Terrorists and cyberspace


The use of modern communication tools by terrorists needs to be looked into



Though the security situation of the country has improved considerably, still an air of insecurity permeates the minds of the people. With 49 percent decrease in terrorist attacks in 2015, parents still fear sending their children to school after the recent wave of terrorism. We might have won the military war but what can we do to win the psychological war?

Interior minister in a statement said that Pakistan was losing the psychological war on terror. His statement was, perhaps, pointed at the political point-scoring that the opposition parties have taken to after BKU attack. Fair enough. But is it really just a matter of point-scoring? Aren’t there flaws and loopholes in implementing NAP? There is also no denying the fact that NAP has fallen a prey to indecisiveness and confusion. Maybe this is because of political pragmatism or because of poor governance, and both failings have been pointed out several times by the military and the judiciary.

Pakistan has witnessed 40 percent decrease in fatalities in terrorist attacks and 35 percent decrease in suicide attacks, according to a report published by Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies. Yet most parts of the country are still vulnerable to terror attacks. The primary reason for this being the lack of understanding of new ways in which extremists are recruiting and operating.

Historically, the banned outfits have been adapting to the changes and restrictions put on them by the government. During Gen Musharraf’s regime many were put under scrutiny which later emerged with different names at different platforms. This trend has continued since then. The members of the banned outfits have been operating under various new banners in large cities for collection of funds and, at times, as relief workers in calamity stricken areas.

Research shows that underdeveloped areas, in specific and urban areas in general, are under the sway of the seminaries and their rhetoric. Inside many remote areas of Punjab and KP, flags of banned outfits are still being hoisted. It is not just in the underdeveloped areas that they have been operating but the extremist organisations, like TTP and its offshoots, have also taken to social media to lure the educated people of the urban areas to jihadi rhetoric. A plethora of hate material is available on many easily accessible websites.

The master mind of the Charsadda attack, it is reported, took responsibility of the attack on a phone call, while talking to a reporter, and also updated his status on social media about the attack. Many young people are apparently following banned organisations on the internet, which gives terrorists enough strength to propagate. It is an open secret that they are recruiting on the internet. What one fails to understand is if these extremists are living in the caves, as we are told, how come they can access internet, social media and Afghan SIMs to plan attacks? Though the facilitators of the attack were arrested by the security agencies but there is no denying the fact that Charsadda was second incident after APS attack in which foreign SIMs were used. Is there any mechanism to block or tap the calls before any such incident happens?

Social media apps and sites have become ever more security centered for a layman in Pakistan. Criminals who use mobile for threatening calls and frauds are being caught easily. However, somehow, banned outfits are comfortably using websites for recruitment and operations without being tracked. A recent judgment of the Supreme Court on January 12, 2016, ordered PTA to “take remedial steps to quantify the nefarious phenomenon of obscenity and pornography that has an imminent role to corrupt and vitiate the youth of Pakistan”. This bodes well for the youth but is it not equally, if not more, important to exercise the same control over websites disseminating hate speeches and noxious extremist verbosity?

On one hand, the internet is replete with the demoralising videos of security officials and civilians being mercilessly executed by the Taliban and, on the other, the religious sentiments of the youth are being exploited by the distorted religious quotations available on the internet.

Closing down schools cannot help us win the psychological war, neither can political point-scoring. Cyberspace is the new front that the security agencies need to focus on which unfortunately has been overlooked so far. Provincial governments must take up the task of managing their resources and using them effectively for addressing this issue. The people of Pakistan are still waiting for the time when they can send their children to schools without any fear and without any worry.