Category: Terrorism

Pakistan: A victim, Not Sponsor of Terrorism

Pakistan: A victim, Not Sponsor of Terrorism

Syed Nasir Hassan

The temptation to use violence to influence other people is not something new. This has been done in the past. However, in the modern world the discourse around use of violence has taken new forms. Most of the narrative building around use of violence to influence political outcomes has an extremist or terrorist idiom.

Pakistan has long been a victim of extremist violence. A key tactic for perpetrators of violence for political purposes is to exploit the peculiar vulnerabilities of their victims. For decades, Pakistanis have been facing terrorist attacks, mostly from people having some grievance against the state. The victims have mostly been unrelated people, possibly because they are soft targets. In some cases law enforcement and state officials too have been attacked. The violence was so endemic at one point that it crippled life in some regions. After a long and hard struggle waged by the people and the security agencies there are signs that the terrorists are finding it hard to continue their activities. 

Since its independence, Pakistan has faced many problems. These have included natural disasters as well as wars. However the scourge of terrorism has hit it the hardest. After the United States launched its campaign against Taliban and Al Qaeda in 2001, more than 65,000 Pakistani civilians and armed forces personnel have been killed in some sort of a terrorist attack or the other. There has been some disagreement on whether the policies pursued by various governments were the best under the circumstances. Irrespective of the merits of such decisions, the fact is that the impact of the fighting, particularly violence by non-state actor has been huge. For more than 15 years not a week went by without there being some cause for mourning all over Pakistan.

Pakistan is the only nation in the world to have refused to surrender to the terrorists, fought them with admirable fortitude and succeed in defeating them. It is sometimes argued that the fight was unnecessary or could have been avoided. This is not true. The narrative is meant, it seems, to undermine the efforts of the state and weaken the resolve of its security agencies.

Ironically, Pakistan has been accused by its neighbor to the east of being a state sponsor of terrorism. It is amazing the way such an argument so callously ignores the sacrifices and sufferings of the armed forces and security agency personnel, their families and the Pakistanis at large. The Pakistani military has carried out no less than eight full scale military operations to liquidate the entrenched terrorists. The United States decided to invade Afghanistan in 2001 following the Taliban government’s refusal to hand over the Al Qaeda leaders accused of plotting the 9/11 strikes in US. For its cooperation, Pakistan was designated a non-NATO ally. The blowback of the war included a rise in terrorism in many parts of the world.

After nearly two decades the US has been unable to declare victory and leave Afghanistan. For its part Pakistan has suffered unprecedented losses, both in terms of human capital and economic damage. And yet Pakistan has been accused of being a safe haven for terrorists. This can only be a false and dishonest accusation. Throughout the war on terror Pakistan has been the victim of terrorism rather than an exporter or sponsor of it. It is still striving to overcome the damage.

Countering Terrorism and the dawn of CPEC

Countering Terrorism and the dawn of CPEC

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is much more than just a development deal between two states; it is to a large extent a mega-project which encompasses many foyers of economy, trade and politics as well as strategy between two highly important states within Asia. It incorporates developing a network of roads, pipelines, and railways which connects Balochistan province in Pakistan with Xinjiangin China. It has heralded a cross country exchange of nationals who are working day and night to make this mega-project a successful one. At present, there is an estimate of around 20,000 Chinese nationals working across Pakistan, and this means that around 70,000 short-term visit visas are being issued each year. 

But with all this being said, it needs to be understood that the current state of terrorism is threatening to the entire endeavour and this needs to be catered to. There are countless foreign forces which are at work to derail this mega-project and Pakistan is understandably doing its part, but it also opens susceptibility for China. There is also a propaganda being floated around by some hostile forces which are against CPEC and this revolves around the perspicacity of China being a so called “future colonizing power” as well as the issue of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. This can add to some inside forces operational in making CPEC more vulnerable and sensitive. Furthermore, there is a threat of terrorism which is being emanated within the Baloch Insurgents as well as the added foreign pressure of other Islamist terrorist groups particularly the Islamic State’s (ISIS) local affiliates in the country. The terror attacks which rocked Balochistan in December 2018 and January 2019 are testimonies of this.

To begin with it must be cleared that currently the Baloch insurgent groups have exhibited signs of antagonism toward the Chinese presence in Pakistan. This province has a dire sense of dearth paralleled with other provinces and because of this under-development and political instability there is a lack of trust within Baloch people towards the Federal governments. Adding the Chinese presence in this atmosphere has only proven to further this lack of trust and probable resentment. The idea of exploitation of local resources by the Chinese is a coming propaganda which has already surfaced and will be pushed by some entities which do not wish for CPEC to succeed. A total of six Baloch separatist groups have publicised displeasure toward the Chinese presence, which is impaired by the government’s inability to address Baloch grievances. In the year 2018, Allah Nazar Baloch who is the commander of the Baloch Liberation Front (BLF) addressed a letter to the Chinese ambassador to Pakistan, stating that Chinese nationals, including fishermen, labourers, and tourists, are legitimate targets for attacks. Furthermore, in 2018 the BLA (Baloch Liberation Army) targeted a bus transporting Chinese engineersin the Dalbandin district in a suicide bombing. 

