By Manzar Zaidi
Jan 16, 2014
One often hears the term National security being extolled, but there is little comprehension of its integral component, the concept of national security uncertainty. This refers to the presence of ill defined or understood threats which can arise to challenge states , usually after paradigm shifts (like 9/11) or major wars or turbulences in history . One of the major problems is that if you are unsure about what the intent of your opponent is, you will not be adequately prepared to meet the challenges presented by your opponents’ goals, interests, and capabilities. Thus, the state facing a dilemma of comprehension of what its opponents want will not be able to make a decision as to when and how to prepare for a full out war, counterinsurgency, engagement or any other measure. The dilemma escalates when there are other challenges facing the state as well, such as economic problems commonly faced by developing and under developed countries. This will exacerbate the uncertainty horizon for such states, since what may be a perfectly viable option for a financially secure state may not be feasible for one facing economic crunch. Socio cultural factors also cause limitation of choice, such as the religious environment of the state facing national security uncertainty, ethnic and nationalist violence etc.
National security uncertainty is not usually a result of a single ambiguous variable, but is often multivariate, with an overlay of socio cultural and socio economic factors which can increase or decrease uncertainty by changes in their contexts. Even a state which has made no enemies within and without may still face a rational choice decision about national security. A classical example is the traditionally nuetral state of Norway, which has joined the NATO alliance in the most dramatic shift away from it’s venerated neutrality as possible. Accepting the fact that porous borders allows insecurity in Europe to permeate its physical and ideological borders , as well as a burgeoning immigrant population has promoted this shift. This has arisen from rising national security uncertainty more than anything else, since Norway does not have a clearly defined enemy. Asymmetric attacks like the one perpetrated recently by a local exacerbate the uncertainty environment.
As regards national security uncertainty, when the threat is ill-defined or ambiguous, it is harder for states to explain to their publics clearly who the enemy are, which makes it more difficult to mobilize support for any national security strategy countering the uncertainty. In this dimension, the sort of societal support that Sir Michael Howard terms as the ‘forgotten dimension of strategy’ is absent or is lacking in any depth. The prospect theory also explains in part why it is so hard to get support from public when there is ambivalence about the enemy, and also debate upon the nation’s place and prestige in the world. Prospect theory states that people will react differently to prospects of gains or losses. In case of losses which seem imminent or probable, or when a choice needs to be made to accept losses, people will be more acceptable to taking chances of loses going into risky ventures. When gains are in grasp, or when a choice is to be made to accepting gains, people will not be ready to take chances of losses. In other words, people will be more amenable to accept the prospect of losses going into a risky venture than into one where the chances of gains are higher; the human condition is programmed to be risk-acceptant for losses and risk-averse for gains. Incorporating the prospect theory into national security paradigms, citizens will be more acceptable to take looses when they can discern a clearly demarcated opponent of the state, in the face of imminent prospects of terrorism.
Thus, public opinion can even be mobilized when a state tells its citizens that terrorism is inevitable. There just need to be clearly demarcated enemies of the state, and the state admits that there will be human or infrastructural losses along the way, but the state will fight back with all its might to eventually eradicate this menace. Negative goals such as minimizing losses in the face of threats can still be used if they are disseminated unambiguously to the target audience, rather than harping on about positive goals like becoming a terrorism free progressive nation, which will not gain traction with publics in states facing turbulence. Noble as these ideals are, and certainly worth aspiring for, these may not help a state to gain credibility when besieged by impending terrorism, economic crunches and a general deterioration in law and order and governance regimes. People, especially in a state beset by problems , are essentially quite pragmatic in their outlook no matter what their literacy levels are, and would be able to conceive in better terms what will be lost than what might be gained. Of course, when the threat is more or less totally eliminated, then the people will be more amenable to accepting themes like aspiring for top leadership status in the world, or any other lofty ideals that states should aspire to. However, once the low threat environment lasts for some time, people will not be that willing anymore to take losses along the way for realization of positive goals. For instance, citizens in a peaceful state will not be amenable to accepting losses from terrorism on the road to attaining leadership status in the world.
As national insecurity adjustments that do not present clear pictures, such as an identifiable opponent, it is certainly easier to have a national counter terrorism strategy than a counter extremism strategy, though even a clear CT strategy is problematic in itself. This is in part due to the fact that few people will study vague and diffuse threats until they actually materialize in the flesh. However, there are definitely certain ways that different theories can coalesce into setting some national security doctrines that remain fluid in the face of uncertain and diffuse threats. It is time to perhaps start studying them.
Violent extremism has become a major threat to international peace and security. The global character of this phenomenon reflects in its unselective nature. The fact that violent extremism is not linked with a specific state, civilization or ideology, makes it a global phenomenon and capitals from Oslo to Cairo, Riyadh to Kuala Lumpur and London to Washington are actively dealing with this menace. No region or even country can claim to be entirely safe. In the threat spectrum, individuals and groups with diverse ideologies and interests present single major threat to international security.
