Friday’s twin terrorist attacks in Pakistan not only came as a grim reminder of the continuing threat of terrorist violence, but also highlighted the challenges posed by a variety of sources to the country’s national security and related interests.
In the first instance, three well-armed and trained terrorists stormed the Chinese Consulate in Karachi, resulting in a crossfire that led to the deaths of four people, including two policemen, before the gunmen were killed. In the second instance, a religious centre in a region close to the Afghanistan border saw a terrorist attack that caused the deaths of more than 30 people.
The attack in Karachi is believed to have been carried out by separatists from Pakistan’s troubled Balochistan province while the assault in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province appeared to be the work of militants linked to the Taliban.
While the sources behind the two attacks may be different, they represent a common thread. Years after Pakistan began confronting hardline terrorists and paid a very heavy price in terms of human and material sacrifices, the country is still awaiting a coherent national policy to meet this challenge.
Shortly after the Karachi attack, a message circulated in the name of Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed that Pakistan’s close ties with China would carry on and strengthen with time, irrespective of the challenges. Though China condemned the attack, it also called for measures to improve security surrounding its nationals in Pakistan. In response, Imran promised to crush the terrorists who are threatening the country.
Coming out of Friday’s attacks amid promises from officials who repeatedly renew their determination to go after the culprits, Pakistan remains surrounded by uncertainty. The main gap between the promise of crushing terrorists and Pakistan’s reality is indeed just one — the absence of a singular and credible approach backed by a national consensus to vigorously tackle the scourge of militancy and terrorism. And while leaders like Imran have repeatedly spelt out their determination to wipe out terrorism, their words need to be backed by a credible three-pronged strategy.
First, Pakistan lacks a national consensus necessary to bring diverse interests to a common platform to gain support for a new policy to fight terrorism. The backers of a consensus have often demanded that the parliament must be the forum to initiate this initiative. But beyond the parliament, members of the ruling structure must also reach out to a wider variety of notable citizens who can contribute to the national security debate. Former police chiefs, retired intelligence specialists, former senior government officials and even politicians too, to name just a few, should be recruited in an alliance of like-minded individuals. The alliance must work as an ideal first plank to formulate a new national security policy.
The policy must address gaps such as the connectivity between the Pakistani state versus citizens across the mainstream, which was once the norm in daily life. There was a time when the country’s policing and security structures provided enough confidence to citizens so that the public had faith in the state’s ability to protect them. Today, that faith has virtually vanished.
Second, a new policy will remain incomplete unless it is backed by an urgent reform of the police and intelligence-gathering structures. Almost two decades after Pakistan was forced to join the United States-led global war on terror, the capacity of its police remains far behind the country’s needs. Unless the police come to the forefront of managing internal security issues, periodic breakdowns in the security apparatus will continue to occur. Revamping the police, however, will require not only a plan but also financial resources.
And finally, the police and related institutions — notably intelligence services — need to be placed under an independent authority. For years, successive governments have used the police and the administration to promote partisan objectives. Imran and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) political party have so far performed better than other political parties in avoiding the use of the police for partisan objectives. But going forward, the trend needs to be transformed permanently so that a future government will never be able to use the police for fulfilling its political agenda.
While these three objectives are vital for the future of internal security, it is also paramount that Pakistan begins to deal afresh with some of its foreign policy challenges. Friday’s attack in the region close to the border came amid growing militant violence inside Afghanistan. In spite of provocations by elements within the Afghan government, Pakistan has repeatedly pledged its support for a peace accord in Afghanistan.
The reality, however, isn’t lost on anyone familiar with conditions in Afghanistan where the Taliban continues to gain ground against a ruling structure that is virtually crippled. A consistent push for peace in Afghanistan is necessary for Islamabad to keep demonstrating to the world that Pakistan’s interests lie in overseeing an end to a long-drawn conflict in its neighbouring country.
Farhan Bokhari is a Pakistan-based commentator who writes on political and economic matters.