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Analysing Pakistan’s national security paradigm with NatSecJeff

Faran Jeffery, also known as NatSecJeff and FJ is considered to be amongst the most well-informed security analysts covering the AfPak region.

He serves as a director of the UK based Islamic Theology of Counter-Terrorism (ITCT) and has a deep insight into the psychology and dynamics of terrorist and extremist groups in Pakistan.

Faran Jeffery also known as FJ.

The Pakistan Daily had an in-depth conversation with FJ analysing Pakistan’s current security paradigm.

Hamza: What is the primary reason for the uptick in terrorist attacks against Pakistan?

FJ: There are several reasons behind the uptick in attacks against Pakistan in recent months. For starters, while Pakistan has carried out several successful counter-terrorism operations against terrorists, it has neglected the domain of counter-extremism. In fact, extremism has only grown in Pakistan in past 20 years. The state failed to take comprehensive domestic measures to roll back the extremist ideologies that are at play on the ground. The kind of attacks that TTP carries out against Pakistani security forces cannot be carried out without local informants and facilitators.

Ultimately, you have to work on the locals and stop the supply of ground soldiers to these militant groups. But in my opinion, the primary reason behind the uptick in attacks against Pakistan is the turn of events in Afghanistan. With the Taliban regime in power in Afghanistan, it’s not just the extremists in Pakistan and beyond that have been emboldened but it has also created problems with the Pakistani narrative on TTP. Pakistan will find it very hard to blame its problems with TTP on India now that India has no more consulates in Afghanistan at least for the time being. Another important thing to note is that due to TTP’s change in tactics, where it stopped targeting public places and concentrates almost all its attacks against security personnel, it has managed to once again find that appeal among many local extremists.

This is also one of the major reasons why TTP emir has been able to unite various other splinter groups under TTP banner. Some of these groups had defected from TTP in the past precisely due to their tactical disagreements with old TTP leadership when the group still used to target civilians.

All these factors and more have been playing a role in the rise in attacks against Pakistan.

Hamza: Do you have any information regarding any coordination between Baloch separatists and TTP?

FJ: There are some indications of some understanding and cooperation between TTP and some Baloch separatists who have linkages in Afghanistan. Some of these separatists and their families have been living in Afghanistan for a while and they have developed ties with other militant groups.

TTP has also featured the issues re Balochistan including missing persons in its propaganda which is released through Umar Media. Flags of some Baloch separatist groups have also made it to some TTP propaganda videos in the past. But it is worth noting that most Baloch separatists have ideologically very little in common with TTP except for their common hatred for Pakistani security institutions.

Hamza: Why do you think Baloch separatists have increased their attacks in recent days? Has there been an increase of their funding?

FJ: Baloch militant groups have increased their attacks in recent weeks most likely to keep Chinese investments away, especially when recently it was announced that Pakistan has agreed to pay compensation to the Chinese workers who were killed in the Dasu attack. This indicated that Chinese concerns were being addressed and that the collaborative work between the two will be continuing including in Balochistan.

This is certainly something that all Baloch militant groups oppose and hence the uptick in attacks. I don’t know if their funding has increased or not but they don’t require as much in funding as some think. But they certainly do have presence in Iran as well as in Afghanistan. When Taliban came to power, they made some arrests of Baloch militants in Nimruz. But it never became known what happened to them. I don’t have any information saying that they were handed over to Pakistan, so the question is what happened to them. The recent horrible attack in Kech which resulted in the deaths of 10 Pakistani soldiers was carried out by BLF, which has its HQ in Iran.

Baloch separatists that run their operations out of Iran do so with complete approval of IRGC – Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. So far Pakistan has not been very successful in convincing Iran to act against these groups and it is unlikely that Iran would willingly do so since these groups carrying out attacks in Pakistan from Iran means they’re not carrying out attacks in Iran, which is a win for Iran. People forget that Iran also has a large part of Balochistan and while there’s no serious Baloch insurgency in Iran’s part of Balochistan, the Baloch there are still not very happy with the Iranian regime and they have their own issues to deal with. So Iran would likely want these groups to keep the focus on Pakistan so that Iran doesn’t have to face a similar kind of insurgency in its own part.

Hamza: How do you view Pakistan’s newly released National Security Policy?

FJ: Pakistan’s newly released NSP is an encouraging document which puts Pakistani citizens at the core of Pakistan’s national security. This is something that some of us have long argued for, that you cannot have strong national security without investing on your own people and keeping them disenfranchised. But having said that, there are some questions and concerns that arise. A. If this is Pakistan’s first natsec policy, was Pakistan functioning for 70+ years without one? How is that possible? B. If this is a serious natsec policy, why does it have an expiry date of only four years? Of course it can be extended after that but 4 years is an extremely limited time period.

PM Imran Khan signs Pakistan’s National Security Policy. NSA Moeed Yusuf is on the PM’s right.

Effective natsec policies are based on calculations based on next 10 years at least. C. NSP contains a lot of good rhetoric but it does not give us any idea how exactly does Pakistani government plan on doing even half of those things? So, there’s a lot of talk but no visible plan or strategy on how to achieve any of that. To me, that’s problematic. D. When it comes to India, NSP supposedly tells us that Pakistan doesn’t want any conflict with India for the next 100 years. But how can that be when the policy expiry date is in 4 years? And when any future government in Pakistan can make major changes to it, especially considering Pakistan’s history of military coups.

All in all, I’d say NSP is a good baby step but it lacks the punch and doesn’t answer all our questions. Most importantly, it doesn’t offer any viable strategy on how to achieve any of the important objectives it talks about.

Hamza: Any comments on the recent civil-military relations and a possible divide?

