Pakistan has been boxed in a peculiar paradoxical situation–on one hand it is pronounced as a state perpetrating militancy and on the other a victim itself of terrorism fighting rather hard to counter militancy. Facing an unprecedented scourge of violence while trying to pull off an ambiguous counterterro-rism strategy, Pakistan is currently at the cross-roads with few options available. In a volatile security context, it is imperative for Pakistan to undertake a focussed, comprehensive and unbiased strategy to eradicate terrorist outfits which have caused immense damage to its image globally, cost its own people their lives and blunted future prospects for progress.
In this backdrop, Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Challenge, edited by Moeed Yusuf, Director of the South Asian Programs at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Washington D. C. puts together a detailed analysis on Pakistan’s challenge against the rising tide of militancy. The book hinges its arguments on the fundamental truth that militancy in Pakistan is a result of the combination of internal dynamics and external factors operating in varying geopolitical contexts. The book is set on the caveat that it deals specifically with counterterrorism and not counter insurgency (COIN), even as there may be overlapping factors interconnecting the two manifestations of violence in Pakistan.
The debate on Pakistan’s counterterrorism(CT) agenda covered in the book crystallizes into certain key points: there is inherent confusion in Pakistan’s CT approach regarding whom to target; there is absence of effective regulations and law to support efforts towards counterterrorism; there is no principal coordination body which could streamline activities related to counterterrorism into a coherent rigorous policy and, there are trends which indicate that there has indeed been an improvement in the counterterrorism effort as the military has rescued the country from slipping into the hands of extremists. The book extensively discusses what needs to be done to enunciate better counterterrorism strategy—on one hand it notes that civil military equations need to be rebalanced and on the other stresses the significance of popular support in carrying out counterterrorism operations.
The book begins by providing an overview of the evolution of militant threat inside Pakistan and focusses on Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as a case. While doing so, the introductory chapter traces Pakistan’s threat perception from viewing India as the principal security challenger to lately witnessing the internal perils of home grown militancy. Pakistan has several disparate terror outfits with varying streaks regarding ideologies and goals. However, they could be classified as somewhat similar based on broad objectives and strategies. In this regard, the book illustrates a four prong categorization of militant outfits inside Pakistan: anti-Pakistani state, anti-Indian, anti-United States (US)/NATO and sectarian driven groups (p. 18). The editor posits that there is considerable overlap in the activities these groups undertake and looking at the recent past it appears they have collaborated on several occasions.
The strategic cord between the US and Pakistan has been a subject of intense debate in almost every work that deals with Pakistan and counter militancy. This book is no exception. As evident in several episodes of misunderstanding between the US and Pakistan, there has been a serious lack of consensus between the two on causes of militancy and ways and means to eradicate it. The case of ‘contrasting threat perceptions between the West and Pakistan is underscored on the issue of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a militant group with extensive network inside Pakistan. Since LeT is primarily nurtured by Pakistan to unleash violence in Kashmir, it was late before the West realized its potential to spread tentacles much beyond Pakistan (p. 55).
The discordant civil military relations have not only undermined democracy and the political processes in Pakistan but, as the book argues, has plagued the CT effort too. The perennial rivalry between the civilian leadership and the military has been the biggest drawback in the fight against militancy. The military and the political class have been caught up outrunning each other rather than thinking in terms of calibrating the CT strategy. It is alleged that the two pillars of power and authority neither consult nor cooperate on issues pertinent to CT strategy or policy. To add to the CT woes, the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) which is pivotal to intelligence gathering does not communicate or discuss security related inputs critical to CT effort with the civilian government (p. 91).
Covering a wide range of issues, the book also dwells upon the legal aspects of CT operations in the tribal areas of Pakistan. It draws attention to the deficiencies in the legal system which make execution of justice tardy and biased. It also debates the realm of ‘cyberterrorism’—how militant groups have efficiently managed the use of media in their campaign. Notably, use of cyber has received scant attention in the context of Pakistan’s CTeffort (p. 169).
The book is a rich source of insights on the CT effort from within Pakistan and outside. It combines the perspectives of Pakistani experts close to the ground with external resource persons who are rather unbiased and practical in their assessment. As the third edition in the South Asia in World Series, the book collates a wealth of information dealing specifically with CT in Pakistan. It could be a key point of reference to decision makers in Pakistan who have been alleged of taking a skewed approach while formulating strategies on countering terrorism.
Towards the end, the book accedes that any CT strategy will work only if complemented by a comprehensive effort to weed out insurgency from Pakistan. In the beginning, however, the book admits that its scope is limited to CT which somewhat controverts the belief that the two strategies could be ever be completely separated or operate in isolation.
Priyanka Singh is Associate Fellow ta the Institute of Defence Studies, New Delhi.