Pakistan’s Counter-Terrorism Experience

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FILE - In this Sunday, July 10, 2011 file photo, a Pakistani army soldier takes a position during a military operation against militants in Pakistan's Khurram tribal region. Pakistani air force jets have bombed militant hideouts in the country's volatile northwest Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014, after government efforts to negotiate a peace deal with the Pakistani Taliban broke down earlier this week. (AP Photo/Mohammad Zubair, File)

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s foreign minister offered to share the country’s counter terrorism expertise with the world. While addressing the regional issues at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Shah’s reminder to the world was not a boastful statement. The United States and the international community have accused Pakistan of sponsoring militant groups in Afghanistan and Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir for decades—a charge Pakistan vehemently denies till date. Despite making significant gains, Pakistan’s association with terrorism is a regular discussion among the commentators and policy makers of South Asia. Pakistan has given out statements those similar of its recent comment in its defence before, but the efforts remain under the clouds of doubts.

Pakistan’s war against terrorism is viewed as a war fought under the American pressure. Pakistan, in fact, may have fought the war for its own survival. While many call it a far cry from emerging as a victor, Pakistan’s situation on ground;coupled with political stability, tells a different story. Pakistan since the year 2001 has launched countless military operations to eradicate the radical terror networks. Under three different governments, the counter terrorism policies of the country varied but remained firm in the key principle.

The mounting pressure on Musharraf’s government to contain the growing militancy in the country forced the state to use its iron fist. Pakistan went head-on into a war that was rapidly evolving. To effectively deal with the legalities that came along with the military operations, Pakistan had to develop laws that facilitated the operations and extended the powers of the law enforcement agencies. Pakistan was not accustomed to the type of war that was enraged up against the country.

The experience in CT Pakistan has come at a heavy price. Governments that followed after Musharraf realised that the threat to the country was still at large and continued the military operations in spite of their tug with the military that caused delays in further operations. Pakistan in the process, saw one of the largest internal migration. To minimise casualties and keep the locals protected, people of the tribal areas were asked to evacuate before the military began its operation. The challenge now, was not only to fight terrorists but to also assist the internally displaced person(s). Most of Pakistan’s counter terrorism operations were combat based. The reversed method applied by the military obstructed the spread of radical groups but the military saw a high fatality rate. The war fought by Pakistan was not just a gorilla warfare adopted by the terrorists but also an information and religious warfare. Pakistan’s landscape; particularly in the North and the South of the country became infested with militants. The mountains became their area of refuge and served as a vantage point for attacks on the military with civilian population trapped in between.

Many pointed out Pakistan’s past with the radical groups and called it a cause for the attacks in the country. The reasons however, were contrary on the ground. Both US and Pakistan left many loose ends after the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan. The individuals responsible for carrying out attacks against Pakistan were known in the intelligence community but only Pakistan is blamed to have harboured them. Hence, it became difficult for Pakistan to determine friend from foe.

However, the military decided that anyone who took up arms against the state or its citizens was the enemy. While the span of military operations expanded in the country, so did the tactical and operational understanding and approach to meet the challenges.

Gradually, all the law enforcement agencies had set up specialised branches to assist the military in its operations and to deal with terror incidents as first responder.
Pakistan’s military operations developed as it pushed back the insurgency in the country. When Pakistan is accused of sponsoring militant groups, it’s efforts are overlooked. But it terms of experience for Pakistan , it was the objectives that yielded the results. Pakistan was determined to regain the control of its territory.

Today, the military is still engaged in operations but has far more experience than it did before. The reason why Pakistan’s CT operations draw a unique feature is the slow but positive outcome. Pakistan gained on an impossible war that threatened its very existence. Pakistan’s openness to share the experience with its regional counterparts enables it to display its commitment on ground. As for Pakistan itself, it’s a valuable lesson learned the hard way.


Aisha Saeed
Aisha Saeed is a an independent media and foreign policy analyst