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EU Counter-Terror Strategy

By Imtiaz Gul

Weekly Pulse , Jan 27,2012

Is the European Union emerging out of the shadows of the United States on the terrorism and radicalization front? Probably yes; a high-level EU delegation recently held a series of meetings with a number of Pakistani stake-holders as part of the EU Counter-Terrorism (CT) strategy. The delegation wanted to explore possibilities of counter-terror cooperation.

During their interaction with officials as well as Pakistani intelligentsia, the EU delegates underlined the need for improving the human rights’ conditions, judicial reforms, law enforcement, and the need for a more legal-justice approach rather than a criminal justice approach. Reforms within the police as well as a comprehensive anti-terror law also constitute the expectations of foreign interlocutors as well as Pakistanis at large. 

The initiation of a formal Pakistan-EU Counter-Terrorism dialogue should augur well for parties. It also underscores the concern that the 27-member European organization has about this country of over 180 million. Until recently, and particularly in the aftermath of 9/11, most of the EU countries usually tagged along the United States policies and approaches on CT, counter-insurgency (CI) or counter-radicalisation (CR). Essentially, Washington leads and determines the direction of strategies in these areas. This has been the experience so far. 

That is why Pakistan remains skeptical of whether the EU can de-club itself from the pre-dominance of the USA as far as CT is concerned. 

Islamabad wants the EU to look at issues such as Afghan refugees and narcotics also as part of the counter-terror strategy for the simple reasons that: a) militants and terrorists in Afghanistan feed off the dividends that accrue from an estimated 50 billion dollar narco trade; and b) refugee camps remain a major source of terrorism in Pakistan with a number of cases having been traced to some of the refugee camps. 

Another concern for Pakistan is Afghanistan’s continued state and economy of war; Islamabad believes that until Afghanistan’s economy transitions from the war to a normal economy, with strong checks on the interplay of politics and narcotics, no CT strategy there can succeed, nor would it in any way contribute to return even of a semblance of normalcy. And this is what worries Pakistan, which believes that continued state-of-war in Afghanistan also bears debilitating consequences for Pakistan.

The United States, Pakistani officials maintain, shall have to drop the “expedience counter-terror approach” which at times co-opts even notorious drug runners. An estimated 50 billion narco economy also feeds the militancy and even if the dividends for the militants were ten percent, that means at least 500 million dollars. 

Such sources of money and ammunition supply must be plugged if one were to hope any success for the counter-terror strategy being pursued at the moment, say officials. 

A number of publications by western writers such as Sherard Cowper-Coles, ex British ambassador to Kabul, David Kilcullen, the Australian counter-insurgency expert, and David Milliband, former British foreign secretary, have underlined the realization that they need to chart their own way for dealing with the multiple crisis that countries such as Pakistan face. The primary reason for the rethink in European capitals is the hopeless circumstances in Afghanistan, and the spiral of terrorist violence in Pakistan. 

The EU CT strategy, hopefully, would look at the malaise and its roots, rather than treating the symptoms by clutching at potentially dangerous straws. The current US-NATO CT strategy in Afghanistan, for instance, largely rests on kill-capture operations. That is why the social sector foreign spending in that country in the last decade has been abysmally low - at least ten times less than that spent on CT operations.

Pakistan has its own problems too; the police and the (lower) judiciary require massive reforms. The latter is the universally acknowledged primary tool for fighting terrorists and insurgents in urban centres, while courts are the ultimate noose for those being hunted. That basically means that without adequate funding, a supportive legal framework (human rights’ compatible anti-terror laws), well-equipped police, competent and fearless judiciary, and certainty of enforcement of punishments, no CT or CI strategy stands a chance of success.

Unless these strategies take into account the social fabric of a society, and critically assess the socio-historical intellectual content that members of that society grow up with (mindset), success of a CT or CI strategy will remain questionable. Finding a remedy for radicalization of minds or putting well-entrenched defenses against terrorist forces cannot happen in isolation of a socio-political that is the direct product of the anti-Soviet Russian jihad and the adverse impact it has had on the minds of the majority of Pakistanis.

The impact is not restricted to common Pakistanis alone, though. Let us consider the following quote by one of the senior-most bureaucrats in Peshawar during a recent personal interview.

“Unless we become good Muslims, it would be difficult to fix our problems, we must go back to Islam.”

This statement came from an otherwise brilliant career officer, and it literally stunned me. His recipe for the way out of our current problems – becoming good Muslims – sounds noble but hardly practical in view of the present day realities. Obviously there is nothing wrong in being a good Muslim, but the tragedy of the indoctrination in the past three decades or so is that even highly educated and sound officers such as the one mentioned above tend to equate Muslimhood with rule of law and constitutionalism. That also means confusing faith with governance and rule of law i.e. considering faith as the panacea for all administrative, judicial and social ills of the society. The socio-political movements in Europe in the 18th century did manage to draw a line between religious faith and the political governance, but this challenge in countries such as Pakistan remains formidable. And any CT or CI strategy shall have to factor in this complex Pakistani context- also linked with events in Afghanistan.

Imtiaz Gul is the Executive Director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies, and is currently a Fellow of International House of Japan/Japan Foundation, Tokyo

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk