Addressing terror

Editorial Board
Sunday, May 19, 2024

August 2021 marked a turning point in Pakistan’s fight against terrorism. Up till then, the past 10 years had seen terrorist attacks and lives lost to terrorism reach their nadir and the country seemed to have turned a corner when it came to its internal security. This changed with the US withdrawal from neighbouring Afghanistan and the return to power of the Afghan Taliban. Those who cheered this development have some explaining to do as what had long been touted as delivering strategic depth and greater peace did the opposite. Anti-Pakistan terror groups like the TTP have now found a sanctuary in Afghan Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and have been able to boost their ability to strike at Pakistan. The result has been a resurgence in terror attacks and deaths, with both categories shooting up by 81 per cent and 86 per cent, respectively, in the first 11 months of last year relative to the corresponding period in 2022. However, while the inability or unwillingness of the Afghan Taliban to stop or help stop cross-border attacks and/or infiltration by terror groups is a problem, a new report by the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies has pointed out some more immediate flaws within the country itself that are impeding its response to the new terror threat.

The most alarming concern that emerges from the report is the underfunding of provincial counterterrorism departments. Apart from Punjab, the CTDs of the other three provinces are plagued by a lack of funds according to the report. This is despite the fact that these CTDs form the first line of defence against terrorism in Pakistan. Aside from funding issues, the CTDs apparently also lack clarity on group dynamics, connections and strategies of terror outfits. Simply put, many CTD officials seemingly do not have a clear picture of the emerging terror threat and end up relying on popular beliefs or information sourced from mainstream and social media. This would imply that a CTD official could well be no better informed about the terror threat than the average person who keeps up with the news. This is an unacceptable state of affairs. The report highlights how CTDs enjoy greater operational freedom due to their close interaction and trust with the populace. This could make them Pakistan’s most effective weapon against terror if they get the investment in both time and money that they deserve.

The report also highlights waning political attention towards the terror threat given ongoing economic and political crises. Indeed, this may well be linked to the underfunding of CTDs, highlighting the need to secure economic and political stability in order to address the terror threat. Aside from the traditional security-based approach, the report does not neglect to mention the ability of terrorist groups to exploit feelings of marginalization, alienation and socioeconomic deprivation. Solving the terror threat for good will thus necessitate addressing the large number of disenfranchised Pakistani youth that tend to provide the raw material that keeps militant groups going.