Counter-Terrorism – the last mile – Saad Rasool

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Saad Rasool |

Earlier this week, a terrorist attack killed 12, injuring twice as many, outside the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri (R.A.), on perhaps the busiest and most congested street of Lahore. This attack – which ostensibly targeted police personnel guarding one of the entrances to the shrine – is being viewed as the dying blowback against Pakistan’s counterterrorism successes. Most pertinently, this attack comes at the heels of DG ISPR’s press conference (last week), which announced stricter measures against those carrying out ‘anti-State’ activities or perpetrating violence in Pakistan.

In the aftermath of this attack, CCTV cameras of Lahore Safe City Project are attempting to piece together the available evidence, possible suspects and their facilitators. In the meantime, Punjab government has constituted a JIT (consisting of members from the Police, CTD, ISI, and MI) to probe the matter. And the Ministry of Interior has placed an additional eleven outfits on the list of proscribed organizations in the country. And simultaneously, high-level meetings have been held, at the federal and provincial level, to hasten efforts concerning implementation of the National Action Plan.

Temporarily, the enactment of Military Courts, which have been sanctified by the honorable Supreme Court in its judgment on the 21st Constitutional Amendment, might serve as a momentary solution for convicting terrorists.

Terrorism, in Pakistan, is a multi-headed dragon; one that cannot be killed with a single swing of the sword. Over the course of the last three decades, we have deluded ourselves as to how deep and entrenched the scrooge of terrorism festers in our society. Hiding behind the nomenclature of ‘sectarianism’, ‘provincialism’, ‘Wahabism’, and a pristine image of noble ‘mujahideen’ fighters, we have avoided calling terrorists by their name. And for this reason, above all, we have struggled to devise and implement a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that acknowledges the various heads of terrorism and attempts to eradicate each on its own turf.

For the most part, terrorism in Pakistan can be bucketed into five distinct categories: 1) religious and ideological terrorism against the State of Pakistan (e.g. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al-Qaeda); 2) religious sectarian terrorism (e.g. Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi); 3) sectarian/provincial warfare (militant wings of MQM and Baloch Liberation Front); 4) Cross border militant outfits (e.g. Jamaat ud Dawa and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba); and 5) the apparatus of religious, social and ideological intolerance (e.g. Lal Masjid and other hate-spewing madrassahs). Any talk of a comprehensive national counterterrorism strategy must incorporate a State and societal offensive against each of these categories.

Read more: Plight of Hazaras and Shia killings – Saad Rasool

After a long and murky history of duplicitous State policies (such as ‘doctrine of strategic depth’) and brittle political will, in 2015, after the unprecedented horrors at Army Public School, Peshawar, it seemed that political will had caught up with the resolve and might of military operations. Consequently, for the first time in our history, there seemed to be a real possibility of forging and implementing a sustainable and effective National Action Plan to forever expunge the cancer of militancy from our collective souls.

While some part of the National Action Plan (primarily related to military action) have been achieved, our political leadership has remained largely noncommittal in developing consensus against militant outfits. And making matters worse, our (broken) criminal justice system continues to allow militant suspects to escape through its porous grasp.

In this regard, through a tweaking of the Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, promulgation of the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014, and finally passing of the 21st Constitutional Amendment (along with amendments in the Army Act, 1952), the legislature has provided a sufficient framework for apprehending, trying, and convicting members of militant organizations. But laws, alone, cannot result in convictions. So long as the judicial arm releases whoever the executive apprehends, the spirit of our legislative instruments would be rendered meaningless.

The blast outside the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri (R.A.) has been a stark reminder that the war on terror, in Pakistan, is not over yet. There is still the last mile to be run.

Consequently, as part of a deliberate counterterrorism initiative, the judiciary must play its role to evolve fresh standards of conviction pertaining to terrorism cases. The archaic evidentiary standards (such as eyewitness testimony), which borrows from precedents of common law as well as canons of orthodox religion, can no longer be used to decide cases of modern day terrorism. In an age where a terrorist event is planned in one jurisdiction, financed through the second, and executed in the third, by disjointed train of actors, it would be virtually impossible to render convictions against terrorist masterminds, while applying the same standards that are used to try Allah Ditta for a local village squabble. Furthermore, in a society where members of militant organization have seeped into most of the rural and urban centers, it has become impossible to bring forth witnesses to testify against those holding a gun.

Temporarily, the enactment of Military Courts, which have been sanctified by the honorable Supreme Court in its judgment on the 21st Constitutional Amendment, might serve as a momentary solution for convicting terrorists. But, in the long-run, our legislative framework and judicial philosophy must evolve so as to ensure that we will never again corrupt our constitutional ethos with such draconian measures.

Read more: Cooperative counter-terrorism strategy – Dr. Zafar Nawaz Jaspal

Equally important is the need to rethink our police paradigm. The existing police structure, colonial in nature, is neither trained nor adequately equipped to counter the sophistication of modern day terrorism. Importantly, a police force that is divided across disjointed district and provincial lines has no central intelligence sharing mechanism between the competing turfs of jurisdiction, or between the police and other intelligence agencies. For this purpose, the National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) was constituted as a central repository for cross-agency intelligence gathering and for launching coordinated counterterrorism efforts.

However, despite having been created a decade ago, NACTA is still struggling to find its bearings and to meaningfully contribute towards the promise of its creation. This stunted development of NACTA, even while faced with national urgency and need for the same, is indicative of bureaucratic inertia and unresolved territorial struggles within our civilian law enforcement apparatus.

Read more: Pakistanis must learn the limits of military led counter-terrorism

The blast outside the shrine of Hazrat Ali Hajveri (R.A.) has been a stark reminder that the war on terror, in Pakistan, is not over yet. There is still the last mile to be run. And this mile can only be run through a coordinated effort of our military, civilian, political and judicial institutions.

Saad Rasool is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has an LL.M. in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School. He can be reached at, or Twitter: @Ch_SaadRasool. This article was originally appeared at The Nation and has been republished with author’s permission. The Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.

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