Pakistan’s counter-terrorism needs to be aligned with EU

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Police stands guard outside the Adiala jail where an anti-terrorism court announced verdict in the murder of two-time former Prime Miniser and chairperson of opposition Pakistan People Party, Benazir Bhutto, in Islamabad, Pakistan, 31 August 2017. [EPA-EFE/S. SHAHZAD]

If the EU wishes to defend human rights, and comply with its own counter-terrorism pledges, Pakistan’s incoherent counter-terrorism strategies should be at the top of every joint commission and negotiation, writes Charles Tannock.

MEP Charles Tannock is the spokesman on foreign affairs and human rights in the European Parliament for the UK Conservative party. He is also coordinator on the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group.

Since 9/11, the global threat of terrorism has been a top policy-making priority. Public sentiments of vulnerability and insecurity have manifested as economic, political and social issues in the EU and across the world.

The EU’s counter-terrorism policy, including the four pillars of the prevention of radicalisation, the protection of citizens, the pursuit and prosecution of terrorists, and the improvement of response capabilities, is aimed at reducing casualties and ensuring the security of Europe.

The EU has pledged to promote international partnerships, by supporting non-member states that struggle with particular terrorism-related challenges. This is primarily achieved through the capacity-building and the strengthening of international cooperation efforts. The EU also uses its influence on the international stage to encourage non-member states to incorporate stronger, and more consistent, counter-terrorism initiatives into their policymaking.

Pakistan is widely reported as tolerating and, allegedly, in some cases funding terrorist organisations on its territories. A 2017 report by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) ranked Pakistan fifth out of 163 countries on the Global Terrorism Index. Although the number of deaths as a result of terrorism is declining, instability in the nuclear-armed state means that counter-terrorism is still a top priority.

The causes of terrorism are complex, with socio-economic factors (like poverty, income inequality, and lack of political rights) as well as religious fundamentalism and anti-westernism as the main drivers. One of the greatest challenges for Pakistan is the plethora of different militant groups operating within its borders, each of whom has different relationships with the government and with each other.

The most well-known militants are Al-Qaeda Central, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). Tackling terrorism in Pakistan is therefore a complex web of socio-political strategies.

Unfortunately, Pakistan lacks a cohesive counter-terrorism approach. In 2008, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) was established with the purpose of coordinating the security and law enforcement apparatus. However, there were huge delays in legislation and NACTA was not established until 2013.

The Pakistani government has ultimately adopted a reactive (rather than proactive) approach. The 2014 Peshawar school massacre, which killed 132 children, was a catalyst for two new initiatives: the 2014-2018 National Internal Security Policy (NISP) and the 2014 National Action Plan (NAP).

The latter program, in particular, had the objectives of restoring the death penalty for terrorism, establishing special trial courts, countering terrorist narratives and extremist material, and tackling the financing for terrorists.

However, the fact that both the NISP and NAP were a reaction to public outcry and not a strong initiative by the government is apparent in the program’s frameworks, with both possessing no clear direction on how to achieve the desired objectives.

Indeed, NAP has little to no coordination between the federal and provincial governments meaning that its objective of being a “holistic” approach to counter-terrorism is unachievable. The lack of coherence means that Pakistan’s results in tackling terrorism have been disappointing. Ultimately, it is Pakistani civilians who suffer most severely under their government’s poorly thought through policies.

Pakistan operates a “pick and choose” counter-terrorism strategy, by targeting certain militant groups whilst completely ignoring others.  This is strategic and inline with the government’s perceptions of which militant groups constitute the biggest threat to the regime.

For example, Pakistan’s rogue military targets the Pakistani Taliban operating in South Waziristan and elsewhere in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), but appears to partly ignore Al-Qaeda affiliated groups like the Haqqani network and the Afghan Taliban operating in North Waziristan.

The organisation Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), with its deeply rooted anti-India rhetoric, is disregarded, in line with the regrettably longstanding anti-India agenda.

Pakistan’s “pick-and-choose” approach to counter-terrorism policy-making undermines collective counter-terrorism efforts and maintains a level of instability within the state that is dangerous for the international community. This muddled thinking has also led experts to worry that Pakistan could become the world’s first nuclear-armed failed state.

As a member of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences plus (GSP+) trade benefit program, Pakistan is required to comply with the GSP+ regulations. According to Article 19 (1) of the Official Journal of the European Union’s legislation on generalized tariff preferences, “serious short-comings or a failure to comply with international conventions on anti-terrorism,” is cause for withdrawal of benefits.

Pakistan’s “pick-and-choose” counter-terrorism efforts can be interpreted as a failure to comply with international anti-terrorism expectations. By allowing select terrorist groups to exist within its borders, Pakistan weakens global efforts to protect civilians from violent attacks.

If the EU wishes to maintain its reputation as a defender of human rights, and comply with its own counter-terrorism pledges, Pakistan’s incoherent counter-terrorism strategies should be at the top of every joint commission and negotiation.

Subscribe to our newsletters