Pakistani Parliament Adopts New Antiterrorism Framework

A World Food Program warehouse set on fire by alleged Taliban militants in Swat Valley’s Kanju region

October 24, 2008
By Abubakar Siddique


Moving away from the widely held position that their country has been dragged into a U.S. war, Pakistani lawmakers have adopted a new strategy to deal with the terrorist threat inside the country.

A resolution adopted unanimously by both houses of parliament on October 22 refers to terrorism as a “grown menace,” calls on the state to protect the lives of its citizens, and makes clear that civilian casualties in military operations are to be avoided.

In a thinly veiled reference to recent U.S. missile and drone attacks on suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda targets inside Pakistan, the resolution called on the country to “stand united against any incursions and invasions of the homeland,” and demanded that the government deal with such incidents “effectively.”

“I think this [resolution] is the voice of our people who wanted the formulation of such a strategy. That’s why, God willing, this will be implemented. This resolution is practical and it will be followed,” says Sayed Alla-ud-Din, a member of the governing Pakistan People’s Party who represents the Northwest Frontier Province in the National Assembly, the lower house of central parliament.

Alla-ud-Din tells RFE/RL he is optimistic about the implementation of the wide-ranging policy directions outlined in the resolution, as it has the backing of all political parties.

He says the year-old military operation against extremist fighters in his home district, Swat, is misguided and has essentially victimized everyday civilians.

“The military operation in Swat is moving in the wrong direction. Mostly innocent people are being killed in it,” he says. “There have been many incidents in which innocent people were killed. If a few Taliban are killed in such operations many more civilians are also killed. The way they conduct these operations is wrong and they need to come up with robust procedures [to avoid civilian casualties]. People are very worried about the prevailing situation as they endure enormous suffering.”

Will It Be Enough?

Rising militancy has become a worry not only domestically, but for Pakistan’s neighbors and the world at large. In an apparent effort to placate those fears, the resolution passed on October 22 declared that “Pakistan’s territory shall not be used for any kind of attacks on other countries, and all foreign fighters, if found, will be expelled from our soil.”

The statement is likely to be welcomed in both India and Afghanistan, Pakistan’s eastern and western neighbors, respectively, who have accused Islamabad of using Islamist militant militias as proxies to further its foreign policy agendas.

On October 22, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta held talks with his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi and the two agreed to work together to combat the extremism and militancy threatening to destabilize regional and global security.

For his part, Spanta tried to convince his hosts that India’s rising profile in Afghanistan should not be viewed as a threat to Pakistan. “Our determination is to take Afghanistan out of the tensions between India and Pakistan,” he said. “India is our friend. With Pakistan we have a lot of commonality. And with [its] current government, we have the best relations. We are very close to each other and we share a lot of values.”

Some Pakistan observers caution that while the parliamentary resolution might give the government a much-needed popular mandate to redirect a failing and deeply unpopular antiterrorism strategy, the militant threat in Pakistan has progressed to a point that the effort may prove to be too little too late.

In a letter to the main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif that was widely quoted in the Pakistani press, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani wrote on October 22 that the country’s “stability and survival” are at stake.

“The magnitude of the trauma our country faces is indeed great, and in many ways unprecedented. The very stability and survival of Pakistan is at stake. Our resources are overstretched and our economy is severely impacted by each bomb blast and each suicide attack. Innocent citizens, women, and children all suffer the deadly fallout of this conflict created by the traffickers of violence, misery, and devastation,” Gilani wrote.