Another most compelling factor which makes cooperation most likely is common threat of militancy and extremism. Militancy and terrorism is a regional problem and warrants regionally coordinated approaches to overcome this menace. Finally, repeated allegations and demonization of Pakistan for sponsoring state terrorism will only isolate Pakistan; thus further weakening the already fragile economy, fractured social fabric and dysfunctional political system which in turn will strengthen the hands of peace spoilers and terrorists.

A glance at various peace processes between Indian and Pakistan in the past would reveal that from Tashkent Agreement (1966) to Thimbu (2011) almost all agreements, treaties or Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) unfortunately became hostage of pervasive trust deficit, deadlocks mired in outdated and outmoded traditional approaches and vicious petty politicking of shortsighted political leaders of the two countries.

Moreover, all of these agreements were situational, based on top-down approach having strong political overture, thus weak enough to be easily jolted by a bad situation. Lack of utilizing multiple channels resulted in minimal role of civil societies, irresponsible media and limited international organizational role which are necessary in taking the peace process further in an interdependent world order.

Interestingly, whenever the Pak-India composite dialogue was hampered the game of Cricket that is totally a non-political entertainment has been repeatedly used as a drawing close tool by the political leaders of the two countries but as history reveals ramification never remained encouraging. This precedent was set by Pakistani military ruler Gen. Zia ul Haq in February 1987 where he proceeded to watch a test match between Indian and Pakistan in Raipur  cricket stadium and talked his “Cricket Initiative”. In March 2004 Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi visited Karachi along with Indian National Secretary Advisor Brajesh Mishra to watch Pak-India cricket series. Taking “Cricket Diplomacy” further Gen. Musharaf visited New Dehli in April 2005 on invitation of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The current phase of peace process was reinitiated by cricket as well, as mentioned earlier.

Prior to Osama Bin Laden’s assassination in an operation of US Navy Seals on May 2 in Abottabad (a Pakistani city 80 miles north of its capital Islamabad) the peace process moved forward in a cordial atmosphere of cooperation and flexibility. Insofar, the interior ministers of the two countries have met on 28 March 2011, a joint Judicial Committee—comprising of the members from Pakistan and India—met from 18-22 April 2011 and most recently the commerce secretaries of India and Pakistan met on 27-28 April.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Osama Bin laden’s killing, a visible change observed in Indian attitude and grim gestures indicate that they will slow down the process until few more adjustments are made in Pak-US relations.

This situation gives rise to three possible scenarios. Amongst them least likely would be the unaffected and unhampered continuous flow of slow paced composite dialogue between the two countries. On the other extreme lies the worst case scenario according to which all the efforts made in the peace process so far will go in vain converting barriers into walls and conflicts into wars. The most likely scenario points at temporary contraction of the way forward but as soon as the situation normalizes the relationship can be built stronger with mutual understanding and cooperation through sincere efforts and willingness.

Making the current peace process hostage to Osama Bin Laden’s assassination will not only be detrimental to regional peace but it will tantamount to playing in the hands of peace saboteurs. After open admission from Pakistan that it was utter intelligence failure need of the hour is to work with and through Pakistan instead of isolating it through criticism and exerting pressure on it. Joint regional approach to counter terrorism is a way forward along with carrying peace process forward.

India and Pakistan need to make this peace process more meaningful and sustainable by utilizing multiple channels of interaction like enhanced trade cooperation, dialogue on all forums, state to civil society level as well as  people to people contacts, and independent developmental sector. Limited role of military ensures minimal use of force this helps in reviving the trust of the two countries along with intelligence sharing to counter common problem of terrorism.



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