Saturday, March 22, 2014

Pakistan’s New Policy to Counter Terror- An Appraisal

Monish Gulati


The Pakistan government approved the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2014-2018 on 25 Feb14. In his statement, after tabling the policy before the cabinet for approval, Pakistani Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar indicated that the NISP has three parts; operational, strategic and day to day government actions that would remain secret. The draft of the counter terrorism policy had earlier been presented to Nawaz Sharif on 13 August 2013. The draft policy had advocated a five pronged approach of dismantle, contain, prevent, educate and reintegrate to curb terror, which was distinct from the 3-D (Deterrence, Development and Dialogue) approach of the previous Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government. The Pakistani government had evolved a tentative political consensus on the draft policy through an All-Party Parliamentary Conference (APC) before finalizing the policy.

The 100-odd page document, which is Pakistan’s first-ever national internal security policy, states that close to 50,000 people have been killed in Pakistan including over 5000 personnel of the law-enforcement agencies since the country joined the US-led war on terror after 9/11 attacks in 2001. The policy document goes on to estimate the total loss to the Pakistani economy in the last ten years due to terrorism, at $78 billion. This article examines the key constructs of the NISP to arrive at the challenges and pitfalls the policy would have to contend in changing the way Pakistan has been combating its internal strife.

Present Counter-terrorism Mechanism

According to the Constitution of Pakistan, maintaining law and order is the responsibility of the country’s provinces. Policing is a provincial matter, with each province maintaining its own police force. The federal government provides additional support to provincial governments when requested. The federal government has its own law enforcement agency, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which is governed by an Act of parliament and investigates offenses mentioned therein.

The Pakistan federal government in 2003 had assigned counter-terrorism role to FIA and the Special Investigation Group (SIG) was formally established in May 2003 within the FIA to combat terrorism. The SIG had been modelled on a similarly tasked cell of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation. The first batch of SIG recruits were drawn from the Police Service of Pakistan, Intelligence Bureau (IB), FIA and direct recruitment through the Federal Public Service Commission. SIG Officers were provided extensive training and some equipment by US government’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, in the area of crime scene analysis, computer forensic analysis, cyber terrorism, terrorist financing investigations and post blast explosives analysis etc1. The SIG was tasked with identifying and investigating terrorists and terrorist activities, bank frauds and informal money transaction systems. It was the only civilian agency dedicated to countering terrorism”2 and had regional offices in all the four provinces under the administrative command of Director, FIA. All civil and military intelligence agencies were required to share their information on terrorism with the SIG at the FIA level. Later SIG was re-designated as Counter Terrorism Wing (CTW). The other federal-level agency – the IB also has a counter terrorism responsibility. Intelligence Bureau (IB) is Pakistan's main domestic/internal intelligence and espionage agency. It functions under direct control of Chief Executive of Pakistan - either the Prime Minister or the President.

National Counter-Terrorism Authority

As the fight against domestic terrorism has grown in size and intensity, it had become clear to the Pakistani establishment that there was a dire need to create a structure to manage and coordinate the competing demands for security resources and to come up with an implementable strategy to meet this ever increasing threat. NISP to this end states that “integrated efforts through an institutionalised monitoring framework under democratic leadership to elicit support and cooperation of local and international stakeholders” would be required to achieve its objectives. The NISP designated the National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) as the focal organisation for national security.3 The Pakistani cabinet has also agreed that all decisions pertaining to anti-terror measures would be taken at the highest level of authority and the Ministry of Interior (MoI) will be the lead Ministry for implementation of the NISP.

The NACTA had been set up in December 2009, with the aim to overcome the governance deficit in Pakistan’s security framework left by the abolition of the National Security Council. In November 2012, the Pakistani cabinet approved the draft NACTA Bill, which had been introduced in 2009. The NACTA Bill (2013) was finally promulgated on 11 April 2013. The Bill provided a legal basis to the NACTA which had become redundant due to lack of clarity about its status since its establishment in December 2009. Initially it was proposed to be placed under the MoI but certain stakeholders had opposed the arrangement and wanted to see it directly controlled by the Prime Minister. Between the NACTA Bill and the NISP, these jurisdictional issues appear to have been addressed and the head of the NACTA would be the “National Coordinator” tasked with execution and monitoring of the new policy.


The NISP policy framework is based on soft and hard interventions and attempts to address the entire spectrum of issues impinging on the internal security environment in Pakistan. The soft component, which reposes faith in the political process, details a Comprehensive Response Plan (CRP) which is grounded in a process of research and coordination on key issues influencing internal security. CRP is focused on winning over trust and confidence of general public to combat terrorism and includes infrastructure development, rehabilitation of terror victims, shaping of the national narrative, reconciliation, reintegration and related legal reforms. The hard component of NISP comprises of the Composite Deterrence Plan (CDP), which seeks to complement the existing National Internal Security Apparatus (NISA) to combat terrorism. CDP aims to change the posture of the NISA from reactive to proactive.

The organisational restructuring and creation under the NISP will see the establishment of a Directorate of Internal Security (DIS) under the NACTA where 33 civilian and military intelligence and operational agencies will be represented to integrate tactical, operational and strategic ‘levels’ of civil and military ‘verticals’. In addition to an Air Wing, a well equipped Federal Rapid Response Force (RRF) with nationwide reach and capability drawn from Counter-Terrorism Departments (CTD) and police would be created. The RRF would interface and operate in close coordination with police, CAFs and Pakistan Armed Forces. The CTDs within police organisation of all the provinces would themselves be reorganised and strengthened ideally with uniform structures and unified command at provincial, region and field level. All CTDs will comprise of intelligence, operations, investigation, the provincial RRF and other technical sections to tackle the entire spectrum of internal security threats. At the federal level, a dedicated CAF Headquarter would be established under the MoI.4

The NACTA under the NISP will coordinate the efforts of relevant agencies to obtain a fair assessment of losses due to internal disturbances and recommend plans for renewal of impacted infrastructure. It will oversee the process of rehabilitation and reintegration of the terror affected people. NACTA will liaise with international actors for fostering cooperation on counter-terrorism and in the process synergise the public and international support available. It will also in consultation with other institutions supporting NISP develop a National De-Radicalisation Programme.


