National security imperatives

By Mohsin Raza Malik:

The coward terrorists have tried to replicate the APS Peshawar-like mayhem in Lahore by attacking the young children in a public park in Lahore on Easter Day. One absolutely runs out of words to describe the savagery and barbarity exhibited by the callous and inhumane terrorists while achieving their nefarious objectives. In fact, the security situation in the country has been steadily improving since the armed forces destroyed the command and control structure of the miscreants in FATA after the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb in 2015. But worryingly, the ‘broken-backed’ militants seem to have recovered from the disability within a short period of time by getting re-united and reorganized to launch terrorist attacks in the country afresh.

During the first quarter of this year, there have been as many as seven major terror attacks in Pakistan. In the current ‘bloody’ month alone, some more than one hundred innocent Pakistanis have lost their lives in three different deadly terrorist incidents; Charsadda court blast (March 7), Peshawar bus attack (March 16), and lastly the most gruesome Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park Lahore suicidal attack (March 27). In the face of rising and unabated terror incidents in the country, the counter-terror strategy adopted by Pakistan has apparently become quite ineffective, if not failed altogether. Therefore, Pakistan seriously needs to revisit its current counter-terror strategy as well as national security policy.

I have extensively been writing about the phenomenon of so-called Forth Generation war in Pakistan for a long time. Being the strongest proponent of this very thesis, I have tried to explain the nature and dynamics of one of the most sophisticated forms of modern warfare many times. For this single reason, I was also dubbed a ‘conspiracy theorist’ and ‘hate-monger’ by some quarters. Nevertheless, I believe this value-added war, which is proxy in nature and complex in character, has been imposed on Pakistan by its enemies to articulate their national interests in the regions. Repudiating the so-called Jihad thesis which necessarily aims at enforcing the Sharia in Pakistan through coercive means, I maintain that the pseudo-Jihadists and pseudo-nationalists, who have taken up arms against the state, are mere ‘hit-men’ of the anti-Pakistan forces. In fact, the non-state actors are now an important instrument to advance national agenda of the states since a conventional military conflict between the two South Asian arch-rivals has only become a distinct possibility in the face conventional and strategic equilibrium reached between Pakistan and India.

Despite forcefully employing the military apparatus of the state in the form of certain kinetic military actions and intelligence based operations (IBO’s) across the country, Pakistan has yet not successfully curbed the menace of terrorism. This fact necessarily shows that the militants possess the extensive military and material resources which, under the circumstances, can only be provided by another state entity. Regrettably, despite being in a ‘state of war’ for the last fifteen years, Pakistan has failed to comprehend the basic dynamics of this war, and to devise the modus operandi to fight it accordingly. The lack of resolution on the part of civilian leadership to tackle this menace is very well visible.

With a few exceptions, the military establishment has also failed in offering a befitting response to the ever-rising militancy in the country.

Pakistan’s armed forces did not launch any significant military operation since the conclusion of Operation Rah-e-Nijat in 2009.

Consequently, the militant groups conveniently got the opportunity to again get reunited and re-organized in the tribal areas. After the launch of Operation Zarb-e- Azb, a large number of militants have escaped to Afghanistan. At the moment, Pakistan has no pragmatic military or diplomatic strategy to offset or neutralize these diabolic elements on the very soil of Afghanistan, who are freely planning and executing terrorist activities against Pakistan. Ironically, keeping in view the conventional threat perception, Pakistan has successfully evolved various defence strategies like ‘Minimum Credible Deterrence’, ‘Full Spectrum Deterrence’ etc. But on the other hand, it lacks any comprehensive strategy to fight a fourth generation war, which is posing an existential threat to it, and which has damaged it beyond redemption.

The Indian intelligence agency RAW has long been blamed for planning and sponsoring various terrorist activities in Pakistan. Last week, Pakistan’s security forces arrested an Indian serving Navy commander, believed to be a RAW operative, who was tasked to train Baloch separatists to sabotage the CPEC project. At times, many fingers have been pointed at MQM for its alleged links with the RAW. Regrettably, the government has never bothered to seriously look into this matter. The federal government has set up an insignificant FIA committee to probe the alleged MQM-RAW nexus just to sweep this controversy under the carpet.

As far as the capture of RAW operative in Pakistan is concerned, the government has taken no significant action beyond summoning the Indian High Commissioner in the foreign office, and thereby officially recording its pretest. Pakistan has never forcefully raised the issue of Indian interference in Pakistan on any bilateral or international forum. In October 2015, Pakistan handed over three dossiers containing evidence of Indian involvement in terrorist activities in Pakistan to the United States and UN separately. However, India soon mange to dilute this issue by announcing to resume the suspended dialogue process with Pakistan. As matter of fact, without devising a proactive and pragmatic diplomatic strategy to make India abandon its nefarious designs against Pakistan, we can neither ensure our national security nor will ever be able to effectively curb the menace of terrorism through our domestic counter-terror efforts alone.

The National Security Advisor is an important official who is supposed to assist the government to ensure national security. However, the performance of the individuals, both civilian and military, occupying this post has not been up to the mark. Mahmud Ali Durrani, the former NSA of Pakistan (2008-2009) visibly exhibited an irresponsible behavior while exposing the identity of Ajmal Kasab, the sole surviving terrorist in 2008 Mumbai attacks. Later in 2013, the assignment of the additional task of national security to an octogenarian Foreign Affair Advisor necessarily reflects incumbent government’s seriousness towards ensuring the national security.

Now, despite appointing a retired three-star military commander as the NSA of Pakistan last year, no substantial improvement has yet been witnessed vis-a-vis the state of national security of the country. The current NSA played a role in registering the FIR of Pathankot incident in Pakistan, and subsequently arranging the visit of SIT to India to further probe this matter, ignoring its future implications. Similarly, Pakistan has also provided the intelligence information to India regarding the possible terror attacks in the Indian state of Gujrat this month. Ironically, expanding his area of responsibility, the NSA of Pakistan has more become a ‘regional security advisor’. It is quite unfortunate that our security and intelligence agencies often fail to predict and pre-empt terror attacks in the country. Likewise, once the RAW operative was captured in Pakistan last week, the NSA of Pakistan should have forcefully raise this issue with its Indian counter-part.

The strained Pak-Iran bilateral relations have become another visible symbol of Pakistan’s myopic regional and foreign policy. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has recently concluded its two-day official visit to Pakistan. However, this visit was marred by the repeated Iran-RAW allegations. Thus, instead of seizing this opportunity to repair ties with Iran, Pakistan chosen to raise a right issue on the wrong forum and at the wrong time. Similarly, the very decision made by Pakistan to actively join the 34-states Saudi-led military alliance to the displeasure of its neighbouring Muslim country, also shows that how Pakistan readily become a part of ‘international military expeditions’ to appease its ‘friendly states’ at the cost of its national interests. In fact, such diplomatic blunders have become one of the most-visible hallmarks of our foreign policy. Obviously, such impulsive actions can by no means help improve the disturbing state of our national security.

Pakistan’s all relevant state institutions have to actively play their entrusted institutional role to defeat terrorism for good. Besides actively continuing its domestic counter-terror measures, Pakistan should proactively evolve a comprehensive strategy to make anti-Pakistan forces stop playing havoc with peace and stability of the country. Therefore, a ‘full spectrum’ response is needed to overcome the underlying security challenges faced by Pakistan in the region.