Counterterror in K-P and FATA: A turnaround?
By Imtiaz Gul
Express Tribune, September 02, 2015
Flanked by tribal areas from three sides, the Peshawar region experienced death, destruction and trauma between 2009 and 2013. During this turbulent period, terrorists, militants and criminals piled misery on the city as state security institutions were in retreat. Recurring violence forced most senior police officials to give up their designated areas of duty and retreat into the police lines in the heart of Peshawar — more or less the way paramilitary forces had opted to give up control of many of their installations in Waziristan in those traumatic years.
But the last 18 months have seen a remarkable turnaround as themilitary pounded and degraded the TTP-affiliated groups spread all over Fata and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), and the police in K-P regained considerable ground it had lost to the TTP and the dubious Lashkar-e-Islam.
Terrorist incidents in the first eight months of 2015, for instance, have gone down from a total of 383 in 2014 to 153. Casualties as a result of terrorist violence in K-P stand at about 75 compared to the 145 in 2014. This marks a decline of 60 per cent and 70 per cent, respectively. Similarly, abductions for ransom have decreased by 45 per cent. The combination of surgical military operations in Fata as part of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, and a proactive police force led by an autonomous police chief — Nasir Durrani — appears to have considerably dented the ability of terrorist and criminal gangs. A combination of defensive and offensive measures has helped the authorities preempt, prevent and discourage non-state actors who once operated without much fear. This may be the proverbial lull before the storm but residents of Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, the second largest city in K-P, acknowledge the improved policing. Both the military and the police in K-P also suffered because of HajiMangal Bagh, the head of the double-gaming Lashkar-e-Islam nestled in the Khyber Agency. But the anvil and hammer — the military acting as the latter — strategy seems to have worked.
Some 11,329 search operations, arrests or interrogation of 36,000 suspects including detention of 454 hardcore militants, and nearly 5,000 cases against home and hotel owners who failed to report tenants to the police, are all part of the offensive strategy that the K-P police began chalking out after Durrani took over. As many as 192,000 houses have been searched and owners of many reprimanded or charged with non-compliance of various regulations. Nearly 1,250 arrests for violation of the Loudspeaker Act, or of persons involved in hate speeches, and the blocking of 1,735 CNICs, also underscore an entirely new policing strategy that rests on the NADRA for personal or vehicular verifications. Police in K-P, says IG Durrani, has suffered as much as the military and the civilians in K-P and Fata. However, he salutes the rank and file of the K-P police, who at times refused to leave posts even though injured. The K-P police, in effect, had to be prepared for the blowback from Operation Zarb-e-Azb because terrorists usually escape into big towns once confronted in peripheral areas such as Waziristan.
The counterterrorism experience in K-P is instructive; it proves that despite legal handicaps, a politically empowered and an operationally independent police can stand up to terrorist gangs and criminal syndicates. No interference by the provincial government and unhindered support by the apex committee, the joint governmental body that acts as the watchdog and guide on security matters, has allowed the provincial police to not only recover from the devastating wave of terror that it faced until late 2013, but also created a niche for itself as a civilian force which can plug crime and terror if given space.
Non-intrusive defensive measures such as legislation for compulsory reports of tenants and hotel guests’ digital, personal and vehicular verification have all helped in significantly curbing terror and crime. Forceful implementation of existing laws, such as the Loudspeaker Act, or the transformation of the provincial Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) into a fully empowered entity, seems to have yielded unexpected results. The CTD force has been authorised with performing tasks related to intelligence, interception, internment (of suspects) and preparation of court cases. Fighting terror, it seems, is not all that difficult given political will at the highest levels.
Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies