Pakistani activists shout anti-Taliban slogans during a protest rally in Lahore on Feb. 28. (Agence France-Presse)
ISLAMABAD — Analysts have largely praised Pakistan’s long-awaited National Internal Security Policy (NISP) that was unveiled Wednesday, but say it will need a concerted effort to produce results and there are still points to consider.
The government had been promising to formulate a new security policy since it came to power in May, but had begun to face criticism that it had no real policy to counter the rampant internal security threats that were beginning to challenge the sovereignty and integrity of the state. This especially applied to terrorist threats by the Pakistani Taliban (TTP), which is largely responsible for the 48,994 Pakistanis killed between 2001 and 2013.
The NISP, the first of its kind in Pakistan, underlines a major policy shift. It provides strategic vision and a mechanism to build the capacity of national institutions (as well as the criminal justice system and legal framework), and for law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order.
Former Australian defense attache to Islamabad, Brian Cloughley, says, “The document is clear enough and enunciates a much-needed explanation of national policy.”
It is based on the Chinese internal security model in Hong Kong and the Malaysian counterterrorism policy, and is divided into three parts: Secret (day to day operations), Strategic (laying out options to use in response to threats), and Operational (how to tackle threats and respond to attacks).
Only the operational part has been made public, but even then, Cloughley says, “It can’t go into more detail, because that would signal the punches, and it’s difficult to read between the lines to ascertain what the government has in mind for retaliation.”
The government has said it will respond to each and every terrorist attack, but it is not exactly certain what this would entail.
The military operates its own armed drone, the Burraq, and the state could be engaged in targeting terrorists on the ground as well. There has been strong speculation the recent killing of leading TTP commander, Asmatullah Shaheen, may not have been at the hands of another terrorist faction, but the security forces.
Analyst Haris Khan of the Pakistan Military Consortium think tank is certain.
“This hit was not amateur. It was done with a great deal of precision. I don’t think this could have been done by anyone other than a solid team, like a military trained team,” he says.
Nevertheless, Cloughley says the NISP “puts things together, and at last the government seems to be making a concerted effort to coordinate the various elements of counterterrorist effort, and it is now up to the agencies concerned to make this work.”
The main agency concerned here is the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). It will be the government’s focal point for counterterrorism efforts with a Joint Intelligence Directorate established under it for intelligence analysis and coordination among Pakistan’s 26 intelligence agencies.
The NACTA actually helped draft the NISP, which was then amended with input from the Interior Ministry, security services and intelligence agencies.
It will also control a rapid reaction force, part of which will be an airborne element to ensure a speedy response to evolving security threats.
Analysts said that in terms of sectarianism, violent extremism, terrorism and militancy in the country as a whole this may work, but the main threat lies with the TTP, based in North Waziristan. The only way to tackle the TTP is for the Army to go in on the ground rather than using the limited airstrikes undertaken at present, analysts have long argued.
Salma Malik, assistant professor at Quaid-e-Azam University’s Department of Defence and Strategic Studies in Islamabad, said there is no single answer to the security threats facing the country.
“The military carried out ground operations and suffered a lot of casualties as well. Air strikes give an edge, which is good for a short time-span.”
Especially when regarding the TTP though, she says, “The need is for accurate intelligence, [both ours and allies], cooperation from the Afghan government, border closure, hot pursuits into Afghan territory if needed, and everything NACTA has long been proposing.”
Though the TTP has been quite rightly highlighted as the main focus of counterterrorism efforts, Malik said there is perhaps a more dangerous enemy affiliated to the TTP: the Punjabi Taliban.
She warns that rather than focusing on the Pakhtun/Pathan Taliban, the Punjabi Taliban “is going to strike far worse in the future,” and says the “government needs to draw very complicated strategies to neutralize the issue for good.”
Based on what can be known at present, however, analyst Khan is not sure the NISP is as thorough as it should be.
He criticizes the continued legitimizing reference to groups such as the TTP as “stake holders” saying that it may actually encourage “every so-called group with some degree of aspirations to control part of Pakistan [to] challenge the State with arms until its demands are met.
“In all honesty, this NISP needs to be reviewed if it conforms to the Constitution of Pakistan and that the basic rights which the Constitution grants to the state and its citizens are not violated.” ■