For those with the motivation and skills to seek out objective evidence of the penetration and effectiveness of extremists and terrorists there is no shortage. That motivation rarely extends to the political cadres, whose unwise statements on the ‘eradication’ of terrorism occasionally litter the media. Thus it is that we should be thankful for organisations such as the Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) which has just issued a detailed report. As noted in these columns on many occasions terrorism and extremism are moving targets. They are in a constant and accelerated process of evolution — unlike many of the agencies tasked with countering them — and certainly unlike our government which is forever playing catch-up when it is not actively delusional.
The PIPS report is compiled from open-source material augmented with interviews and analysis by prominent and knowledgeable commentators. It shows a 16 per cent decline in terror attacks in 2017 which is the good news, the bad being that the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its franchises continue to be a potent threat and their influence is expanding, especially in northern Sindh. Following the TTP it is nationalist-insurgent groups that present the greatest threat, an assessment borne out by the patterns and severity of attacks. Islamic State has only claimed six attacks in 2017, but they were the deadliest. The numbers of people killed is down by 10 per cent but the numbers of attacks that originate cross-border have increased.
There are hints in the report that the government is beginning to stir at a policy level in response to the sophisticated threats it faces internally. There needs to be a revision of the National Action Plan — long overdue — and parliamentary oversight of a national counter-terrorism plan, the failure to develop which is perhaps the greatest deficit that attaches to NAP. There needs to be a better understanding of how global events impact on the national security with the churn in the Middle East and the Arab world to the fore. Also likely to impact on the security environment in 2018 is the Trump administration re-swinging of its geopolitical compass. Less bombast, more focused action required. Get to it please.