In a much-anticipated (and overdue) move, the government of Punjab has authorised Rangers to participate in targeted counter-terrorism operations across the “sensitive” regions of Punjab. This move, now acknowledged by the government of Punjab, has come at the heels of “directions” issued by the Prime Minister and the Army Chief, in order to accelerate counter-terrorism activities in the wake of the deadly Quetta attacks last month.

According to initial reports, Punjab Rangers will be engaged for a period of two months in the first phase, and an extension in their operation period may be granted, as necessary.

Over the past several years (at least since taking over the provincial administration in 2008) the PML(N) government has continued to deny that regions within Punjab are a hotbed for terrorist and militant activities across Pakistan. All the while, militants have been caught from different urban and rural regions of Punjab, including from its urban elite centers – faculty members and students from LUMS and Punjab University were apprehended for involvement with terrorist networks.

Simultaneously, it had been claimed by the PML(N) government in Punjab that a (tamed) provincial police force is more than sufficient to handle the small pockets of Punjab-centric terrorist elements. However, in April of this year, activities of Chotu gang, in the riverine area of southern Punjab, further exposed the weaknesses of the provincial law enforcement and civilian anti-terrorism agencies, making it clear that dealing with well-funded religious militancy was a far cry for Punjab Police.

As a result, the calling of Rangers to work “in tandem” with the CTD wing of Punjab Police, had become all but inevitable.

The real question, however, is: what precisely will be the scope of Rangers activities within Punjab? Will terrorism be confronted lock, stock and barrel? Or will we continue to be tied to ideas of ideological sympathies and strategic depths?

Terrorism, at least in the case of Pakistan, is a multi-headed dragon; one that cannot be killed with a single swing of the sword. Over the course of the last three decades, we have deluded ourselves as to how deep and entrenched the scrooge of terrorism festers in our society. Hiding behind the nomenclature of ‘sectarianism’, ‘provincialism’, ‘wahabism’, and a pristine image of noble ‘mujahideen’ fighters, we have avoided calling terrorists by their name. And for this reason, above all, we have struggled to devise and implement a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy that acknowledges the various heads of terrorism, and attempts to eradicate each on its own turf.

In broad strokes, terrorism activities in Pakistan can be bucketed into five distinct categories: 1) religious and ideological terrorism against the State of Pakistan; 2) religious sectarian terrorism; 3) militant outfits of political forces); 4) Cross border militant outfits; and 5) the apparatus of religious, social and ideological intolerance (e.g. Lal Masjid and other hate-spewing madrassahs).

Any talk of a comprehensive national counterterrorism strategy must incorporate a State and societal offensive against each of these categories.

After a long and murky history of duplicitous state policies and brittle political will, General Raheel Shareef’s command of the Army has provided meaningful resolve to take on terrorism through military operation as well as implement of the National Action Plan in letter and spirit. But this plan, for it to work, requires a deliberate and purposeful synchronization of military, police, legislature, judiciary, and the society.

Some of the work has already been done. Through a tweaking of The Anti-Terrorism Act, 1997, promulgation of The Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014, and finally passing of the 21st Constitutional Amendment (along with amendments in the Army Act, 1952), the legislature has provided a sufficient framework for apprehending, trying, and convicting members of militant organizations.

However, laws alone cannot result in convictions. So long as the judicial arm releases whomever the executive apprehends, the stringency of our legislative instruments would be rendered meaningless. Consequently, as part of a deliberate counterterrorism initiative, the judiciary must play its role to evolve fresh standards of conviction pertaining to terrorism cases. The archaic evidentiary standards (such as eyewitness testimony), which borrow from precedents of common law as well as canons of orthodox religion, can no longer be used to decide cases of modern day terrorism. In an age where a terrorist event is planned in one jurisdiction, financed through the second, and executed in the third, by disjointed train of actors, it would be virtually impossible to render convictions against terrorist masterminds, while applying the same standards that are used to try Allah Ditta for a local village squabble. Furthermore, in a society where members of terrorist organization have seeped into our rural and urban centers, it has become impossible to bring forth witnesses to testify against those brandishing a gun.

For now, the enactment of Military Courts, which have been sanctified by the Supreme Court in its judgment on the 21st Constitutional Amendment, might serve as a temporary solution for convicting terrorists. But this is only a temporary (abhorrent) measure; for long-term sustainability, the judicial philosophy must evolve in a manner that we never again have to corrupt our constitutional ethos with an enactment of such draconian measures.

On the khaki side, the Raheel Sharif military has done an exceptional job at blunting the wave of terror. Not enough accolades can be bestowed upon the military leadership and its jawaans for their resolve, steadfastness, and sacrifice. However, once the operation Zarb-e-Azab is over, the khakis must go back to their barracks, leaving the counterterrorism efforts in the (yet unworthy) hands of civilian law enforcement agencies. And this, above all, is the weakest link in our national action plan.

Our colonial police forces, despite the heroics of a select few members, have let the nation down. The police force, which increasingly seems to be a euphemism for the personal security guards of the political leadership has been neither trained nor equipped to counter the sophistication of modern day terrorism. Most importantly, with a police force divided across disjointed district and provincial lines, there seems to be no central intelligence sharing mechanism between the competing turfs of the local police jurisdictions, or between the police and other intelligence agencies. For this purpose, the National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) was constituted as a central repository for cross-agency intelligence gathering and for launching coordinated counterterrorism efforts. However, even after half a decade of its creation, NACTA is still struggling to find its bearings and to contribute, in any meaningful way towards the promise of its creation. This stunted development of NACTA is reflective of bureaucratic inertia and unresolved territorial struggles within our civilian law enforcement apparatus.

It is time to break shackles from the darkness of our past, and prepare for a brighter future. With Rangers (temporarily) plugging the gaps in our civilian law enforcement operations, and the military courts doing the same for the civilian judicial structure, it is time to think of tectonic shifts in our counter-terrorism apparatus. This is an interlude to reconstitute our civilian paradigm in a manner that allows the khakis to return to their barracks, in an honorable and lawful manner.