The Challenge of Countering Violent Extremism in Pakistan

Published in Hilal English May 2017

Written By: Dr. Minhas Majeed

Violence is mostly understood and associated with religious extremism despite the fact that it has many shapes and forms – and all need to be condemned and countered. This is more so when a Muslim commits an act of violence, which as a result is associated with Islam. The widespread violent extremism in the Muslim world and the individuals or groups involved in or supporting violence has been a subject of interest for policy makers and practitioners. Unfortunately, there is dearth of comprehensive approach to explore the drivers of violent extremism in the Muslim World.
It is an accepted fact that terrorists in their anxiety for validation and justification cite religion – Islam – for justifying their acts of violence. Frustration with the local and global political milieu, besides ideologically motivated thoughts is behind violent actions. Additionally, in many cases, shared dedication to a particular vision about how a society ought to be organized and moral justification for it, bring violent extremists together.


countervoilentext.jpgAt present, besides terrorism, the phenomenon of violent extremism, in the form of religious, sectarian and ethnic strife is a major challenge that Pakistan faces today. In recent years, the incidence of violent extremism by terrorist organizations and their linkages to hostile foreign agencies are not only disrupting the social fabric but also adversely affecting national economy and development. Moreover, Pakistan is also facing the effects of crises in Syria, Yemen and other sectarian conflict-prone sub-regions in the Middle East.

Since independence, Pakistan has seen phases of diverse but inter-related conflicts of all sorts, resulting in violence. Pakistan endures the most of ethnic, sectarian and religious radicalisation that is aided by both internal and external actors who are not only providing a narrative but also funding for both religious and non-religious militancy. However, the intensity of violent extremism has increased manifold since Pakistan’s alliance with the U.S. in the WoT as it has deeply shakened the social fabric of society.

The rise of terrorism after 9/11 has badly affected the security situation in Pakistan. Pakistan has suffered a great deal in terms of lives, economic opportunities and has also borne damages to schools, hospitals and other infrastructural facilities. However, the yearly losses from terrorism declined in 2014-15 by a third to U.S. $4.5 billion, in part due to military operations in tribal areas and the Karachi Operation.


However, the global image of Pakistan is largely defined by the misperceptions about its role in international terrorism. Pakistan has been rejecting these allegations, insisting on the role of foreign interferences in its territory resulting in disorder, which unfortunately, has been ignored by international community. These concerns were raised when Pakistan shared three dossiers with the UN, carrying evidences about Indian interference in Balochistan, FATA and Karachi to fuel ethnic and religious violence.


Sandwiched between Afghanistan and India, Pakistan is a geo-strategically important country in the South Asia. With its strategic importance for the U.S. and the rest of the world, Pakistan can play a constructive role with regard to CVE (countering violent extremism). Pakistan’s importance and its stance on countering violent extremism was highlighted in an article in Forbes as:

Pakistan has the potential to be a global turnaround story, and that the U.S. will need to view Pakistan not as a problem to be solved but as a potential partner. Because the Western headlines on Pakistan today gloss over the progress on the security front, the increased political stability, and incremental progress on the economic front. In spite of this potential for Pakistan, it continues to suffer from a terrible country brand that has not caught up with realities on the ground. Pakistan’s improving security dynamic is the first change to note. What has not sunk into international perceptions about the country is the tangible consensus among government, military, and Pakistani citizens against violent terrorists including the Pakistani Taliban and the alphabet soup of other terrorist groups in and around the country.

Despite heavy losses, Pakistan has remained committed to eliminating terrorism and violent extremism. Considering the factors contributing to violent extremism, countering it is a huge task that not only depends on the intent of government of Pakistan but also on international support.

Realising that violent extremism in all its manifestations poses a serious threat to national harmony in Pakistan, the Government made an effort to apply a comprehensive CVE strategy. This strategy can be said to have adopted an international model of CVE, i.e., of engagement and de-radicalisation on one hand, and counter-radicalisation in the form of use of force, on the other. Pakistan’s CVE policy is two pronged: de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation. Rehabilitation programmes for indoctrinated youth are introduced under the supervision of Pakistan Army. Similar programmes are introduced in parts of the Punjab, some supervised by Counter Terrorism Department, others are conducted in collaboration with some non-governmental organizations.

