PAKISTAN: State response to counter insurgency is failing

By Javeria Younes

The ongoing fight against militancy and terrorism has seen many a fallen soldiers, the latest being Punjab Home Minister Col. (retd.) Shuja Khanzada, who was killed along with 16 others in a suicide blast at his political office in Shadi Khan near Attock on 16 August 2015. In another incident, political worker of Muttaida Qomi Movement’s (MQM) senior Member of National Assembly, Mr. Rashid Godail, was critically wounded after receiving bullet wounds by unknown terrorists. He was shot while he was on his way to his office.

The two incidences within a week have inculcated fear amongst the people and have created political mire in a country grappling with extremism and militancy. History bears witness that no great man lives in vain. A day before his untimely death, Mr. Khanzada had said, “Countering sectarian militancy is my mission”. And he remained true to his mission till his last breath. Col. Khanzada’s death has dealt a serious blow to the government’s efforts to tackle militancy in Punjab.

The terrorist factions abetted and supported by previous military regimes have come of age and have become a hydra of sorts; every time one terrorist is killed or captured three more crop up. The establishment and the State have both ignored the problem. Resultantly the problem has taken a mammoth scale. The purpose of terrorism lies not in the violent act itself. In producing terror it sets out to inflame, divide, produce consequences, which the terrorists then use to justify further terror. Now that the genie is out of the bottle it is becoming a herculean task to contain the damage caused by the Afghan war. The current breeds of Islamic militants are former veterans of the Afghan Soviet war that Pakistan is still paying a price for supporting.

Punjab, being the hub of militant activities, has been the breeding ground for radical ideologies finding its roots in Saudi wahabism, a sect of Islam. The Islamic radicals succeeded in filling the vacuum created by a crumbling criminal justice system in Pakistan.

Injustice breeds resentment against the atrocities’ of the elite and this results in the rise of terrorism and militancy. Political vacuum and absence of the rule of law generate sympathies for Islamic radicals propounding establishment of a just society. According to a report commissioned by the Governance Institutes Network International titled “Misgovernance-Radicalisation Nexus in Pakistan”, the people from Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) who feel that their rights are protected are less likely to support militancy.

The terrorist attacks on high profile personalities, such as the former federal interior minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, Senior Minister KPK, Bashir Ahmad Bilour, along with General Pervaiz Musharaff and former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and attacks on General Head Quarter Rawalpindi and the Mehran and Kamra bases have manifested the depth and penetration of these militant groups in the armed forces. The attack of Col. Khanzada is also attributed to be an inside job.

The much-trumpeted National Action Plan (NAP), of which the late Col. Khanzada was a great proponent, has, so far, not yielded any worthwhile result and has failed in denting the wave of militancy currently engulfing the entire country.

The incident has left a big question mark on the NAP’s implementation in true spirit, particularly when it comes to eradicating sectarian militancy. With the demise of one of its greatest proponents many analysts fear that NAP may be left in the lurch.

It is pertinent to mention that the late Col. Khanzada was actively involved in madrassa reforms and had personally overseen the registration of 6,000 out of 12,000 madrassas operating illegally in the Punjab Province. This year alone he had ordered the closure of 170 seminaries, most of which had been a major source of extremism and sectarianism in the Province. Furthermore, he froze an estimated Rs. 600 million of ‘doubtful’ funding of some madrassas after geo-tagging 13,800 seminaries across the Province. On 14 Februrary 2015, Col. Khanzada, while addressing a press conference, had told the press that the students of madrassas illegally staying in the country would soon be deported.

Yet, despite the measures the madrassas and clergy have continued to exert their influence on the poverty stricken masses of Pakistan. In the Bara District of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) the local tribesmen have been warned to admit at least one of their sons to the madrassa or pay 0.4 million rupees in compensation. Local tribesmen and eye witnesses have said that a militant outfit had displayed wall posters in streets and bazaars in Nala Malikdin Khel area, asking locals to get at least one of their sons to the madrassa. The posters also warned parents that children should be admitted only to the madrassas of Ishat-o-Tauheed and admission to other madrassas of other schools of thought would not be acceptable to them.

The State’s reluctance to target madrassas that are teeming with militants and their sympathizers has caused more damage to the cause of counter-terrorism than anything else. The Nawaz Sharif government is often criticized for siding with the Deoband school of thought. The policy of complicity will have to be changed to tackle religious obscurantism. The government would have to dismantle the network of sectarian groups while considering all the relevant factors.

This is a war of religious ideology that cannot be won using force. It is time the government does some soul searching and buries the political hatchet once and for all. How can one expect a national policy on terrorism from a divided government? The time for action was yesterday. The State must understand that if it destroys human rights and the rule of law in response to terrorism, it will further the cause of militancy in the country. When an individual’s rights are being violated, and he or she does not have the proper education, gravitating toward terrorism is a distinct possibility. The best way to fight terrorism is by fighting the basic needs of humanity, because hunger and poverty perpetuate crime.

About the Author: Javeria Younes is an advocate and legal researcher. Her research work titled “Custodial Torture its ramification and failure of institutions” has been published under the auspice of AHRC. She has also written a handbook on torture, for the victims of torture, to help them seek medical, psychiatric, and legal aid. She can be reached at

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-047-2015
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Administration of justice, Corruption, Democracy, Impunity, Prosecution system, Rule of law,