Challenges Facing the Counter-terror Drive

Firm action, and not shallow rhetoric, is needed against all those challenging the state’s writ in Pakistan.
Firm action, and not shallow rhetoric, is needed against all those challenging the state’s writ in Pakistan.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the National Internal Security Policy and the the National Action Plan (NAP) are all symbols of Pakistan’s struggle to wrest back the space that the state had lost to non-state actors. Of these, the NAP most probably qualified as the country’s first formal counterterror framework, adopted on the back of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.

Both promised to destroy any challenge to the state — from Karachi to Waziristan. They have succeeded in regaining considerable territory that non-state actors such as the TTP had wrested from the state, establishing the government’s writ in the mountains of Waziristan, once considered no-go areas.


For operations in Waziristan and Karachi, the military provided the muscle the government needed to cow down terrorists masquerading as religious crusaders. These successes deserve appreciation as they have helped revive citizens’ trust in the state security apparatus.


But what about the country’s capital, Islamabad, where the civilian administration is still struggling with the remnants of the Lal Masjid? What to make of the more than 306 mosques and madrassas that, according to a report submitted to the Public Accounts Committee a year ago, exist in Islamabad? Has any action been taken against them? In fact, a few more such structures have emerged in sectors F, mostly in the Green Belt, where even government officials offer their Friday prayers. Isn’t this a direct challenge to the NAP, which had promised indiscriminate action against all those threatening state and public interest?


The Capital Development Authority (CDA) — often emasculated by the offices of the prime minister, the interior minister and the cabinet division for finance and land grabbers — is currently pursuing a crackdown against all illegal structures and the unlawful commercial use of residential buildings. More than five dozen restaurants, showrooms and brand outlets have been sealed and several more are under scrutiny.


But mind you, this happened under a directive of the Supreme Court and not as an extension of the NAP. The demolition, last summer, of an illegally constructed seminary in an Islamabad graveyard, also happened under the orders of the Islamabad High Court. While issuing directions for the demolition of the illegal structure, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui observed that “no religious seminary can be constructed in an illegal manner and without adopting a due procedure”. He further questioned the counsel for the illegal seminary, “Do you have the permission from the CDA or any competent authority to establish the madrassa?” The counsel instantly ducked under a lame excuse, claiming that there are a number of madrassas in the capital running in a similar manner. But Justice Siddiqui reminded him that it was against the teachings of Islam to encroach upon another’s land.


While the senior judiciary has taken some action, what has the government done to prevent illegal land grabbing by mighty non-state actors? What measures have been taken to reign in and, in fact, indict the Lal Masjid cleric, who had been demanding the imposition of his brand of shariat? All the administration did was block cellular networks in the capital for several hours on consecutive Fridays.


Secondly, why isn’t the government going after those protecting the Lal Masjid cleric? Where does the NAP disappear in such cases, one wonders? While the NAP has created a huge space for the state and citizens, many of its promises remain unfulfilled, as there is still lack of indiscriminate actions against those challenging the state’s writ.


Indeed, the indiscriminate enforcement of the rule of law and primacy of fundamental human rights constitute the core of any counterterrorism and counter-crime framework. This is the only way to ensure success as well as restore citizens’ confidence in the civilian and military security establishment. While the military is good for surgical and tactical fights, it is the job of the civilians to build on the space thus acquired. Mere sloganeering will not provide remedies. Firm action, and not shallow rhetoric, is needed against all those challenging the state’s writ.


The writer heads the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad and is author of Pakistan: Pivot of Hizbut Tahrir’s Global Caliphate.

This article was first published in The Express Tribune, a leading English daily of Pakistan. Click here to go to the original.

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