The NISP 2014-18 is initially expected to cost the Pakistani exchequer Rs32 billion for setting up the proposed institutions and strengthen the existing ones.5 Notwithstanding the fact that the internal disturbances in Pakistan have been a drag on the country’s finances and they have also set back the country’s development and economy, Pakistan’s efforts to institutionalise counter terrorism have been driven to a large extent by external funding. While FBI experts were actively involved in training the SIG/CTW both in Pakistan and the US, NACTA received funding support from the EU. According to an April 2012 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, the Obama Administration in 2013 earmarked $800m for Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capacity Fund.

In budgeting for the fiscal year 2015 beginning in October 2014, the US under the foreign military financing category, has earmarked $280 million in military aid to Pakistan. According to the US State Department, the $280 million is expected to enhance the Pakistan Army, Frontier Corps, the air force, and the navy's ability to conduct counter insurgency and counter terrorism operations against militants and improve Pakistan's ability to deter threats emanating from those areas, and encourage continued US-Pakistan military-to-military engagement.6


Pakistan’s counter terror policy has been comprehensive enough to cover a wide spectrum of issues ranging from police reforms to loopholes in Pakistan’s Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 and yet pragmatic enough to recognise the importance of factors such as poverty, meagre land holdings, the lack of government writ, rehabilitation of surrendered militants etc for its success.

Yet, the NISP has faced challenges in its formulation, evident from NACTA’s birth pangs. The basic issue was the designation of the primary supervising agency- whether it would be the Prime Minister’s office or the MoI. Though the Federal government’s role and its conflict with a provincial government is inherent in a federal structure, it is the degree of trust deficit that defines the problem. The test in this case has been (is likely to be for some years) to resolve coordination and jurisdictional issues between the security and intelligence organisations operating at the federal and provincial levels. It would be interesting to see if organisational restructuring under the NISP leads to operational efficiency.

The second issue arises from the fact that insurgency in Pakistan has reached such intensity that active employment of the army and the air force to tackle it is the new normal. Civilian authorities have outsourced internal security to the military, losing both control and legitimacy. Further, the civil and military hierarchies tend to work in silos, lacking mechanisms for frequent consultation and collaboration. The shift in focus of internal security from the military to the civilian government and from being reactive to proactive is going to be extremely challenging.

A related issue is the availability of fire support for conduct of counter-insurgency operations and targeting of high value targets. Pakistan military in a fine act of duplicity has been relying on US drone operations to aid its efforts to check the insurgency in certain areas of Pakistan. With drones acquiring the psycho-legal-political dimensions, the military has to fall back on the use of air force- which it has resorted to sparingly in the past. The use of air force in own territory against own citizens always sends out uncomfortable signals in a counter-insurgency campaign.

The counterinsurgency environment is further complicated by presence of foreign militants and the more recent foreign-returned jihadis. This brings non-local issues in play which the NISP will struggle to contend with. The presence of state sponsored militias/ terror groups (furthering cross border national interests) will test Pakistan’s ability to let them function within the NISP.

Suicide Attacks

While the use of suicide attacks/bombings have become an integral part of terror campaigns in certain parts of the world, it is still not the norm and merits a discussion simply because the challenge they pose not only to the security forces but the society as a whole. The first suicide bombings in Pakistan were reported in 2002 against foreigners, and were committed by persons of Arab descent. Between 2002 and 2006, at least twenty-five such incidents were documented, including two suicide attacks on former President General Musharraf and one against Shaukat Aziz, the then Prime Minister. Although military action against the Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants had begun after 2002, the real tipping point in increased suicide bombings in Pakistan came after the Lal Masjid operation in July 2007. After this point, suicide attacks became fairly routine in Pakistan.

Increased military offensive in tribal areas has resulted in the terrorists shifting their focus from religious targets to military, law enforcement, and intelligence targets.7 It has brought terror strikes to urban and commercial centres, which requires an operational shift in the counter-terror strategy.


It is important to point out that a discussion on security related issues of policy and process always surmises availability of political will, clarity on national interest and an absence of terror-politics nexus. As we see today, terrorism is hardwired into Pakistan’s society and polity and the country is internally divided. No single political force, not even the Army and its conjoin the ISI seem powerful enough to turn the tide. As some analysts have pointed out, the operationalisation of Pakistan’s NISP is not a simple matter of reorienting and restructuring of NACTA and NISA but how Pakistan begins to sees itself in its neighbourhood and the world order.

  1. Federal Investigation Agency, Counter Terrorism Wing (CTW).
  2. Ismail Khan. Pakistan to raise new anti-terrorism force, Dawn, August 21, 2003.
  3. PM says govt writ to be affirmed as cabinet okays security policy,, February 25,2014.
  4. Text of National Security Policy 2014-18, The Nation, February 27, 2014.
  5. Ansar Abbasi. The new national security plan: What it envisages on paper, The News, February 28, 2014.
  6. Lalit K Jha. US plans 280 mn aid to Pak to encourage counter-terrorism effort,, March 05, 2014.
  7. Abbas Zaidi, Syed Manzar. Demographics of suicide terrorism,, August 5, 2010.

(The author is an independent analyst based in New Delhi)

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