Khalid CHANDIO, MPhil MSc
Pakistan’s relationship to the Global War on Terror (GWoT) has been exclusive in many ways. After the devastating terrorist attacks on mainland America, known as 9/11, Pakistan joined hands with international community for world peace like it did when the former Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. In both these engagements, Pakistan paid the heaviest price in both men and material. But, it is unfortunate to see a lukewarm response towards Pakistan by the free world. Presently, ever changing position of the United States (US), ranging from reluctant-cum-selective recognition of Pakistan’s efforts and sacrifices to allegations like “not doing enough”, has somehow dented not only the relationship between Pakistan and the US but also brought bad taste to counter terrorism exertions in the region. Lately, there is one argument being circulated in the strategic community within Pakistan that in spite of countless sacrifices and achievements in the GWoT the country could not come up with solid and unified narrative, which could have put forward Pakistan’s position in front of the world. There can be number of reasons and this hypothesis needs thorough scholarly investigation as to whether it was the missing narrative or otherwise.
APPRAISAL OF PAKISTAN’S FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM
In post-9/11, Pakistan joined hands with the international community in the fight against global terrorism and became the front line state and was awarded the status of major non-NATO ally. Over nineteen long and painful years down the road, Pakistan made great sacrifices and important contributions in the GWoT. After a number of rigorous and successful military operations, i.e., Operation Rah-e-Haq, Operation Sher Dil, Rah-e-Rast, Rah-e-Nijat, Operation Koh-e-Sufaid, Zarb-e-Azab, and Rad-ul-Fasaad, Pakistan is now in the process of finding reasons of extreme behaviours and radicalisation in the society and build a counter-narrative. Because, in the beginning, perhaps the biggest mistake even by the international community in the GWoT was the belief that destruction of al Qaeda’s training camps and Taliban would lead to the demise of terrorist groups. Today, Pakistan’s narrative is stronger than the Taliban’s and it was made possible in spite of limited resources unlike the US. The story of Pakistan’s fight against GWoT does not end here as the country continues to play an active role in combating terrorism for global and regional peace.
Counter-Terrorism Efforts: Two-Pronged Strategy
If one looks at the pages of history of Pakistan’s efforts in the GWoT, the country very aptly adopted the following two-pronged strategy to fight this menace. “Pakistani army has pursued more comprehensive military operations in tribal areas…[and] actively targeted a wide array of militant groups, not just the Pakistani Taliban.”1
Hard Approach: Military Operations
Operation Rah-e-Haq: “The first phase of Operation Rah-e-Haq commenced in November 2007…against Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) in Swat Valley. However, the militants gradually infiltrated into key cities. The second phase of operation began in July 2008, [which] resulted in the death of 36 security personnel, nine civilians and 615 militants. The third phase of the operation was launched in January 2009. The operation ended after a peace accord, known as ‘Malakand Accord’, was signed between the government and TNSM.”2
Operation Sher Dil: This operation was launched in September 2009 to clear Bajaur Agency, which targeted militants who had challenged the writ of state. This resulted in killing of 1000 militants and 63 personnel were martyred.3
Operation Rah-e-Rast: “In May 2009, Pakistan launched another operation in Swat after the accord [Malakand Accord] failed to ensure peace in the region. A major offensive took place in Mingora…[and] the army had regained control of Mingora.”4
Operation Rah-e-Nijat: “In October 2009, the army launched an offensive against militants in South Waziristan with support from gunship helicopters and aircraft. The major objective of the operation was to destroy militant strongholds in South Waziristan.”5
Operation Koh-e-Sufaid: “On July 4, 2011, the military launched its offensive against militants in Kurram agency, located within the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Operation Koh-e-Sufaid (White Mountain) targeted militants in Kurram with the principle objective of securing and reopening the Thall-Parachinar road, which had come under repeated attacks by Sunni militants.”6
Operation Zarb-e-Azab: Operation Zarb-e-Azb was launched to target all terrorists in North Waziristan in 2014 as result of militants’ attack on Jinnah International Airport on June 8, 2014. This was a full scale operation, which covered almost entire territory of the country and continued till 2016. It was instrumental in dislodging the permanent sanctuaries of terrorists as “Pakistan armed forces successfully targeted sanctuaries and safe havens of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Punjabi Taliban, East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and al Qaeda and all other miscreant militant outfits on the harshest terrain of the world.”7
Operation Rad-ul-Fasaad: “Radd-ul-Fasaad, which translates roughly to elimination of discord”8 in the society was launched in early 2017. It aimed “at indiscriminately eliminating the residual/latent threat of terrorism, consolidating the gains made in other military operations, and further ensuring the security of Pakistan’s borders.”9 Combing operations and intelligence based operations (IBOs) are being launched in every nook and corner of the country, which aim at locating terrorists, their facilitators and sleeper cells.
Other Tangible Efforts: Around two hundred thousand troops have been deployed on the Western border while over hundred thousand on the Eastern border, as per the information by Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR). As far as border management is concerned, Pakistan is erecting a 12-feet-high fence along its largely porous 2,611kilometre-long border with Afghanistan and setting up new posts along the border. Additionally, new forts and outposts on mountain peaks are being established and 73 new wings of the Frontier Corps (FC) are being raised to man the border.
