Provincial CTDs lack clarity on militant groups dynamics

PIPS research report recommends Pakistan should establish a robust implementation mechanism for national extremism and security policies

ISLAMABAD   -   Provincial Counterterrorism Departments (CTDs) lack clarity on militant groups’ dynamics, connections and operational strategies, apart from facing issues related to coordination, funding and intelligence gathering. While CTDs have established their own specialized intelligence units and analysis wings to study militant behaviour, they often lack skills to process data effectively and remain largely dependent on premier intelligence agencies.

These are some of key findings of the research report “Pakistan’s Evolving Militant Landscape: State Responses and Policy Options”, released by Islamabad-based think-tank Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) here on Tuesday.

The study unveils a comprehensive analysis of Pakistan’s evolving militant landscape besides precisely examining state responses and presenting viable policy options for fostering stability and peace in Pakistan. The research including interviews and focused group discussions was conducted over the course of one year, with primary and secondary data collected from June 2023 to February 2024. The report says that funding issues plague CTDs except Punjab whose counterterrorism department has adequate funding. These departments often lack the necessary equipment and training to effectively tackle multifaceted challenges of terrorism and militancy.

It recommends Pakistan should establish a robust implementation mechanism for national extremism and security policies, including the revised National Action Plan (NAP). “Regular yearly reviews of both the National Security Policy (NSP) and NAP are necessary to enhance responses to evolving security challenges. A parliamentary oversight committee can ensure transparency and effectiveness,” it adds.

The study says Pakistan should pursue critical shifts in foreign policy, prioritizing peace with neighbouring countries like Afghanistan and India.

Talking about the security problems, it says that the deteriorating bilateral relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, coupled with a lack of meaningful state-to-state engagement, pose significant challenges for the former in addressing terrorist violence and border insecurity. “Bilateral mistrust has deepened due to various issues including border disputes, cross-border violence, Afghan refugee repatriation, and visa problems,” it adds.

The report points out that the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) issue has emerged as a major source of tension between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The data suggests that Pakistan’s decision to repatriate illegal Afghan refugees was influenced by the Afghan Taliban’s apparent indifference towards TTP attacks within Pakistan. “Ultimately, resolving bilateral challenges hinges on Pakistan’s sustained engagement with the Taliban-led interim government in Kabul.” The civilian government must take ownership of the Afghan policy, with input from both parliament and security agencies, it suggests.

The research urges the government that there is a need for a multi-dimensional and all-inclusive approach to address the complexities of Pakistan’s extremism challenge. It also advises soft measures saying merely relying on military force overlooks the underlying factors driving extremism. While kinetic approaches may eliminate existing terrorists, without addressing the ideological roots, new militants will emerge. Therefore, soft measures are essential in any counterterrorism framework, particularly in Pakistan, where religious extremism is widespread alongside terrorism.

To deal with the problem of unrest in Balochistan, the report recommends that there is a need to reduce the appeal of insurgent ideology and cause among the Baloch people and that can be done by winning hearts and minds of the people. As the Baloch insurgents and even the TTP tend to exploit the issue of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the province to win the public support and recruits, the government needs to evolve a plan or policy to manage this particular issue amicably and in accordance with law so that people don’t fall for militants’ narratives.   

Since August 2021, Pakistan has experienced a significant surge in terrorist attacks and consequent casualties, says one of the findings. Terrorist violence has been rapidly increasing and intensifying in various parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Balochistan provinces, with several major attacks also reported in Punjab and Karachi, says another finding.

Following a surge in attacks by TTP chapters in KP and northern Balochistan, there are indications that the militant group’s announced chapters for Punjab province are also becoming active, the study warns.

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