Confronting terrorism - Ikram Sehgal

Part - II

Amendments to the Anti-terrorism Ordinance 2001 by Gen Musharraf in January 2002 included: (1) registration of religious schools (deeni madaris) bringing these under the mainstream educational system; (2) police reforms, including better training facilities and establishment of forensic laboratories, making them more effective and professional; (3) making border controls more effective by computerisation and use of machine-readable passports; and (4) banning extremist parties, including at least seven sectarian militant organisations and detaining their leaders. All very well on paper and making for good rhetoric, but why did we hesitate in implementing these?

Gen Musharraf’s ruling inner circle included Lt Gen Usmani and Lt Gen Mahmood, both closet jihadists and armchair warriors of the worst kind. Until he got rid of them he was powerless to curb terrorism and extremism. When he eventually did try, it was too little too late.

Huge amounts of money channelled into three concentric spheres support necessary logistics for terrorism: e.g., explosives, hideouts, travel and the search and observation of soft vulnerable targets. The consequences of this funding are death and murder. The terrorists in the inner-most circle are surrounded by a second wider circle of direct supporters, planners, commanders, religious personalities, etc., serving as their infrastructure. The third circle is of religious, educational and welfare organisations. In this tunnel vision, democracy is unthinkable and with minimum exposure to the outside world, their strength is derived from isolation of terrorists (and ignorance).

Operating mostly through mosques, madressahs and other religious establishments they spout a litany of hatred, lies and ignorance. The primary target to break this evil chain must be the second circle, where the lead is taken to blaming anyone and everyone within and outside the Muslim world for their miseries. Acting as guardians of the people they make sure that, rather than listen to the world outside, people look inwards and listen to the vicious propaganda of terror and incitement being dished out by the inner circle.

Desperate people do exist in different cultures and countries, but they do they have the capacity to provide anyone with explosives, reconnaissance and transportation as is done openly in Pakistan? Having developed a symbiotic relationship, all terrorist acts are not organised crime, and neither are all criminal acts terrorism. In most developing countries, terrorism exists along with varying levels of organised criminal activity: (1) The TTP aims to overthrow the existing government by altering the status quo of the prevailing system while organised crime aims to form a parallel government while coexisting with the existing one; (2) terrorism primarily uses violent means, organised crime prefers non-violence notwithstanding the odd resort to belligerence, mostly as “show of force”; and (3) while terrorism is driven purely by political objectives despite exploitation of regional, national and religious sentiments to achieve their ends, economic objectives are operational determinants of organised crime. Modern terrorists relying on well-funded mentors have no regard for human life.

Nations enter into conflict with the objective of ending it, the paradox being the very nature of the war will sometimes perpetuate the conflict. In Afghanistan the US war against terrorism meant to eradicate the Taliban has fuelled poppy cultivation and drug manufacturing and distribution. The Taliban benefit from the “taxes” collected from farmers, the drug laboratories and drug smugglers. Criminal networks proliferate and flourish along with a burgeoning arms and drug trade. Not only are “taxes” collected by warlords along the supply route but by any individual and/or entity wielding a gun having the capacity to influence the outcome of the confrontation favourably.

When Nato war material lands at Karachi, truck owners have to give “protection money” for passing through the city. This collection continues at various places right up to the border. Intercepted by either jihadis or criminal elements, some trucks/containers are set on fire and burned, some are looted by truck owners themselves, all in connivance with local police and paramilitary forces which take a “cut” for looking the other way. How else is there a thriving black market for Nato goods in Pakistan? Equipment at dirt cheap prices aside, one can even intermittently get Nato standard arms and ammunition. And once they enter Afghanistan, who do you think allows the containers through but the Taliban themselves – after collecting a “tax,” that is. In effect, Nato’s war efforts in Afghanistan and the supply from outside Afghanistan fuels the war effort, the perfect nexus between corruption, organised crime and terrorism.

The civilised world still has illusions that it is possible to enforce the rule of law in a totally lawless environment. No country has a law against cannibals eating citizens because such an act would be unthinkable, but it is time the world evaluated options of bringing the unthinkable into the statute books. Efforts to counter terrorism need creation and development of successive layers of defence against corruption and organised crime. Among the required capabilities will be the ability to: (1) detect people organised in terrorist activity and identify them, and have the capability of simultaneously monitoring their movements; (2) detect the money trail and the supply sources of explosive materials likely to be used: after all, the terrorists have to procure it from somewhere; (3) mobilise one’s defence capability to recognise and counter specific threats; (4) mobilise adequate and coordinated intelligence capability, utilising both human and electronic intelligence; (5) focus on air, sea, rail and road travel as potential terror targets; (6) guard the country’s frontiers: this may involve monitoring and observation of thousands of miles of borders; (7) those connected directly to the perpetrators and those who indirectly give sustenance must be targeted, including funds ostensibly meant for charity. Besides draining the country of its precious foreign exchange reserves, terrorist funding comes through foreign exchange dealers and “havalas.”

Terrorism must be the domain of certain law enforcement agencies, but it is presently beyond their capacity. What we need is a fully equipped independent force mandated to fight terrorism within the country. This Counter-Terrorism Force (CTF) must have its own personnel, equipment, mobility and intelligence potential drawn from the armed forces, law enforcement agencies, the customs and paramilitary forces. The proposed CTF should be developed on the pattern of the tremendously successful Anti-Narcotics Force (ANF) that almost eliminated poppy cultivation and drug smuggling. The nucleus of the ANF’s existing administrative, operational and intelligence structure can easily be converted into the CTF. With the politicians well aware that the CTF will cut into their corruption and, by default, organised crime, will they ever want a a CTF? And without a dedicated CTF we will conceivably keep on fighting terrorism for another hundred years.

There is no choice if we are to save ourselves, the future of our children and our country. We must fight against the combined nemesis endangering the basis of a civilised society. A multipronged, multi-dimensional SOS strategy must involve locally elected representatives to engage in dialogue at the grassroots level and go hand in hand with administrative, social and economic initiatives to root out corruption and organised crime.
(Concluding part of an article based on a talk on “the Nexus between Corruption, Organised Crime and Terrorism” some years ago at the NDU.)

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email:


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