National Action Plan (NAP): Under the NAP, Pakistan “has augmented the military’s kinetic actions by denying extremist and militant groups the social space they have utilized and operated in for decades. It has begun to seriously enforce regulations on hate speech, on the misuse of mosque loudspeakers or amplifiers to prevent public incitement, and on weapons sales.”10 “Thousands of incendiary clerics have been arrested for preaching sectarian hatred and distributing banned literature; some have even been successfully prosecuted. Shops have been closed and materials confiscated for hate speech inciting violence. The glorification of terrorism has been banned… Religious seminaries, their curriculum, and ties to foreign organizations and funders are increasingly scrutinized. Dozens of unregistered or suspect seminaries have been raided or forced to close.”11
The very basic question whether extremism in Pakistan is fallout of external factors or internal dynamics still stands murky, which needs to be answered before having any counter-narrative on radicalisation and extremism. But, this is also a fact and important to mention here that whenever there was peace in Afghanistan, there was peace in Pakistan. Pakistan’s achievements and sacrifices talk tall of country’s evolving narrative on terrorism. Director General ISPR Major General Asif Ghafoor, in an interview, had claimed that Pakistan “is the only success story in the world in the war against terrorism… while Pakistan’s success story is also taught as case study in many institutions.”12 Brief picture of Pakistan’s fight against terrorism is as under.
Today, terrorist incidents and violence are at all-time low in the country’s history. “In the immediate aftermath of [Army Public School (APS)] horrendous tragedy, claimed by TTP, NAP was unanimously approved by the Government after calling an All Parties Conference [APC]. Operation Zarb-e-Azb and NAP (2014 onward) had a salutary effect on the security situation of the country, which is depicted below”13 in the figure:
Figure I. Incidents of terrorism
Source: “Terrorism Decline in Pakistan”, National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), Pakistan
North and South Waziristan Agencies have been cleared and Pakistan’s tribal areas are now in an economic development phase. Also, there are three successful outcomes of various operations, i.e. first, one could witness the writ of state being fully restored as there is no organized office of any terrorist organization in the country, second, the operations have led to a significant change in Pakistan’s mainstream political discourse that terrorism and extremism are bad, and third and the most important achievement concerns the state garnering popular support within the populace in countering terrorism, which has made the nation resilient in the process.
In post-9/11, Pakistan stands the most affected country in the world. Pakistan has sacrificed immensely in fight against terrorism in both men and material. From 2001 to 2017, Pakistan’s economy has suffered US$ 123.13 billion14 coupled with human cost where 65,00015 lives were sacrificed in the GWoT. Pakistan also tolerated American drone attacks inside its territory, which resulted in domestic backlash. The barbaric attack on APS, Peshawar, on December 16, 2014, martyring around 147 innocent school children, stands the most shocking and gruesome in the history of country’s fight against terrorism. Social fabric of society stood affected as there were psychological issues in the society due to rampant suicide attacks inside the country. It is important to mention here that the terror incidents occurred on almost every state symbol. Above all, Pakistan’s image got affected in the process internationally.
In spite of countless contributions and sacrifices by Pakistan in the GWoT, now the question arises why Pakistan’s narrative could not find its due place in the free world. There are number of following reasons, which might have acted as impediments.
US: Selective recognition and acknowledgement of Pakistan’s role in the GWoT by the US is one of the major impediments. The US often asked for “do more” and alleged Pakistan of providing “safe havens” to some rogue elements. It also criticized Pakistan of playing a “double game.” It is ironic that a very country (US) with whom Pakistan joined hands in the GWoT has indifferent view of the latter. Looking at the achievements and sacrifices that Pakistan rendered in the GWoT, these allegations are contrary to facts. While the US and Pakistan have been in synchronization on eliminating terrorism in its every form and manifestation, both countries did differ on modalities to achieve this objective. Pakistan, right from the beginning, was advocating to engage the Taliban in talks but the US opted to solve the puzzle militarily. After almost the two decades, the US is now engaged in peace talks with the Taliban and Pakistan is playing yet again a crucial role in these talks.
Scapegoating Pakistan: Since Afghanistan’s capacity is weak to control and maintain the law and order, unfortunately, it accuses Pakistan of all ills. Scape-goating Pakistan is probably is the easiest way, which the current Afghan government found suitable. In spite of that, Pakistan at every forum advocates Afghan-owned and Afghan-led process for solving the Afghan imbroglio.
US – India Partnership: The honeymoon between the US and India did not play a constructive role in recognizing Pakistan’s role in the GWoT either. Indian strategic community, due to long history of Pakistan-India hostility, did not leave any ground to convince and influence the American strategic community that Pakistan’s role was not facilitating in the GWoT. America, getting influenced by Indian narrative, did delay Pakistan’s strategic messaging to the world about its sacrifices and successes in the GWoT.
