Counterterrorism through People’s Lens

The impact of terrorism on the functioning of society and human rights is undeniable. Yet, the measures undertaken by the state are not seen as a contributor to disrupting those very fundamental rights upon which the definition of a state stands. In recent years, the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) has stirred multiple controversies within the social and policy circles. While trying to delegitimise the movement’s stance, the state apparatus is perhaps not recognising the grievances at play. PTM, which came into prominence in early 2018 in Waziristan, brought forth another reality of the counterterrorism operations undertaken in the country’s northwest region. The movement highlighted the prevalent discrimination against the tribal people, unabetted violence by the Taliban, and the continued military presence in the localities – this forms the basis of their objections against the employed counterterrorism operations.

Effective counterterrorism measures and safeguarding human rights can be mutually reinforcing, and the efficacy becomes questionable if the two are not in tandem. The piece primarily argues that the employed counterterrorism approach should have been more dynamic. After demolishing the terrorist hotspots, there was a need to shift from an enemy-centric to a population-centric approach. The proposed strategy involves the inclusion of a greater number of non-military entities in the post-war reconstruction.

For counterterrorism under a democratic framework, the military and political components must work in synchronisation. However, in Pakistan’s case, the military factor has been effective in suppressing anti-state violence, eliminating no-go areas, destroying militant groups and infrastructure. At the same time, the functionality of the political component remains less than impressive.

After demolishing the terrorist hotspots, there was a need to shift from an enemy-centric to a population-centric approach.

Consequently, terrorism has declined in Pakistan, yet the underlying courses of conflicts not only persist but seem to have worsened. As a result, Pakistan’s current security situation is seen as an absence of violence rather than the presence of peace. What differentiates a counterterrorist from a terrorist is his belief in the rule of law. Due to the absence of the rule of law, the counterterrorism forces as state institutions may still have monopoly and legality over violence, but the legitimacy is eroded.

David Kilcullen, in his book “Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of Urban Guerilla” lays out three conditions for successful counterterrorism in a democratic setup: i) upholding the rule of law in addition to holding the writ of the state; ii) reviving normalcy along with improving the security environment; iii) the transparency of counterterrorism claims which can be verified independently. In Pakistan’s case, all three elements are missing. So, the gains are reversible and fragile. The most cardinal principle of counterterrorism success or lack thereof is the sentiment of the local population. If their insecurities only worsen in a post-conflict setting, then the most obvious flaw in the counterterrorism framework is its over-militarisation and securitisation.

Such counterterrorism approaches provide tactical relief in the short to medium term but further degenerate the underlying courses of violence and conflict in the long term. The situation in ex-FATA and Balochistan is no different. While the state recaptured the geographical terrain, it lost the human terrain. Viewing humans as security objects lies at the core of this humanitarian disaster. Rather than providing a healing touch, the state’s apathy and disregard for the rule of law has rubbed salt on the wounds. Recently, the Jani Khel clan of the Wazir Pashtun tribe are claiming to march toward Islamabad to protest the targeted killing of Naseeb Khan. The clan has also threatened to dig up the graves of the four teenagers killed in March. People in these conflict-hit areas have faced drone strikes, military operations, insurgent and terrorist violence. Only a humanitarian approach, sympathetic to their grievances, can better address the situation at hand.

Arguably, a secure nation guarantees a secure state, not the other way around. A bottom-up development model, political mainstreaming, and social inclusion is perhaps an effective template to incorporate peripheral areas into the mainstream. Rather than making special laws or make-shift arrangements, these areas need a whole scale of fundamental rights, including individual liberties and political ownership.

In the day and age of social media, reducing these areas to “security black boxes” is counter-productive, to say the least. An approach considerate of locality is needed to address the local grievances of conflict-prone regions. It could go a long way in conflict transformation and resolution. Pakistan will have to reevaluate its current security approach keeping in view the demands and expectations of local communities instead of worsening them by a top-down approach. Deploying a people-centred discourse within the broader framework of counterterrorism might cater to the held grievances of the local population. Situating the counterterrorism approach within the human security contours will provide the state in achieving a long-term solution. As argued above, the current strategy carries a limited potential for alleviating the underlying causes of violence while the human security factors remain primarily at bay. It is high time that the marginalised local populace is taken into the fold to ascertain positive peace.

Saman Rizwan

Saman Rizwan is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.

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