Counter Terrorism – A Dire Need of the Hour

By Lt Col (R) Muhammad Ijaz Khattak

Attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar on December 16th 2014, is neither the first and nor the last of its kind. Rather, the recent past is marred with such attacks with claims by the attackers. Whether such attacks were unleashed on military installations or the on the public targets or even on schools bus, these had their symbolic value besides the loss of lives and property.

When we agree to it, all such attacks were however, spectacular as well as of immense values from the terrorist’s point of view. This is exactly the terrorist and insurgent’s organizations aim at by showing their muscles. Inflicting casualties is a secondary aim whereas the main objectives of such attack are manifolds.  Firstly, it is to undermine the capacity of the sitting Government as well as her armed forces in the eyes of masses.   Resultantly, thus confidence of the masses in the Government is shattered. Secondly, it is with intent to get maximum publicity for the organization by sending a message to the populace of the target area in a particular and in general across the country.  The December 16th attack on APS Peshawar is a case in point.

 It has been analyzed from the pattern of attack in the past that hardly any target has come under attack at random but rather, the attackers have always deliberated over their mission by preparing a thorough plan. A  carefully selected target of high value , proper reconnaissance, the weapons and equipment required while initiating  the attack as well as to deal with a counter attack are the  main considerations for planning their strategy. And nevertheless, top of all, they come never to go back alive. It is indeed the height of motivation. It is obvious that the initiative in all such attacks rests with the attackers. So, the attacker terrorists have a major advantage over the Law Enforcement Agencies/ defenders. The former’s advantage is thus inevitable. This major advantage of the attacker however, may be an inevitable disadvantage of the LEAs/defender. For instance well ahead of the time to embark upon Operations “ Zarb e Azb,” did someone consider to take in account the likely targets in sensitive areas. If yes, what security measures were implemented to ensure foolproof security . And if the answer is in negative, which it is for sure, then nothing more than “firefighting” is the governing factor of the strategy.

While evolving security strategy, and that of security of premises, is not limited to “Gun, Guard and Gate”. The premises security is however, a complete subject and 24 hours job. For instance, if the terrorist had planned to attack the APS at the time of morning assembly by planting Improvised Explosive Device (IED) a night prior, and they could do so conveniently as well as without suffering any casualty to their discredit, still the attack would have been a spectacular, followed by a tall claim. In that case, one could imagine the colossal damage, miseries and a tarnished image aside.

Nonetheless, the Peshawar APS attack is not only any eye opener but it is a mind blowing. Shall someone pay any heed to fore stall and prevent such attacks in the future and assure that terrorists will find it much more difficult than before. Let’s not restrict ourselves only to counting the casualties after the attack, or expressing sympathies with the sufferers and or to condemn the attack through statements in the media. Let’s think is that enough for such brutal attacks? No definitely not.

In the present scenario, seemingly, the Law Enforcement Agencies are behind the schedule but the time is ripe to still take stock of the situation and be alive the situation. Even at this point in time a thoroughly deliberated strategy can be evolved to preempt, avert, forestall, or at least make it difficult for the terrorists to attack such soft targets. The damage control is yet another important aspect to be considered while making a comprehensive strategy for the Security of premises. Further, it is however, not at all limited to evolving a strategy alone but it needs to be implemented on ground, audited at regular intervals, identifying gaps and subsequently plugging these gaps with intent to making it   foolproof security. Meanwhile, it is not justified to fix blame on the intelligence / Law Enforcement Agencies alone, as they have a big horizon to play their role but at the same time they cannot be absolved of their responsibility. Even if they set counter terrorism as their priority number one, do they capacity to coup up with the task? In doing so, they can only issue a generalized threat alert but can hardly be specific, especially in view of their capacity. If it is so, what is paramount is to secure one’s own area of responsibility because the ultimate sufferer is the one who does not fulfill his responsibility. More so, personal safety and security is the responsibility of all individuals and nothing worth can be gained from subsequent blame game.

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