FJ: Pakistan’s civil-military relations are once again the talk of the town and the sinking ship known as Imran Khan is about to hit the ocean bed. Many in Pakistan say that Mr Khan’s government was facilitated into power by the powerful military establishment. The so called one page mantra also helped establish this view in the initial period of Mr Khan’s government. But that honeymoon period is long over and now both sides don’t even share the same book, let alone the same page. Some of us who initially supported Mr Khan’s government in the initial first year jumped ship as soon as we realized that this ship has a huge hole in it.

But the perspective of the establishment was that Mr Khan would deliver especially on key issues like domestic governance, foreign policy, and so on and so forth. But Mr Khan not only failed to deliver on any of the key issues, his government actually managed to damage the things that were going pretty well before he showed up in the PM House. I’m talking about the foreign policy arena here. Mr Khan completely ignored the West and damaged Pakistan’s relations not just with the United States with his ‘absolutely not’ rhetoric but also with the Saudis, who have been one of the oldest allies of Pakistan. All this damage was done without making any gains elsewhere and in fact Pakistan is already paying the cost for these damages. The fantastical Turkey-Malaysia-Pakistan bloc never materialised and now President Erdogan is courting not only UAE but also Israel itself since Turkey, after the collapse of its economy, has also realized that there’s nothing to gain from creating an environment of hostility with important nations such as Israel, US, France and UAE.

Mr Khan also failed the Afghanistan test and took Pakistan into a dead end street. If there’s any U-turn Mr Khan should have taken, it should have been his stance on TTP and the Afghanistan war. But instead of taking a U-turn by taking the hint from General Bajwa’s famous “Taliban and TTP are two sides of the same coin” remark, Mr Khan continued on his old stance of talks and appeasement with religious extremists. He said that Taliban have broken the shackles of slavery at a time when Taliban were freeing TTP prisoners from Afghan jails. His government also missed the window of opportunity that presented itself around August-September when Taliban were running around Afghanistan too confused to figure out how to handle the whole country and when they still hadn’t deployed border battalions and the old ANDSF had already dissolved. Pakistan had the most amazing window of opportunity where it could have gone militarily into Afghanistan, taken hold of 4-5 km of territory from Durand Line, declared it a buffer zone and started building border fortifications.

Pakistan could have then gone to the international community and said that we are creating this temporary buffer zone because we have serious concerns about the militant takeover of Afghanistan and the presence of foreign terrorists on Afghan soil. The entire international community would have supported Pakistan and Pakistan in turn could have maintained this buffer zone for as long as necessary. This would have meant that whatever is going to happen would happen on Afghan soil, not inside Pakistan. It would have also made it easier for Pakistan to carry out limited Counter-Terrorism operations inside Afghanistan. This buffer zone could have been dismantled after 10 years or 20 years or whenever the threat of militancy from Afghanistan would have been deemed to be over. But instead of taking this route, Islamabad decided to instead lobby for Taliban even when all indications pointed towards an increase in TTP attacks, which is exactly what happened later.

So, whether it is the domestic arena or the arena of foreign policy and defense policy, Mr Khan’s government has failed to deliver and in some cases actually made things worse. And so now Mr Khan is very paranoid because he thinks that there’s a conspiracy taking place somewhere to oust him from the PM Office. Nobody can say for sure yet how accurate is his paranoia, but one thing’s for sure, it’s not just Pakistani public whose patience with Mr Khan has run out. It is also the Pakistani establishment that is maybe having buyer’s remorse in this case. Only time will tell how accurate is Mr Khan’s paranoia and whether he will complete his term or not.

Hamza: How do you view NSA Moeed Yusuf’s trip to Kabul?

FJ: Mr Moeed Yousuf’s trip to Afghanistan is, at least officially, meant to discuss issues like humanitarian aid. But a key issue in these talks is also going to be the cross-border terrorism from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s unwillingness to act against TTP. We have to keep in mind that this visit comes after Mr NSA finally admitted in a recent statement that Afghan soil was still being used against Pakistan, which is true.

The problem is that Pakistani officials are still unwilling to directly name Taliban as the main party responsible for TTP attacks against Pakistan. The regime is always held responsible when terrorism is carried out from its soil and it fails to act against it. When some smaller militant group fires rockets at Israel from Gaza, Israel holds Hamas responsible because it is Hamas that rules Gaza and therefore it is the responsibility of Hamas to make sure that no other group fires rockets at Israel. Similarly, in this case, it is really the Taliban that is now responsible for TTP’s terrorism in Pakistan. There are no two ways about this. Having said all of that, I would be very surprised if something concrete about TTP comes out of this visit of Mr NSA. Taliban are very unlikely to give up TTP because a group within Taliban sees TTP as the perfect trump card against Pakistan.

At this point, Pakistan has two main options. A. Continue its policy of appeasement of Taliban and try to handle the issue of TTP diplomatically with Taliban while also neutralising TTP militants on Pakistani soil and even on Afghan soil in covert operations. B. Take control of the situation itself and launch surgical strikes against TTP leadership in Afghanistan.

Right now both options are being discussed in Pakistani security circles and we shouldn’t be surprised that if diplomacy fails, Pakistan might carry out surgical strikes against TTP on Afghan soil in near future. But the second option will also likely invite some kind of retaliation from Afghan Taliban itself, and that’s something that also has to be considered in calculations. At the same time, it is also worth noting that covert assassination operations inside Afghanistan will have limited utility as long as TTP’s top leadership is safe, especially considering the jihadi ecosystem of AfPak region where there is no shortage of foot soldiers for militant groups. If Taliban didn’t face any shortage of foot soldiers, there’s no reason to expect that from TTP.

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