Event ReportsPublished on Mar 02, 2015
Saying that there is a proven link between the two types of terrorists - sectarian and Taliban -- Maj. Gen. Mahmud Durrani stresses the need for carrying out educational reforms and popularising a counter-narrative to Taliban's interpretation of Islam.
Educational reforms need of the hour to counter Taliban challenge in Pakistan

Noting that post-Peshawar, the people of Pakistan are solidly behind the military and are demanding an all-out war against terrorism, Pakistan’s former National Security Advisor, Maj.Gen. (Retd) Mahmud Durrani said that the challenge before Pakistan is much wider than just to fight terrorism.

Making a presentation on ’Peshawar Attacks: Pakistan’s Counter Terrorism Efforts" at Observer Research Foundation on February 3, Maj. Gen. Durrani said there is a proven link between the two types of terrorists - sectarian and Taliban. Hence, educational reforms need to be carried out and importantly, a counter-narrative to Taliban’s interpretation of Islam needs to be popularised.

Maj. Gen. Durrani said the strategy should be to take help from more educated, more liberal mullahs to beat the Taliban’s narrative.

In Peshawar on December 16 2014, nine militants, affiliated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP), had shot down 145 people, including 132 children, in a barbaric assault on the Army Public School.

In his opening remarks, the chair of the event, Amb. Viswanathan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF, observed that even by the standards of high violence, the Peshawar attack demonstrated unprecedented brutality. Recently, Pakistan has not only witnessed various terrorist strikes, but also sectarian violence and political instability. The chair highlighted pressing questions that have become critical in the wake of the recent attacks - could Pakistan be paying the price for being soft on terrorist groups? And does the country have the political will and administrative capacity to contain, if not eliminate this menace?

Maj.Gen. Durrani commenced his presentation by giving an overview of the Peshawar attack. He stated that the attack was in short, a move by the TTP to punish the Pakistani Army for destroying the Taliban’s strongholds in North- Waziristan. According to him, from a purely physical standpoint, the strikes were very successful. However, they failed to break the morale of the military and the society, achieving quite the opposite- the nation was united against this act of barbarism.

Speaking about the significant role played by the army in North-Waziristan, he observed that progress is being made, but tackling the region remains a difficult task. In his view, these operations were delayed by 4 years. However, since the terrorists in the region were caught unawares by the sudden army crackdown, the operations have been successful in terms of heavy casualty suffered by the terrorists. Maj.Gen. Durrani asserted that the retaliatory Peshawar attack was at a "soft target", and was successful in terms of causalities but was morally and psychologically counterproductive for Taliban. Even the usual apologists for Taliban condemned this attack.

Looking ahead, he stated that post-Peshawar, a lot of productive activity has been generated in Pakistan. The PM invited all political parties after this incident, and developed a clear consensus and commitment to root out all militancy. Maj.Gen. Durrani observed that had this pro-active approach been adopted two decades ago, the situation would have been very different today. Further, all parties came out with a 20-point National Action Plan and action has been initiated on most decisions taken in the all-party meet. The efficacy, feasibility and legality-aspect of certain points in the National Action Plan, such as trials by the military court, are being debated at the moment. However, Maj.Gen, Durrani stated that unusual circumstances call for unusual measures and the military courts are temporary.

He added that another important point in the 20- point agenda is the aim to root out any and every terrorist outfit, irrespective of its past affiliations. Another aim is to choke terrorist financing which will be extremely difficult as they don’t go through established banking channels. Action has also commenced to establish a rapid action anti-terrorist force. According to the speaker, the most important step in fighting terrorism is to improve intelligence so that the strikes can be predicted and prevented. He stated that without integrated intelligence that gets ahead of terrorist activity, military is like a "fire brigade". Hence, it is imperative to make serious efforts to integrate military and civil intelligence and according to the speaker; positive steps are now being taken in this direction.

Maj.Gen. Durrani also mentioned the formation of the Provincial Apex Committees (PAC) for the implementation of the National Action Plan. He shared that Punjab has already held its first PAC which was attended by the police chiefs, the Army chief, the CM as well as the PM to ensure that this is a joint commitment against anti-state terror elements in Pakistan. He also mentioned the significant role played by the current army chief in helping the civilian government achieve consensus and in putting life into dormant anti-terror initiatives.

He concluded by saying that post-Peshawar, the people of Pakistan are solidly behind the military and are demanding an all-out war against terrorism. He said there is a need for carrying out educational reforms and popularise a counter-narrative to Taliban’s interpretation of Islam.

The talk was followed by comments by three discussants. First, Prof. Ajay Darshan Behera, Professor, Academy of International Studies, Centre for Pakistan Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, agreed that post-Peshawar, something has fundamentally changed in Pakistan. However, according to him, the National Action Plan is vague in terms of methodology, except the point about military courts. He also highlighted the need for more introspection about what went wrong in order to change the ideology that has become entrenched in the institutional structures of Pakistan.

Next, Mr. Rana Banerji, former bureaucrat and Distinguished Fellow, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, noted that although there is an overall consensus in Pakistan to root out militancy and terrorism, certain religious parties are still not on board. These parties may prove to be problematic in the future. On the issue of military courts, he noted that the Supreme Court Bar Council is not completely on board, and the reception of the military courts by a sullen judiciary may prove to be counter-productive in the long-run. He also observed that there’s a lack of witness protection programmes, as there is in India. Mr. Banerji shared that 74% of all cases against suspected terrorists in Pakistan, in the last two years, have ended in acquittals.

In terms of solutions, he highlighted the importance of changing the educational curriculum - the distortions of history and violent interpretation of jihad must end. Additionally, dismantling the communication networks of terrorists is important.

Mr. Manoj Joshi, Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, observed that 26/11 Mumbai attacks disrupted a critical phase in achieving a breakthrough in India-Pakistan relations. The Peshawar attack, in his view, could cause the opposite effect. Mr. Joshi added that that ground-level policing must improve in order to tackle terrorism in South-Asia. Intelligence gathering must commence at the ground level and mechanisms must be developed to integrate it at the national level. He lamented that the Indian and Pakistani local policing systems are in shambles and this affects to the larger issue. Mr. Joshi asserted that serious efforts must be made to stop the hijacking of Islam by the radical narrative. However, he cautioned that governments cannot be allowed to decide what the official religious narratives are.

This was followed by an engaging discussion where the afore-mentioned themes were further-explored. It was proposed that the problem with counter-insurgency is that the enemy is within the state, and will definitely cause some internal displacement of civilians. However, if mechanisms cannot be developed to take care of the displaced, more radicals will be created. He also reiterated that the cooperation between the Pakistani military and the civilian leadership is a massive step in the right direction that must not be underestimated. On the topic of ISI it was felt that the institution should be corrected and improved, not destroyed. Additionally, India-Pakistan relations could benefit immensely from frank discussions and more interaction between authorities to get over the issues of mistrust. The discussions concluded with the idea that the military can only conduct limited operations against terrorists, not win the entire war. Political will and stability are also necessary. There is a need to re-habilitate displaced citizens and ensure functioning of governance in order to consolidate victories against terrorism.

(This report was prepared by Vidisha Mishra, Research Assistant, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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