Pakistan’s National Assembly passed the National Counter-Terrorism Authority Bill in 2013. Taking another step on February 25, 2014, Pakistan announced its first ever National Internal Security Policy (NISP) based on three elements: 1) dialogue with all stakeholders; 2) isolation of terrorists from their support systems and; 3) enhancing deterrence and capacity of security apparatus to neutralise the threats to internal security of Pakistan.

Of capital importance is the decision to launch Operation Zarb-e-Azb on June 15, 2014, in the tribal areas and recently Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad on February 22, 2017. These operations are proving to be successful in debasing and dismantling the organisational structure of militant outfits active in different parts of the country including FATA. It helped in improving the security situation inside the country and provided space for better regional coordination to counter-terrorism and promote stability in the region.

Another step to counter the violent extremism was initiation of National Action Plan (NAP) after the brutal attack on Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. The 20 point NAP very clearly defines the government’s counter-radicalism and counter-terrorism strategy. Various steps including raising a counter-terrorism force, conviction of the terrorists through military courts and reformation of criminal system were suggested in NAP. To counter violent extremism of all shades, madrasah reforms and scrutinising of religious material were made necessary to prevent the spread of hate speech and material. FATA reforms, issue of Afghan refugees, Balochistan reconciliation and taking the Karachi Operation to its logical conclusion were the other major steps that NAP vows to accomplish. However, the general perception is that the military component of NAP has been implemented efficaciously and there is a strong expectation that civilian aspect of the NAP be flashed out and operationalised. This would help the government to deal with the threat of violent extremism.

The government’s decision of zero tolerance with regard to hate speech and fanning of sectarianism is a step in the right direction but it is to be implemented fully and comprehensively. Moreover, auditing of madaris accounts and transfer of their fund through banks will go a long way in monitoring of madaris. In addition, the efforts of the government to block terrorists' funding through Hawala and Hundi have proved successful. Statistically speaking, the past two years showed positive trends from a security perspective as a downward trend was noted in the number of overall incidents of violence.


Realising that violent extremism in all its manifestations poses a serious threat to national harmony in Pakistan, the Government made an effort to apply a comprehensive CVE strategy. This strategy can be said to have adopted an international model of CVE, i.e., of engagement and de-radicalisation on one hand, and counter-radicalisation in the form of use of force, on the other. Pakistan’s CVE policy is two pronged: de-radicalisation and counter-radicalisation. Rehabilitation programmes for indoctrinated youth are introduced under the supervision of Pakistan Army. Similar programmes are introduced in parts of the Punjab, some supervised by Counter Terrorism Department, others are conducted in collaboration with some non-governmental organizations.

The growing radicalism leading to violent extremism calls for strengthening of internal security based on mutual consensus of all stakeholders. It is because the major hurdle for Pakistan in tackling this menace is weak governance. Good governance will help in building institutions besides bringing systematic unity among all relevant institutions and society as a whole. It will also help in bringing political and economic stability, a prerequisite to meet external challenges.

All the factors discussed are interdependent, which need to be addressed as it is in the interest of Pakistan to grow economically and politically. To tackle the menace, it is the responsibility of civil, political and religious leadership to refute the notion that terrorist groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda or Taliban represent Islam, because it is a misrepresentation that holds the terrorist narrative. If such ideas are not contested and condemned, extremist groups will continue to regroup no matter how many terrorists are eliminated.

It is important to introduce political, economic and educational reforms and take bold initiatives to prevent future threats. It is an accepted fact that investing in education and socio-economic development can lead to development and stability and hence a peaceful and harmonious society.

We, as Muslims, have to put our own house in order. Unless we devalue the notion that the West is at war with Islam, we will become fodder for extremists’ propaganda and will never be able to address our own problems. In nutshell, there is no magic bullet to cure the problem, but we must continue our quest for a peaceful harmonious society by investing in education and socio-economic development.


The writer is Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations at University of Peshawar, Pakistan.

