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Effective Counter Terrorism Strategy Challenges

by Daniyal

In the post 9/11 world, the word or phenomenon which seems to have attracted all the limelight to itself is: Terrorism. The magnitude of gravity which is associated with this word has been felt on various occasions and in numerous places over the years. The excruciating impact that it leaves behind, at times leads to such mental and physical changes which are of irrevocable nature. The word terrorism is defined as, “Terrorism is an attempt to achieve (or prevent) political, social, economic or religious change by the actual or threatened use of violence against another person or another persons’ property; the violence (and threat thereof) employed therein is aimed partly at destabilizing (or maintaining) an existing political or social order, but mainly at publicizing the goals or causes espoused by the agents or by those whose behalf the agents acts; often, though not always, terrorism is aimed at provoking extreme counter- measures which will win public support for the terrorists and their goals…” The radicals associated to terrorism are not confined to any particular region or race; rather it entails an extensive influence of drastic nature globally. Due to this very severity, terrorism has caught attention of various bodies globally which aim to reduce this nuisance through counter-terrorism strategies. These strategies can be dully defined as, “Activities which are intended to prevent terrorists acts or to eradicate terrorists groups” (thefreedictionary.com, 2014). Another definition for such methods is as follow; “Operations that include the offensive measures taken to prevent, deter, pre-empt and respond to terrorism. Also called CT” (US Department of Defense, 2005).  Such strategies can be designed and implemented at regional, national and at inter-national levels (UNODC, 2009). Although, these instruments are aimed at enhancing the efforts to exterminate violence but more than often these strategies are often coupled with certain downsides or limitations, particularly the delivery and implementation of such counter terrorism activities in operational practice pose a variety of challenges in balancing security and freedom.

Effective Counter Terrorism Strategy Challenges

A counter terrorism strategy is often designed in collaboration with certain other states or non-state actors, particularly if it is of inter-national level. One of the challenges which arise in such counter terrorism strategies is the conflict of interest. Globalization has increased the likelihood of conflict, involving failed-state and non state actors (The Strategic Defense and Security Review, 2010). What might be a measure of security for one nation might become a source of discomfort for the other. Similarly, the concept of freedom varies from region to region. A lot of cultural and environmental factors come into role when freedom is defined in any nation (ifsw.org, 2012). Therefore, to implement such a counter terrorism strategy which takes into account all the concerned state and non-state actors becomes a challenge. Some of the nations might feel a sense of “imposition” upon them, particularly if their definition of freedom and security varies tremendously from what the counter terrorism strategies aim to render. Another situation which might cause concern is when a nation has to pay a greater price for security and the so-called freedom in the process of implementation of counter terrorism strategy. An example of it is the War on Terror which is currently being carried out in Pakistan. Even though it is supposedly a counter terrorism strategy designed by the United States and also implemented as per her wishes, the hefty price that Pakistan has to pay is a cause of concern for the Pakistani populace (Rustamani, 2013). Following are the official statistics of the killing and injuries incurred in Pakistan due to CIA drone strike from 2004-2013 (thebureauinvestigates.com, 2014);

  • Strikes (total): 381
  • Barrack Obama strikes : 330
  • Killed (total); 2412-3701
  • Children Killed: 168-200
  • Civilians killed: 416-951
  • Injured” 1122-1606

Apart from the above mentioned casualties, the direct and indirect cost of War on Terror incurred by Pakistan amount to $67.93 billion and Rs. 5037 billion respectively (Altaf, 2013). In this case, the general perception prevalent among Pakistani masses is that an American war is being fought on their land and they are paying an unjustified price (Fair, 2009). In this classic case, what appears to a measure of security for America is actually jeopardizing the freedom of Pakistan. The growing tensions within Pakistan have now substantiated this fact that the there exists a conflict of interest between the two nations, a challenge due to which the counter terrorism strategies fail to balance security and freedom in Pakistan particularly.

Apart from the conflict of interests, another major challenge which arises in delivering an effective counter terrorism strategy is the reconciliation of human rights with counter terrorism.  In the contemporary times, all the developed nations are faced with threats of terrorism, be it from home-grown terrorists or from foreign elements (Mueller, 2012). This scenario provides a major challenge for democratic and developing countries to adequately react to looming terrorism attacks without jeopardizing basic human rights, which are considered hallmarks of all democratic countries. Nations that fail to strike a balance between human rights and national security jeopardize the effectiveness of the counter terrorism strategies and also pose a problem for the perpetual maintenance of the tolerant and autonomous ideals of the society. Even though, the importance of human rights is widely accepted and also, it remains the most frequently quoted concept yet, the prevalent climate often fails to take into account the compatibility of human rights with counter terrorism strategies(Cooper). No one denies the right and duty of governments to protect its citizens but the outright abandonment of freedom and democratic rights appears to be embedded in the legal systems of certain countries. Doussa (2006) accuses Australian legal system of such practices in his lecture and suggests in his lecture that those individuals who show their concern for human rights compatibility of the counter terrorism strategies are blamed for “defending terrorists or failing to take the threat of terrorism seriously”. Neglecting fundamental human rights implies an over-emphasis on security which ultimately leads to restriction in freedom of the individuals. Doussa has proposed a solution to curb this challenge. He says in this lecture, “An essential strategy in countering the extremism that breeds terrorism is to win the ‘contest of ideas’ by rigorously defending the basic human rights and freedoms which form the ‘bedrock of dignity and democracy that make our societies worth protecting”. If one’s own human rights credentials are undermined, then the task of balancing security and freedom becomes tough. Kofi Anan, former United Nations Secretary General, has rightly said that, “…compromising human rights…facilitates achievement of the terrorists objective – by ceding to (them) the moral high ground, and provoking tension, hatred and mistrust of government among precisely those parts of the population where he is most likely to find recruits. Upholding human rights is not merely compatible with successful counter-terrorism strategy. It is an essential element.” (United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, 2005). Recently, China has issued a report, after the State Department issued its annual Human Rights report, in which it has heavily criticized the United States for denouncing human rights while pursuing its counter-terrorism strategies.  The report claims that the US government- run intelligence program, called PRISM, “seriously infringes on human rights”. The report further criticizes US for the drone attacks in Pakistan, which have led to severe casualties among civilians as well (geo.tv, 2014). Such aggressive counter terrorism strategies which create an imbalance between security and freedom are often highly regarded by the general masses, because apart from sufferings caused by the terrorist threats they also have to bear the curtailment of their fundamental rights. If this challenge is not properly addressed and handled, then any government can face strong opposition from the populace.

