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, this inertia towards regarding all forms of militancy as terrorism, for the past many years 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 (e.g. Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Al-Qaeda); 2) religious sectarian terrorism (e.g. Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi); 3) sectarian/provincial warfare (militant wings of MQM and Baloch Liberation Front); 4) Cross border militant outfits (e.g. Jamaat ud Dawa and Lashkar-e-Tayyiba ); 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 (such as ‘doctrine of strategic depth’) and brittle political will (which was all too eager to kneel at the altar of religious rhetoric), last year, in the aftermath of the unprecedented horrors at Army Public School, Peshawar, it seems that political will has caught up with the resolve and might of a new army leadership. Consequently, for the first time in our history, there seems to be a real possibility of forging and implementing a sustainable and effective national action plan to forever expunge this cancer of militancy from our collective souls.

This national action plan, which effectively is a noun for counterterrorism strategy, extends far beyond the ambit of ongoing military action in our mountainous border regions. 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.

Laws alone, however, cannot result in convictions. So long as the judicial arm releases whoever 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 organisation have seeped into our rural and urban centers, it has become impossible to bring forth witnesses to testify against those holding 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 (abhorrent) temporary 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 executive 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, despite having been created over half a decade ago, 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, even while faced with national urgency and need for the same, is indicative of bureaucratic inertia and unresolved territorial struggles within our civilian law enforcement apparatus.

Countering the menace of terrorism is the single most important national issue of our time. While the Pakistan Army, under its new leadership, has made admirable gains in the fight against militancy and extremism, but our civilian law enforcement apparatus must do more (immediately) to consolidate these gains. This is no time for half measures, institutional haggling, and ideological dormancy. This is no time for the weak or the timid or the insecure. We stand in the gaze of history. And history is an unforgiving mistress.