India: Indian activities in Afghanistan have also caused problems for Pakistan. India has been using third country’s (Afghanistan) soil to sabotage Pakistan’s efforts in the GWoT. Chuck Hagel, former US Secretary of Defense, had confessed that “India for some time [had] always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has over the years financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border.”16 Indian RAW carried out terrorism inside Pakistan, especially Balochistan. Capture of Indian agent Kulbhushan Jadhav is the clear example of Indian activities against Pakistan. In the recent years, especially under Prime Minister Modi, India has been trying to engage Pakistan on the Eastern side of border and February 2019 crisis between Pakistan and India is the case in point. India, under Modi, also did countless cease fire violations on the Line of Control (LOC). “Washington Post has reported that the number of cease-fire violations has jumped ever since Modi came to power in 2014… [and] according to data from the Indo-Pak Conflict Monitor, an independent research initiative, 2,000 or more incidents”17 took place. Actually, this Indian strategy has been aimed at dividing Pakistan’s attention in fighting the GWoT.
Since extremism and radicalization are processes so should be the approach, i.e. incremental. Lately, there is a hue and cry that Pakistani state should make a narrative. This is a non-workable approach as any narrative has to be evolved in the society. One cannot just tell people to follow something and not to follow the other. Documenting narrative in black and white is a complicated process, as there cannot be one narrative to which all elements of any movement should adhere to.
A successful counter-narrative should focus on rolling back and containing Jihadist narrative side by side as the disgruntled citizens often felt that they did not enjoy love and care by state, which led them to extreme behaviours. The state’s responsibility should rather be finding answers that why people rebel so easily.
However, it is always difficult in getting any narrative implanted when other side (warring side) does not believe in state apparatus. Pakistani state should keep on highlighting 24/7 the ideology of the warring groups, which is intolerant, extreme, and murderous.
Target areas should focus on drastic changes in religious institutions (Madrasahs), pre-emptive measure to avoid re-location of terrorists in metropolitan cities of the country, avoiding absolutism, idealism and utilitarianism in approach.
As mentioned earlier, any counter-terror narrative has to be evolved. It needs time to develop because it can neither be imported nor be thrust upon the society as only workable narrative comes from the aspirations of society. Recently, there has emerged a narrative in the country, i.e. “terrorism is bad” especially after the APS tragedy. Pakistan must build on that.
Governance issue must be tackled as indirectly poor governance affects all policies no matter how good these may be in black and white. So, governance part needs to be factored in while opting for a sustainable state narrative on counter terrorism. Terrorists’ narrative thrives on bad governance and become successful in attracting deprived souls in the society.
Terrorism should not be linked with any religion, country, nationality, or civilization. Terrorism is a global phenomenon, which calls for international cooperation. Enabling environment that contributes to terrorism should be addressed. Pakistan is committed to fight terrorism and emerge as an economic pivot in the region; China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is prime example of it.
Khalid Chandio is Research Fellow (RF) at Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI), Islamabad, Pakistan. His area of research includes the US’ foreign and defence policy, Pakistan-US relations, role of lobbies and domestic politics in the US. The writer holds M.Phil degree in International Relations (IR) and M.Sc. in Defence and Strategic Studies (DSS) from Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad.
Brief description of each operation is given in the succeeding paragraphs.
1 Sameer Lalwani, “Actually, Pakistan is Winning its War on Terror”, Foreign Policy, December 10, 2015, https://foreignpolicy.com/2015/12/10/actually-pakistan-is-winning-its-war-on-terror/ (accessed May 26, 2019).
2 Ismail Sheikh, “Timeline: Major Offensives Launched by Army against Militants”, The Express Tribune, June 15, 2014.
7 Saima Ghazanfar, “Operation Zarb-e-Azb: Two Years of Success”, The Nation, September 6, 2016.
8 “Pakistan Army Launches ‘Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad’ Across the Country”, Dawn, February 22, 2017.
10 Sameer Lalwani, “Actually, Pakistan is Winning its War on Terror.”
12 Muhammad Anis, “War on Terror: Pakistan only Success Story in World, Says DG ISPR”, The News International, January 3, 2019.
13 “Terrorism Decline in Pakistan”, National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), Pakistan, https://nacta. gov.pk/terrorism-decline-in-pakistan/ (accessed May 22, 2019).
14 “Ministry of Finance, Interior, Commerce, and Foreign Affairs Joint Ministerial Group”, Ministry of Finance, Pakistan, http://www.finance.gov.pk/survey/chapters_17/Annex_IV_War.pdf (accessed June 2, 2019).
15 Anwar Iqbal, “War on Terror Left Half a Million Dead in 17 Years, Says Report”, Dawn, November 10, 2018.
16 “India Financed Problems for Pak in Afghanistan, Says US Defence Secretary Nominee Chuck Hage”, Times of India, February 26, 2013, https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-financed-problems-for-Pak-in-Afghanistan-says-US-defence-secretary-nominee-Chuck-Hagel/articleshow/18694475.cms (accessed June 3, 2019).
17 “Cease-fire Violations Jump Ever Since Indian PM Modi Came to Power in 2014: WP”, The Nation, March 5, 2019.