In response to this multidimensional and multifaceted problem, approaches that rely on military force have dominated the global counter terrorism agenda. Catch, kill, and disrupt strategies, which have been applied by multiple countries, have not always led to an appreciable reduction in threat. The effects of military action and state repression on the population have often further radicalized individuals and increased support for extremist groups among general population. Though the operational capabilities of threat groups have been minimized, the intentions and goals remain intact.
Recently, however, the growing awareness of the above mentioned problem has led to an upsurge and interest in more comprehensive counter-extremism policies. Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Yemen, Turkey, Iraq, Sri Lanka and some Western European countries have implemented or proposed, what broadly known as the de-radicalization and counter-radicalization programs. These innovative counter terrorism tools have gone beyond the strategies that rely on use of military force, harsh repression and detention of suspected extremists and terrorists; instead these state-directed efforts to change the ‘hearts and minds’ have led convicted and suspected terrorists to express remorse, repent, renounce their violent ideologies and re-enter mainstream positive activities in the society.
The terms de-radicalization and counter-radicalization, which are often used as alternatives to each other, have different meanings, when they are applied practically in field. According to John Horgan’s definition, which has also been adopted by United Nations Working Group on Radicalization and Extremism that led to terrorism essentially means “the programmes that are generally directed against individuals who have become radical with the aim of reintegrating them into society or at least dissuading them from violence.” In simple, de-radicalization seeks to reverse the radicalization process for those already or partly radicalized.
In contrast, counter radicalization is defined as “a package of social, political, legal, educational and economic programmes specifically designed to deter disaffected (and possibly already radicalized) individuals from crossing the line and becoming terrorists.” In other words, counter-radicalization seeks to prevent individuals and groups from becoming radicals. Saudi Arabia’s counter terrorism program, which is a mix of de-radicalization and counter-radicalization tools commonly known as “PRAC” (prevention, rehabilitation and aftercare) has proven successful so far in countering the violent extremism. In 2003, there was a wave of attacks by Al-Qaeda terrorists on Arabian Peninsula, a campaign of bombing, targeting specifically the Western companies within the Kingdom. In response, Saudi Arabia aggressively launched de-radicalization and counter-radicalization campaigns to efforts extremists eventually began targeting the Saudi national security apparatus. According to open source knowledge, there were 61 violent confrontations between terrorists and Saudi security forces only in 2003 and 2004. Nevertheless, Saudi Security Forces have remained successful in managing its deradicalization campaign. As since 2006, there has not been any successful attack on the Saudi Security Apparatus by the terrorists.
In Singapore the government directed efforts have mainly concentrated on a multi-pronged rehabilitation approach involving several different partners including the government and various sectors of the community. Meanwhile in Yemen, where guns are considered to outnumber people and sectarian conflict is at its peak, the government has undertaken an unorthodox approach to deal with detained extremists and militants, usually known as ‘prison based de-radicalization’.
Pakistan, the hardest hit victim of extremism, has been fighting the menace of terrorism and extremism for almost one decade. The cause of extremism and terrorism in Pakistan can be traced back to the fabrication of violent culture in the name of Jihad to promote and secure foreign agenda of one superpower against the other. Later on the 9/11 episode and subsequent American led counter terrorism offensive in Afghanistan, and spill over of militancy and extremism into Pakistan led to destruction of social, economic, and political fabric of Pakistani state. According to South Asian Terrorism Portal (SATP) in 2012, there were 6211 terrorism fatalities in Pakistan, including 3007 civilians, 2472 militants, and 732 Security Forces Personals, as against 6,303 fatalities, including 2,738 civilians, 2,800 militants, and 765 SF personnel in 2011. The first 69 days of 2013 have witnessed 1,537 fatalities, including 882 civilians, 116 SF personnel, and 539 militants.
There is a consensus in making that Pakistan needs a holistic approach and strategy to effectively eliminate the menace of extremism from its society. The de-radicalization and counter-radicalization experience of above mentioned countries, in this regard could prove to be a guideline for Pakistani counter terrorism experts to envisage a comprehensive strategy and approach towards elimination of extremism and terrorism from Pakistan.
The subject has gained further attention in the context of NATO forces withdrawal in 2014 and the consequent fear of increasing stronghold of radical groups with serious implications for Afghanistan and neighboring countries. Therefore a comprehensive study of emerging scenarios (post NATO withdrawal) and its impact on Pakistan is urgently required.
For this purpose Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS) has taken the initiative to organize a research project “SALAM” “Innovating Means To Resolve Radical Extremism In Pakistan”, which aims at formulating a comprehensive plan of action to first sensitize society, access all possible groups and institutions, link their efforts, act to persuade decision makers and finally manage and monitor the progress. It will include commissioned research studies and surveys, an international seminar and different other activities including establishment of a model institution and center.
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