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Fighting for Peace

Published in Hilal English May 2015

Written By: Lt Col Muhammad Azam

(The story of brave troops of FC Balochistan who killed a wanted terrorist, Usman SaifUllah Kurd in an action in Quetta)

It was business as usual in Quetta. People were preparing to move out for routine works on a cold morning of February 15, 2015. Streets were filled with the people early in the morning as part of the local Baloch culture. In the same hustle and bustle, somewhere in the Headquarters of Frontier Corps (FC) Balochistan, troops were gearing up to move to Sariab Road – a busy place located in the southern part of Quetta City. An intelligence based information had indicated presence of a high value target in Sariab area – one of the most wanted member of banned organization, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), Usman Saifullah Kurd.

The matter merited quick planning and preparation. But such situations weren't new for the brave men of FC Balochistan, who, a number of times before had been into such kind of situations. Parties were immediately formed and mission was explained by the respective commanders to the troops. Troops moved to the location from different directions. The action had begun.

In a local hotel on Sariab Road, people were consuming their routine meal. Among them were also Usman Saifullah Kurd and his two associates, who were having their food. Troops surrounded the area and began a quick search operation. The elusive nature of the target and lack of time warranted a bold action, leaving no space for any error.

Troops were given orders to move in the hotel to nab Kurd. Upon seeing the troops entering the hotel and spotting the danger, he and his associates resorted to indiscriminate firing. As a result, a bullet struck Sepoy Abdul Wahid’s leg while another bullet made way to Sepoy Kamran ud Din’s left shoulder. Despite heavy fire by the terrorists, the brave troops responded back and as a result, all three militants were killed on the spot. This timely action of FC Balochistan not only led to the elimination of top LeJ terrorist and his accomplices, but also sent a strong message about the commitment of security forces to the cause of uprooting terrorism.

Killing of Usman Saifullah Kurd indicates a firm resolve of security forces to take action against all terrorist outfits that had let loose a reign of terror in different parts of Pakistan for over a decade now. Kurd was wanted for his involvement in 36 high profile cases of terrorism including suicide attacks and bombing at Shia mosques in Quetta and other areas of Balochistan. He was also known to be the mastermind of January 30, 2015, Imam-Bargah blasts in Lakhi Dar area of Shikarpur (Sindh) in which 58 people had been killed.

Kurd’s killing was welcomed by all segments of the society who look for the peace to return and are against terrorism. Following his killing, the sectarian attacks in Quetta and its surroundings have considerably been reduced and people have taken a sigh of relief.


Counter Violent Extremism and the Path to Reintegration

Published in Hilal English May 2017

Written By: Abdullah Khan

Reintegration of militants into the national fold is an uphill but essential task that the State of Pakistan has to accomplish. Majority of the militants fighting against us are our own citizens. We need to think seriously about how to bring those who fell in the hands of terrorist organizations back and reintegrate them into the society. The first step is to develop realization that these are our own citizens who fell in wrong hands because of various factors. Ownership of the mistakes and our citizen will lead us to the right direction.

There are several aspects of a possible reintegration program. Unless we develop customized policies and subsequent action plans for every aspect mentioned in coming paragraphs, the overall program of reintegration cannot become productive and result oriented in the long run. Following are some of the aspects our State will have to take into account while planning for a policy of reintegration of militants.

• Strategic Aspect: There are two schools of thought who blame state policies for promoting violent extremism. One school of thought believes that more than required role of religion in state as well as national affairs and Pakistan’s participation in Afghan jihad against the USSR are the major reasons for promoting religious extremism and subsequent terrorism in the country. The other school of thought believes that current wave of militancy started after 9/11 because of sudden U-turn by Pakistani state from certain policies and state’s alleged patronage of activities taking people away from religion. Although both point of views are identically opponent to each other but they have a common factor and that is Pakistan’s alliance with the United States. If siding with U.S. becomes root cause of promotion of extremism in our society then we need to do some cost-benefit analysis of our defence ties with the super power. Improvement in defence ties with Russia and investment coming through China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) provides us an opportunity to lessen if not completely end our defence reliance and financial dependence on the U.S. Unless we set our strategic direction right and fix the mistakes we have made no plan of national reintegration of militants can yield long term sustainable results.


• Ideological Aspect: Militant groups fighting against the state can be classified into four categories:
a. Anti-State based on religion and foreign sponsored (TTP, Jamat-ul-Ahrar, Lashkar-e-Islam etc.)
b. Sectarian groups (Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Sipa-e-Muhammad etc.)
c. Anti-State secular groups (BLA, BLF, BRF etc.)
d. Proxies of political parties (Lyari War Gangs, militant wing of political parties etc.)

