Pakistan works on formal policy to impede ISIS threat

By Adeel Saeed


A boy September 14 in Peshawar views a a website containing 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' (ISIS) content. Pakistan's counter-terrorism authorities are devising a policy to combat ISIS by scrutinising the travel history of citizens, especially those who have visited conflict ridden countries. [Adeel Saeed]

PESHAWAR -- Pakistan's counter-terrorism authorities are devising a formal policy to forestall the threat of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) by scrutinising the travel history of citizens, especially those who have visited conflict ridden countries.

Security forces have killed more than 1,800 militants and arrested about 5,500 suspected terrorists since the government implemented the National Action Plan (NAP) more than two years ago, according to a progress report compiled by Pakistan's National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA).

The report, submitted to the National Assembly the last week of August, highlights NACTA's efforts to compile data on Pakistanis who have travelled to countries where ISIS has a presence, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

It also recommends taking concrete steps to choke off terrorists' money supply.

Compiling data on foreign travel

"There were reports that scores of Pakistani citizens have traveled to the conflict zones to join [ISIS]," NACTA chief Ihsan Ghani told Voice of America (VOA).

"Through a data-based system, we are compiling information on such suspects; after verification we will hand it over to the federal and provincial governments," he said, adding that the agency is focusing on Pakistanis who stayed abroad after their visas expired.

"We have a lot of data of those who did not return from these areas, but we cannot say all those, who went to conflict-hit areas, are terrorists, as some of them could have gone there to reach Europe or find a job even, so we are doing ground verification," Ghani told The News International.

"We are trying to find out the real reasons for militants to go to these regions," he said.

Terror financing is another "big challenge", the NACTA chief said in his interview with VOA. "We want to cut all the channels through which the terrorists could possibly collect funds. It is not easy, but we are heading in the right direction and have formed a task force for this purpose."

Pakistan has frozen about $3 million (Rs. 316.2 million) and 5,000 bank accounts of suspected terrorists in an effort to cut off terror financing, according to the NACTA report.

Tackling religious radicalism

NACTA's steps to contain the spread of ISIS influence in Pakistan are commendable and timely, security analysts say.

"This is a right step in the right direction if we truly want to obstruct radical elements from misguiding our countrymen in the name of religion," Brig. (ret.) Mehmood Shah of Peshawar, former security secretary for the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), told Pakistan Forward.

"Religious radicalism is a threat in Pakistan, and to save our countrymen from falling victim to it, we have to take all possible steps," he said.

Scrutinising citizens' travel history is a common practice in developed countries aimed at keeping an eye on those who travel to conflict ridden areas of the world, Shah said, adding that collecting data on such travellers will prove to be effective.

He also suggested authorities implement tighter controls on foreign visitors to Pakistan.

"The immigration rules must be made tougher for all kinds of travellers so that no suspected person can enter Pakistan," he said.

"Formulating a policy to retain the threat of religious radicalism in the country is imperative," said Muhammad Zafar, a lecturer at the University of Peshawar and a specialist on de-radicalisation.

Pakistani youth are very vulnerable to radical ideology because they can be easily exploited and misguided on religious grounds, he told Pakistan Forward, adding that lack of social activities, unemployment, restrictive cultural norms and insecurity contribute to this vulnerability.

"Social media are the biggest source for attracting and convincing youth to take up religious radicalism, and excessive internet use by youngsters results fro a lack of social activities," he said.

"Apart from obstructing extremist elements from operating in our country, we have to concentrate on engaging countrymen in constructive activities," Zafar said.

Countering violent extremism

The creation of a state policy against radicalism is "very important to avert the threat of this menace" in Pakistan, said Jamil Ahmad Chitrali, director of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Peshawar.

Because of the absence of an effective policy, religious radicalism is growing in Pakistan and extremist elements are "targeting every segment of society", he told Pakistan Forward.

Collecting data on international travellers will help contain the threat of ISIS, but Pakistan needs a stricter state policy in this regard, he said.

Chitrali also suggested praising the work of peace activists in Pakistan to raise awareness about good work being done to counter extremist ideology and to inspire others to do the same.

"To counter the mindset of violent extremism, we have to work hard to change people's conceptions by diverting their attention to developmental and welfare oriented activities," he said.

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