´Pakistan: The Militant Jihadi Challenge´, hrw

Pakistan: The Militant Jihadi Challenge

Asia Report N°164
13 March 2009

The recent upsurge of jihadi violence in Punjab, the Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP), the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan’s provincial capital, Quetta, demonstrates the threat extremist Sunni-Deobandi groups pose to the Pakistani citizen and state. These radical Sunni groups are simultaneously fighting internal sectarian jihads, regional jihads in Afghanistan and India and a global jihad against the West. While significant domestic and international attention and resources are understandably devoted to containing Islamist militancy in the tribal belt, that the Pakistani Taliban is an outgrowth of radical Sunni networks in the country’s political heartland is too often neglected. A far more concerted effort against Punjab-based Sunni extremist groups is essential to curb the spread of extremism that threatens regional peace and stability. As the international community works with Pakistan to rein in extremist groups, it should also support the democratic transition, in particular by reallocating aid to strengthening civilian law enforcement.

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The Pakistani Taliban, which increasingly controls large swathes of FATA and parts of NWFP, comprises a number of militant groups loosely united under the Deobandi Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that have attacked not just state and Western targets, but Shias as well. Their expanding influence is due to support from long-established Sunni extremist networks, based primarily in Punjab, which have served as the army’s jihadi proxies in Afghanistan and India since the 1980s. Punjab-based radical Deobandi groups like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) and its offshoot Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) provide weapons, recruits, finances and other resources to Pakistani Taliban groups, and have been responsible for planning many of the attacks attributed to FATA-based militants. The SSP and LJ are also al-Qaeda’s principal allies in the region.

Other extremist groups ostensibly focused on the jihad in Kashmir, such as the Jaish-e-Mohammed and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, are also signatories to al-Qaeda’s global jihad against the West, and have been active in local, regional and international jihads. Their continued patronage by the military, and their ability to hijack major policy areas, including Pakistan’s relations with India, Afghanistan and the international community, impede the civilian government’s ongoing efforts to consolidate control over governance and pursue peace with its neighbours.

The actions of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-led federal government, and the Punjab government, led until recently by Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), against Punjab-based jihadi groups for their role in November’s attack in India’s commercial capital, Mumbai, are a step in the right direction. They must now be followed up by consolidating the evidence and presenting it in court. The two main parties, however, risk reversing the progress they have made by resorting to the confrontational politics of the past. On 25 February 2009, the Supreme Court decided to uphold a ban, based on politically motivated cases dating back to Musharraf’s military rule, on Nawaz Sharif and his brother, Shahbaz, Punjab’s chief minister, from electoral politics. President Asif Ali Zardari’s subsequent imposition of governor’s rule in Punjab has aggravated a political stalemate between the two main parties that, the longer it lasts, will allow non-democratic forces, including the military, the religious right and extremists, to once again fill the political vacuum.

The aftermath of the Mumbai attack presents an opening to reshape Pakistan’s response to terrorism, which should rely not on the application of indiscriminate force, including military action and arbitrary detentions, but on police investigations, arrests, fair trials and convictions. This must be civilian-led to be effective. Despite earlier successes against extremist groups, civilian law enforcement and intelligence agencies, including the Federal Investigation Agency, the provincial Criminal Investigation Departments, and the Intelligence Bureau, lack the resources and the authority to meet their potential. The military and its powerful Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) still dominate – and hamper – counter-terrorism efforts.

The PPP government cannot afford to enforce the law only in response to a terrorist attack or external pressure. Proactive enforcement will be vital to containing religious militancy, which has reached critical levels; this includes checks on the proliferation of weapons and the growth of of private militias, which contravene the constitution; prosecution of hate speech, the spread of extremist literature and exhortations to jihad; greater accountability of and actions against jihadi madrasas and mosques; and ultimately converting information into evidence that holds up in court. It is not too late to reverse the tide of extremism, provided the government immediately adopts and implements a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of religious militancy.

Unfortunately, on 16 February 2009, NWFP’s Awami National Party (ANP)-led government made a peace deal, devised by the military, with the Swat-based Sunni extremist Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), a militant group allied to the Taliban. The government agreed to impose Sharia (Islamic law) in NWFP’s Malakand region, with religious courts deciding all cases after 16 February 2009; dismantle all security checkpoints and require any military movements to be pre-approved by the TNSM; and release captured militants, including those responsible for such acts of violence as public executions and rape. In return, the militants pledged to end their armed campaign.

This accord, an even greater capitulation to the militants than earlier deals by the military regime in FATA, will if implemented entrench Taliban rule and al-Qaeda influence in the area; make peace more elusive; and essentially reverse the gains made by the transition to democracy and the defeat of the military-supported religious right-wing parties in NWFP in the February 2008 elections. With the Swat ceasefire already unravelling, the federal government should refuse presidential assent required for its implementation, and renew its commitment to tackling extremism and realising long-term political reform in the borderlands.