Every category has different set of ideological tools to motivate their fighters. Militants have to be detached from their ideology before they can be merged back into the main society. Especially the militants motivated by religion need special attention as religion plays a major role in their recruitment and motivation. Most of the militant attacks and subsequent deaths in Pakistan occurred in attacks perpetrated by militants motivated by religion.

• Financial Aspect: Although militants have people from rich to poorer to the poorest but majority comes from poor class in Pakistan’s context with low education rate, almost no job opportunities, and least exposure to the modern world. When some or more of them will be ready to shun violence, we as a nation need to have sustainable financial plans for them so that they are not hijacked again by their respective militant groups.

• Social and Societal Aspect: Those militants who will be selected for reintegration into national folds, their families and relatives need to be taken on board, too. Generally, more than one person from a family is found infected with extremist ideology, however, one or two become hardcore militants while others provide them moral and financial support. For reintegration of a militant, the strategy needs to incorporate requirements of whole family. Even if none of the family member other than the militant subscribes to the militant ideology, the family can play a crucial role in persuading the militant to denounce violence and come back to normal life. Families can be encouraged to report activities of ex-militants and they need to have a trust in the system that any such thing will not create any trouble for them and it will actually be helpful to keep their loved ones away from extremist groups.

Also, one cannot overlook bitter reality that the militants supposed to be integrated into the national fold remained members of such organizations who are involved in killing thousands of Pakistani citizens. It is a tough question that whether society will accept them or not. Any reintegration plan needs to be backed by the society. Sensitivities of the society need to be taken into consideration and incorporated into national reintegration policy.

• Legal Aspect: Any reintegration policy needs to be within the legal framework of the country. Are we going to reintegrate those who were involved in killing of our citizens and law demands they must be tried in the court of law? However, there is a counter argument that if we do not detach them from militancy they can kill more citizens. Those who are known for killing and are wanted in cases of murder cannot, and should not, get away with their crimes. Such elements may not get absolute amnesty; however, State can lure them with lesser degree of sentences from court in case they surrender.

There are also militants who may have or may in future complete their prison terms. There should be a policy for them as well, as they should not fall back in the hands of militant organizations.

• Constitutional Aspect: Any reintegration program will be within the framework of constitution. Those who want to come back will have to accept Pakistan’s constitution. It is a matter of fact that Pakistan’s constitution is the best reply to militant’s narrative but unfortunately never properly presented and promoted in that context. Our constitution sets absolute sovereignty of Allah, the Almighty and no law can be promulgated against Quran and Sunnah. No logic or argument can stand in front of the fact that picking up arms against Pakistan cannot be justified by any valid teachings of Islam. Thus, Islamic aspects of our constitution need to be highlighted and presented as counter argument to those who commit Takfeer in our State and justify violence in that pretext.

Any reintegration program will also need constitutional cover so that no upcoming government reverses the program for any reasons. Any such move can endanger lives of those officials who will be associated with the program. Any reversal can also make future peace process difficult to the impossible extent.

Any reintegration of militants will definitely be in DDR order (Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration). However, question is that should Pakistan target groups or individuals for reintegration? In case of individuals, it will be simply disarmament and reintegration process. While involving groups will be a complex and least productive approach in Pakistan’s context. For the time being militant groups are less likely to join a peace process for a variety of reasons. One of the sectarian extremist group Sipa-e-Sahaba (Jamat Ahl-e-Sunnat) has recently expressed its willingness to disband itself during a think tank’s activity. However, they are not operating as a militant group, thus reintegration of Sipa-e-Sahaba or Tehreek-e-Jafria does not fall in the domain of reintegration of militants. Their possible reintegration falls under reintegration of nonviolent extremist groups.

Therefore, instead of approaching to militant groups, Pakistan should approach foot soldiers and commanders of lower ranks. This will snatch base support from top leadership, which may eventually think to denounce violence in case State decides to accept them.

Role of the former militants can also play crucial role in motivating militants to denounce violence and get into the reintegration process. They can be presented as role models as well as hired to interact with those who have denounced violence and willing to come back but are skeptical of the prospects.

