The US Department of State recognised Pakistan as an important counter terrorism partner in its annual Country Report on Terrorism for 2016. The report acknowledged the country’s success in combating terrorism in recent years, attributing the sharp decline of terrorism-related civilian deaths to the government’s actions and the military’s ongoing operations targeting terrorist groups and their supporters.

In addition to the praise for the actions that Pakistan has taken in its continuing efforts to counter terrorism, the report also outlined a number of critical steps that the country must take for it to build on its current achievements.

The report identified four areas working to combat terrorism and for each one, it commended their efforts and offered suggestions to improve their ability to better succeed in the long term.

The four parts of the system highlighted in the report were the political government, judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and the military.

The report found the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) lacking in its capacity to function properly despite the fact that it had received a significant budget from the government. It is not the government’s failure but the failure of NACTA to operationalise the Joint Intelligence Directorate (JID). The authority must work quickly to initiate the JID, this will lead to better interagency coordination and speed up progress in other areas as well.

Civilian security forces were lauded in the report for their work but the report concluded that they could perform even better if they were properly trained and equipped to implement enhanced investigative powers provided to them by recently passed counter terrorism legislation. The training and equipment to better investigate and collect evidence is necessary to prosecute terrorists and their sympathizers at a faster rate in the anti-terrorism courts. At the moment the courts move slowly in prosecuting terrorists and often time have to dismiss cases due to insufficient evidence.

The US Department of State, in its report, argues that better equipping civilian law enforcement will also allow them to work on ways to thwart terrorist’s ability to intimidate witnesses, police, victims, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and judges. According to the report, the lack of security provided to these people is a leading cause of high acquittal rates in anti-terrorism courts.

By far the biggest criticism of the report was that Pakistan failed entirely to effectively counter terrorism funding. Notwithstanding the remarkable work by the government to pass Anti-Money Laundering legislation, somehow those tasked with implementing the legislation have failed to address the illegal Hawala system, which is the method most preferred by terrorists to transfer money. This is something within the government’s capacity to rectify, and it must address it immediately. If terrorist financing is cut-off, it will put an end to their operations for good.

Media pundits in the West often criticize the Pakistan military for failing to articulate a grand counter terrorism strategy. The decline of terrorist activity as outlined in the report and the launch of operation Khyber-4 demonstrate that the military does in fact have an effective counter terrorism strategy, which is successfully being implemented.

DG ISPR, Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor credited the sharp decline of terrorist attacks mentioned in the report to the ongoing, Operation Radd-ul-Fassad (RuF). In a press conference on July 16, the DG said, the drop in terrorism-related activity is a result of 46 successful operations over the past three years in various parts of the country and over 9,000 intelligence based operations in urban areas.

During the press conference the DG officially announced that the military had launched Operation Khyber-4 (K-4) as part of its counter terrorism strategy to wipe out terrorist operations in the Rajgal Valley of the Khyber Agency.

The DG denied reports that Daesh has established itself in Pakistan, he said that the military is aware of the threat of Daesh ideology, and even though the Middle East based terrorist outfit has not taken root in Pakistan, there are groups like Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a splinter group of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that have “shown an alliance with Daesh.” The DG added, “Groups that try to jump on the Daesh bandwagon are being taken care of through other means, like in the K-4 operation.”

Writing as a citizen of Pakistan, we must continue to look to ourselves, the government and other stakeholders to build on the success of the military’s counter terrorism strategy, by addressing the gaps that allow terrorists to continue to spread their message, raise funds, and recruit.

The harsh reality is that this is still an ongoing fight and we must not relax until we have successfully rid ourselves from the threat of terrorism. The US Department of State report offered a lot of praise but it is not the praise that we should focus on, we must study their recommendations and try to implement what we can because it is in our national interest.

General Qamar Bajwa, the Chief of Army Staff, conveyed last week that the military strategy towards countering terrorism and addressing other problems faced by the nation is to work with the support of state institutions to build peace in the country “brick by brick,” ensuring an enduring peace. I am in complete agreement. We must make the same pledge, to work together to put an end to the plague of terrorism once and for all and should not be satisfied with ourselves until it is done.