Moreover the Islamic State’s (IS) local branch for the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP), has also targeted Chinese presence in Pakistan. The IS has labelled China an “oppressor of Muslims similar to Israel, India, and the U.S.” in the past. The increasing Chinese presence in Pakistani provinces gives these networks an opening to gain conspicuousness and coverage by targeting foreign nationals and business professionals which adds to their importance as well. With the Islamic State’s territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, a possible shift toward Afghanistan and Pakistan as a safe-haven for operations, and portrayal of itself as a group that is as strong now as it was back in 2014. 

China has strategic geostrategic interests in Pakistan which will be indomitable to avert CPEC from failing or its interests being targeted by terrorist and separatist groups. China has no doubt become more inclined to strengthen its counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan since 2015, the most recent example of which is the joint training exercise conducted in Punjab province in December 2018. Previously China has patented the TTP as a serious and well-engineered menace to peace and stability within Pakistan which adversely impacts the Chinese position in the state after the group threatened to cut off access to the Karakoram Highway. 

The combativeness in Balochistan province is largely advocated to be a product of the proxy war between India and Pakistan. Pakistan has by and again claimed that Indian intelligence is tangled in Balochistan and has been capitalising on the militancy in the province. These proclamations were broadened in 2016, when an Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav, was arrested and indicted by Pakistan of being a spy. These loopholes present in security can add up to the overall stagnation and possible blacking out of the $62 billion dollar deal between two prominent states. If this deal goes through, Balochistan will be resuscitated and has the potential to turn into a developing province for the future. Of course Pakistan and its policy makers are not completely phased out as there is an active unit of forces which are taking care of the impeding issue at hand. The collaboration between Pakistan and China has enhanced and this vulnerability does not need to be worried about much in the context of the larger strategic cooperation. CPEC is prone to terrorism but it is also prone to safeguarding the project, the intensity of which far exceeds the threats. Furthermore, the Pakistan-China cooperative partnership to counter-terrorism is need of time, especially when the BRI is transforming the world from geo-political to geo-economic phase. Mutual trust, joint efforts, and regional cooperation is the key to completely eliminate the scourge of terrorism from the face of earth. 