The international response to the Swat deal has so far been mixed, with several key leaders, including U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, viewing it as an acceptable compromise. Acknowledging the failure of unconditionally supporting the Pakistani military, the international community, particularly the U.S., must reverse course and help strengthen civilian control over all areas of governance, including counter-terrorism, and the capacity of the federal government to override the military’s appeasement policies in FATA and NWFP, replacing them with policies that pursue long-term political, economic and social development.


To the Government of Pakistan:

1.  Acknowledge that a credible crackdown on jihadi militants will ultimately require convictions in fair trials and take steps to:

a) vest significantly greater authority in civilian law enforcement agencies, including access to mobile phone records and other data, without having to obtain approval from the military and the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI);

b) establish through an act of parliament a clear hierarchy of civilian intelligence agencies, including the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the provincial Criminal Investigation Departments and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), with the IB as the primary authority in anti-terrorism investigations;

c) strengthen links between law enforcement agencies and prosecutors to build strong cases in court against religious extremists;

d) enhance the capacity of federal and provincial civilian law enforcement agencies, with a particular focus on forensics capabilities and crime scene investigations; establish national and provincial crime labs with modern equipment and internationally trained scientists, under control of the federal interior ministry and provincial home departments;

e) amend the Criminal Procedure Act to establish a witness protection program, and ensure the highest level of security for anyone agreeing to provide valuable testimony against extremists; and

f) enhance the role and guarantee the autonomy of Community Police Liaison Committees to enlist the public in the fight against militancy.

2.  Take robust action against jihadi militant groups and their madrasa networks, including:

a) disbanding private militias, pursuant to Article 256 of the constitution;

b) disrupting communications and supply lines, and closing base camps of jihadi groups in the tribal belt and the political heartland of Punjab; and

c) enhancing oversight over the madrasa sector, including finances and enrolment, and conducting regular inquiries into the sector by provincial authorities, as recently conducted by the Punjab government, with a view to:

i. identifying seminaries with clear links to jihadi groups, closing them and taking action against their clerics and, where appropriate, students;

ii. keeping any seminaries suspected of links with jihadi groups under close surveillance;

iii. taking legal action where seminaries encroach on state or private land; and

iv. ensuring that accommodation and facilities meet proper safety and building standards.

3.  Prosecute anyone encouraging or glorifying violence and jihad, including through hate speech against religious and sectarian minorities, and the spread of jihadi literature.

4.  Acknowledge that political reform is integral to stabilising FATA and NWFP by:

a) invoking Article 8 of the constitution that voids any customs inconsistent with constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights, refusing to sign the Nizam-e-Adl Regulation Order 2009 for the imposition of Sharia (Islamic law) in the Malakand region, and refrain from entering into similar peace deals with religious militants elsewhere;

b) carrying through on its commitment to repeal the Frontier Crimes Regulations (1901), extending the writ of the state, the rule of law, including the courts and police, and ensuring FATA’s representation in the state legislature;

c) integrating FATA into the federal framework by incorporating it into the Northwest Frontier Province, with the seven agencies falling under the executive control of the province and jurisdiction of the regular provincial and national court system and with representation in the provincial assembly;

d) extending the Political Parties Act to FATA, thus removing restrictions on political parties, and introducing party-based elections for the provincial and national legislatures;

e) refraining from arming and supporting any insurgent group or tribal militia, and preventing the army from doing the same; and

f) relying on civilian law enforcement and intelligence as the primary tool to deal with extremism in FATA, limiting the army’s role to its proper task of defending the country’s borders.

5.  Repeal all religious laws that discriminate on the basis of religion, sect and gender.

6.  Resolve the political crisis between the PPP and the PML-N by ending governor’s rule and respecting the PML-N’s elected mandate in Punjab, and agreeing on a political and legal solution to allow for Nawaz and Shahbaz Sharif to participate in electoral politics, either through an act of parliament, or an executive order.

7.  Carry through on its commitment to repeal the 17th Amendment to the constitution, and any constitutional provisions, executive orders and laws that contravene the principles of parliamentary democracy.

To the International Community, in particular the U.S. and the European Union:

8.  Provide financial and logistic support to civilian law enforcement agencies to expand their capacity, including in forensics and crime scene investigations, through provision of modern equipment and training of Pakistani scientists.

9.  Condition military assistance on demonstrable steps by the Pakistani armed forces to support civilian efforts in preventing the borderlands from being used by al-Qaeda, Afghan insurgents and Pakistani extremists to launch attacks within Pakistan and from Pakistani territory to its region and beyond; if the Pakistani military does not respond positively, as a last resort, consider targeted and incremental sanctions, including travel and visa bans and the freezing of financial assets of key military leaders and military-controlled intelligence agencies.

10.  Expand assistance to the hundreds of thousands of civilians displaced by the conflict in FATA and Swat.

Islamabad/Brussels, 13 March 2009