We have to realize the need to bring back our citizens who fell to deviant violent ideologies and traps. We have to devise a national reintegration program which has customized sub policies and action plans as per different categories of the militants. Any such program needs to take care of legal aspects as well as should have constitutional cover. The program must have backing of the society to be productive and sustainable.


The writer is Managing Director Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies. He is an expert on militancy and regional security. He tweets at


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Conduct of National Integrated Counter Terrorism Course

Report By: Lt Col Amjad Raza Khan

For the last decade or so Pakistan has remained a frontline state in war against terrorism. Pakistan paid the highest price in this war in terms of human life and resources, yet never flinched its claim on authority and writ of the state within its boundaries. While all Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) of the country are making best efforts to eliminate terrorism, their capacity building to respond to such wide spectrum of threat remains a challenge. Pakistan Army having hard earned combat experience in war against terrorism has evolved a comprehensive training regime and part of this advanced and specialized training is imparted at National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) Pabbi, near Mangla Cantonment.

This institution imparts specialized pre-induction training to Pakistan Army units earmarked for FATA and Swat. Under the same context, Pakistan Army offered the counter terrorism training services of NCTC to LEAs including Pakistan Air Force, Pakistan Navy, Defence Services Guards, Strategic Plans Division, Punjab Rangers, Frontier Corps KPK, Anti Narcotics Force and police forces of Punjab, KPK, Sindh, Balochistan, AJ&K and Islamabad. NCTC is organizing a series of national level integrated courses for LEAs/ other services, named as National Integrated Counter Terrorism Course (NICTC). The training is conducted under direct supervision of Kharian Division and Mangla Corps. Lt Gen Mian Hilal Hussain and Maj Gen Zafar-ul-Haq have been carrying out frequent visits of NCTC and have directly been monitoring the training activities. Two such courses have so far been organized at NCTC. First course was run from 2-21 March 2015, whereas second course was organized from 13 April - 9 May 2015.

Closing Ceremony of the NICTC-I was held on March 18, 2015. Gen Raheel Sharif, Chief of Army Staff graced the occasion as the chief guest. Closing ceremony of NICTC-II was held on May 7, 2015.

Overall three best trainees of both the courses and one best individual from each department was awarded medal with cash awards. Beside this, COAS also awarded a shotgun each to medal winners and Rs. 1 lac to overall best trainee.

  • Departments / organisations/ Services Trained at NCTC by Pak Army
  •  Pakistan Navy
  •  Pakistan Air Force
  •  Strategic Plans Division
  •  Pakistan Rangers (Punjab)
  •  Frontier Corps KPK
  •  Defence Services Guards
  •  Anti Narcotics Force
  •  Punjab Police
  •  KPK Police
  •  Sindh Police
  •  Balochistan Police
  •  AJ&K Police
  •  Islamabad Police

Training Objectives – NICTC

• To develop physical fitness and mental robustness of the participants.
• Develop instant reflex response to impromptu situation including crisis management.
• Improvement of weapon handling and firing skills.
• Develop understanding of entire spectrum of dynamic nature of threat.
• Learning to fight as buddy pair and small group.
• Develop clear understanding of various aspects of base/installation security.
• To develop skills to appreciate the terrain and use it to own advantage for cover and fire.
• Mastering the skills of fighting in Build Up Area.
• Proficiency in negotiating various obstacles and field craft.



At the start of each course, initial evaluation of trainees was carried out to gauge their proficiency level in firing, physical efficiency and theoretical knowledge. Majority of trainees were found wanting in these domains, however, towards the end of the courses, a remarkable improvement was assessed in all fields.




NICTC played a vibrant role in sharpening the basic combat skills of trainees required to combat terrorism. Trainees displayed a high standard of dedication, diligence and professional commitments throughout the course and enjoyed the pleasure of learning. They will surely become useful assets for their departments in implementation of National Action Plan (NAP) and prove their mettle, whenever needed. The environment and standard of training being imparted by Pakistan Army was highly appreciated by all LEAs and services. Consequently, frequent requests are being received by different institutions to run similar courses in future as well. The capacity building of LEAs and sister services is a sacred task, national obligation and the need of time. Pakistan Army and NCTC shall never be short of steps to support the implementation of NAP and continue to play its role by organizing such trainings in future as well.

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