The Unmanned War

The Unmanned War Featured

There was a time when wars were fought with swords and cavalry, and then came the age of early modern warfare with the excessive use of gunpowder which had a major impact on the way war was fought, or as Wendell Phillips likes to put it that “What gunpowder did for war, the printing press has done for the mind”. Today, the art of warfare is even more modernized with the help of information technology and advancement in sciences, and the way war is fought today is beyond the imagination of a person from a early modern era. The current age of warfare includes the use of “unmanned combat aerial vehicle” (UCAV), or in laymen terms known as the Drone. Over the last decade, drone has played a huge role, in particular for United States, on “War against Terrorism” after the catastrophic 9/11 attack. The countries affected by this policy of United States are Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan. But one question that arises here is that this excessive use of drone attacks by United States on other states; is it even legal according to International Law? In this paper, I will be looking at the reason and legality of drone attacks in Pakistan, and why it is not a firm solution to end terrorism in the region.
First of all, it is important to understand the reason and legality behind the drone attacks in Pakistan. Christof Heyns, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, summary or arbitrary execution, raises his worry against the attacks carried out by United States, since he believe it works as a challenge for International Law. Heyns expressed his stance at the conference, where at that moment a Pakistani ambassador was present as well, who stated that
“We find the use of drones to be totally counterproductive in terms of succeeding in the war against terror. It leads to greater levels of terror rather than reducing them.”
However, Christof Heyns failed to address the issue of legality here, because if Pakistan is condemning the attacks in UN, doesn’t that mean the drone attacks are taking place by United States’ unilateral will? If that’s the case, it must be clear that United States is violating the UN Charter’s Article 2(4) which states that:
All members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations
It is not just the violation of UN Charter, but it is also a violation of Pakistan’s sovereignty, says Ben Emmerson, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism.6 The first drone attack in Pakistan happened in June 2004, and up until October 2012; around 334 drone attacks took place in Pakistan.8 One may ask that if it is a breach of Pakistan’s independence and the UN Charter, why is there a huge record of drone attacks that took place in Pakistan? The search for legality behind this makes one think how controversial and tangled the situation is.
The drone attacks are usually conducted in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), which shares its border with Afghanistan. It is said that Taliban fighters from Afghanistan took refuge in FATA, where they further allied with Pakistani Taliban, and made their stronghold there, and launched attacks in different areas within Pakistan.9 The control of government of Pakistan over FATA is rather nominal, and the lack of ability to fight terrorists in that region was seen as a failure by the American administration, this is the point when the American policy to use drone attacks developed.
“The primary objective of the air campaign has been to disrupt Al Qaeda’s external network and prevent the group from striking at the US and her allies”. Another reason that is given is to stop the “Pakistani Taliban commanders who threaten the stability of the Pakistani state”.
These reasons mentioned can be seen as why the drone attacks take place in FATA region of Pakistan, but what about its legality? Sean D. Murphy discusses the legality of the issue, and states that there are three ways through which it can be legal; if the actions are taken with the consent of Pakistan, authorized by a UN Security Council Resolution, self-defence against Non-State actors, or as self-defence against Pakistan itself. Starting with the consent of Pakistan, this part is rather like a grey area. In 2008, Washington Post claimed that when the new chief of Pakistan’s intelligence service visited Washington to talk with USA’s head of military and intelligence staff, they had a secret understanding or consensus on the use of drone attacks. However, then-Pakistani government have openly said that these attacks are violation of their sovereignty, and have taken place without their consent. Now there is a possibility that then-Pakistani government was not unveiling the reality to the people of Pakistan, while they were making deals with United States behind closed doors. Prime Minister of Pakistan in 2008, Yousaf Raza Gillani, said to Anne Paterson, then-United States Ambassador to Pakistan, that:
“I don’t care if they do it (drone strikes) as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”
The current government responded when asked if they have a deal with United States, they openly said that there might be some kind of understanding with previous government; the spokesman for Pakistan’s foreign ministry said “We regard such strikes as a violation of our sovereignty as well as international law. They are also counter-productive.” In a nutshell, it can be concluded that there is no common grounds between United States and Pakistan because of unavailability of a legal document which will say otherwise.
Coming to the UN Security Council, the UN Charter Chapter VII allows the Security Council to “decide upon measures necessary for maintaining or restoring peace and security”. After the 9/11 attacks, many resolutions were adopted by UN in relation with Afghanistan, but none of them allowed United States for operations in Pakistan, hence there is no evidence of UNSCR allowing the drone attacks in Pakistan legally. Only way it may be justified is on the basis of “individual or collective self-defence” against a non-state actor. Article 51 of the UN Charter may justify the violation of Article 2(4) as it allows a state to practice use-of-force when acting in self-defence, by keeping this in mind, it can be said that it is still possible that United States is defending itself against Al-Qaeda through drone attacks in Pakistan, as it is believed that they are taking refuge in FATA.17 The final case behind the legality of drone strikes is self-defence against the Pakistani state, and this can only be done if it is proven that the Pakistani state is helping the Taliban in the FATA region, and also through:
“The International Court of Justice held that a state that suffers an armed attack by irregular forces from the territory of another state shall ‘attribute the armed attack to [the] state”.
But this is only possible if there is an existing relationship between the militants and the Pakistani state. This is obviously not the case, as Pakistan has been doing an operation known as Zarb-e-Azb in one of the tribal regions of FATA since 2014, and has killed more than 3,400 militants.
The detailed analysis of legality of drone strikes makes it easy to understand why it is a problem for International Law. The post 9/11 era opened a door to a lot of new political agendas, like the introduction of the US National Security Strategy of 2002, allowing United States to act pre-emptively “against a threat that may possibly emerge in the future”. And also the justification of United States using drone attacks is based on the argument of “preemptive attack against non-state actors”, even though they have never referred to their exercise of right of self-defence as allowed by Article 51 in the Security Council. The non-state actors operating in Pakistan are matter of the Pakistani state itself, and it would be reasonable if Pakistan was a ‘failed state’ or did not have the military capability, whereas Pakistan has the sixth largest army in the world. A point that should not be ignored here is that Pakistani government is often strong-armed by United States, and they usually have to oblige to what the American administration instructs because Pakistan receives financial assistance from it, and also U.S. has a strong diplomatic influence on Pakistan too, as it can use the Security Council to put pressure on Pakistan. United States also demanded Pakistan to collaborate with it on war against terrorism, or else prepare to be bombed back to the Stone Age.
To put it in a nutshell, are these drone strikes a solution for terrorism in the region? It seems so it is not as it is being counterproductive for Pakistan. The strikes have certainly destabilized the position of Al-Qaeda; but with them becoming fragile, it created a vacuum of power which is then filled by other terrorist organizations, like Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, which poses an even bigger threat to the Government of Pakistan. Hence, United States “has weakened its principal enemy, Al-Qaeda, but only at the cost of earning a new set of enemies”. Another issue to address is that the drone strikes contradicts with American strategic goal of increasing the legitimacy of the Pakistani government, because the attacks decline the position of Pakistani government in international and domestic realm, causing it to lose its legitimacy and sovereignty among its people and also in the international community. It can be concluded that with drone strikes, United States is creating more terrorists in the region and damaging the position of the Pakistani government. United States and Pakistan should find a common ground and a legal way to address this issue, as they already have a consensus on war against terrorism; both states need to come up with a way which is less counter-productive and has a more concrete end result compared to drone attacks, otherwise Pakistan may have to face the results of these counterproductive acts.