Another area of concern which is associated with counter terrorism strategies is the consideration of ethics while formulating and delivering such programs. Counterterrorism professionals are often faced with ethical dilemmas, particularly when decision-making comes under the spotlight (Reding, Van Gorp & et al., 2014). Certain key characteristics of ethical decision-making might be ignored or taken lightly. Some of the policy makers are so driven to eradicate terrorism that develop a tendency to be insensitive to certain issues, for instance towards any particular region, race or ethnicity. This can also lead to stereotyping and subjective biases can creep in if ethical issues are not addresses in due time. For instance, nowadays Muslims are largely labelled as terrorists and are considered to be a threat. In the words of Um and Pisoiu (2011), in Western countries the main area of focus has shifted upon “fight against terrorism, in particular of ‘Islamist’ nature”. Labelling a religion and use of such terms can be offensive to Muslims who are peace loving and support the counter terrorism strategies whole heartedly (Elawawadh, 2013). In this case, although the balance between security and freedom might be rightly achieved but the cost of freedom might incur emotional thrashing to some. The policy- makers should be aware to use such methods and measures which should be aimed at debasing any group but should rather be focused upon eliminating violence.

Furthermore, the growing role of media and internet has also become a source of challenge. Many argue that when media flashes the same shots of violence over and over again, it ‘publicizes’ the terrorists’ aim and also projects their ‘success’. Similarly, internet-based activism has also led many terrorists to disseminate their ideologies which have initiated strong social and political movements across the globe (Weimann, 2005). Not only internet facilitates recruitment of disgruntled citizens by these terrorist groups (Magnuson, 2010). Also, it helps in indoctrination of naïve minds (Stanley Foundation, 2007). The use of internet and media, in general, has become a part of modern man’s lifestyle and also a necessity of contemporary times. When such means become infected, their impact is hard to manage and measure and thus, the security which is supposedly provided by counter terrorism strategies becomes questionable. Also, if terrorists have succeeded to control media and internet, then the freedom of a lay man becomes highly endangered.  As long the implementation of counter measures does not involve a check of media and internet, their effectiveness becomes uncertain. 

Also, modern critical infra-structure is known to be highly inter-dependent, which implies that if one facility is attacked then it can render severe problems for other critical structures as well (Parfomak, 2008). On September 3rd 2013, a group of tribesmen disconnected water supply from a river named Sebha in Libya, and threatened to disconnect the supply permanently if Anoud Senussi was not returned within 72 hours (Essul and Elraqubi, 2013). Although, the water supply was restored on September 12th 2013, as mentioned in a news article in Libya Herald (Westcott, 2013), but by disabling the water supply, the terrorists were able to cripple and endanger multiple infra-structures and also, the locals had to face water shortage as well. Not only this, but the oil exports also suffered due to this incident. Since, the water supply was cut, therefore, the ships could not operate and Libya had to incur serious economic and business losses. This example explains that the extent to which inter-dependence of critical infra-structures poses an acute problem for counter terrorist strategies, because they fundamentally do not address this issue. Critical infra-structures are easy targets for terrorists (terrorismstudies.com, 2010). Since, this inter-dependency cannot be eliminated entirely; therefore, security and freedom of individuals remain under constant threat.

Therefore, it is recommended to the policy-makers of the counter terrorism strategies to take note of these challenges and to ensure that the methods adopted to fight against violence and crimes are capable of handling these issues. The challenges are of severe nature and have the tendency to emerge as hard core predicaments in future that is why they cannot be ignored. The policy makers should evaluate and access the counter terrorism strategies and should not be blinded by them. The strategies need to be flexible in order to cater to the dynamic atmosphere of the global landscape, where terrorism is one of the biggest problems. While designing counter terrorism measures the interests of various stake-holders, human rights compatibility, influence of internet and media and inter-dependence of critical infra-structure must be given due importance, because only then the balance between security and freedom can be achieved.

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