Pakistan partners in joint counter-terrorism exercises

By Muhammad Shakil


Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif (right) sits next to then-army chief Gen. Raheel Sharif during a military exercise in Bahawalpur District November 16. India is partnering with foreign militaries to fight terrorism. [SS Mirza/AFP]

PESHAWAR -- The Pakistani government has arranged a series of joint counter-terrorism military exercises with other security forces in the region to enhance and speed up efforts to eliminate militancy, authorities say.

The efforts aim to share expertise and experiences and to enhance tactical capabilities of forces fighting terrorism.

In December, Pakistani and Jordanian security forces participated in a two-week joint training exercise in Attock District, Punjab Province.

The counter-terrorism exercise, called "Fajr-ul-Sharq 1", was conducted to share the mutual experience and professional expertise of the forces, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said in a statement December 29.

Chief of Army Staff Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa visited the troops participating in the exercise and thanked the Jordanian army for its collaboration.

"Such engagements are a source of mutual sharing, learning and benefit," he said, according to media reports.

Pakistan Army forces have also participated in joint counter-terrorism exercises with security forces from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United States and other allies.

A shift in policy

"Inviting foreign forces to participate in joint exercise speaks of a paradigm shift in the government's policy against extremism and terrorism," said Brig. (ret.) Saad Muhammad, a security analyst in Islamabad.

"The visible change in policy reflects the approach that the formulation and execution of a strategy, having the consensus of the world, will be more effective for the isolation and eradication of terrorism," he told Pakistan Forward.

Terrorism has acquired a dreadful dimension over the last decade, threatening the basic core of society, he said. This sinister development forced authorities to revamp their agenda and draft new policies to eliminate militancy, he said.

"Though Pakistan has taken various steps [to fight the war on terror], including military operations and the National Action Plan [NAP], these exercises have further projected the image of Pakistan as a nation that is dedicated to eliminating militancy," he said.

The government launched NAP weeks after the terrorist massacre of more than 140 children and teachers at Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014.

"These exercises also reflect the seriousness and more-aggressive policy of Pakistan to deal with insurgencies and the consensus developed between civil leadership and military leadership on the subject," he said.

The previous haphazard approach has been replaced with "a most assertive and unwavering policy emanating from the insight that global participation is needed to end the war", he said.

Obligation towards peace

After more than a decade of unclear anti-terrorism policies, Pakistan "found a beacon of light" when Gen. Raheel Sharif took over as army chief in November 2013, Muhammad said.

"Its somewhat ambiguous and unclear policy took a new course under his bold stance, while security operations were launched in far-flung, militancy-infested areas ... and milestone victories followed," he said.

The aggressive tone of the government's policies allowed Pakistan to emerge "triumphant in the war against terrorism", he said. This resolve and determination created a stir in the world "and intimidated anti-state elements".

"We are sharing our experiences with the world for the benefit of humanity and as an obligation towards international peace," Sharif said October 27 to troops participating in a joint exercise at the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, Pabbi.

Strong military leadership

This vision of military leadership paved the way for a broader counter-terrorism policy and the recent joint military exercises and is likely to continue under Bajwa, who took command of the army in November, analysts say.

"The participation of regional partners in counter-terrorism exercises is testimony that these countries want to learn from the experiences of Pakistani law enforcers who have overcome militancy," Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah of Peshawar, former security secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), said.

"Pakistan's success story against extremism has ... encouraged other regional nations to train their combatants in counter-terrorism strategies as a pre-emptive measure," he told Pakistan Forward.

"Moreover, the realisation has been reached that continuing the battle to a concluding phase demands mutual support and extending co-operation to each other," he said.

"Our efforts against terrorism have drawn worldwide acclamation as the country ... has defeated and nearly exterminated extremism by sheer determination of its forces and people," he said.

While the joint exercises validate the skills of the Pakistani security forces, "co-ordinated efforts at the international level are required to wipe out the threat from the region", he said.

Fighting root causes of terrorism

"The root causes of radicalism and terrorism are complex and multifaceted," said Malik Muhammad Ashraf, a freelance columnist in Islamabad who writes on security-related issues.

"Moreover, the situation demanded a more pragmatic approach, leading Pakistan to formulate a results-oriented strategy of engaging regional and strategic partners in the fight against terrorism," he told Pakistan Forward.

"The current exercises are meant to follow a realistic plan to combat terrorism and develop a multi-pronged strategy on a long-term basis," he said.

"The exercises will also instil confidence among the people that the government is prioritising its agenda of peace building by boosting the combat skills of security forces and by devising a broad-based strategy of inviting regional partners to help confront the threat," he said.

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