Traditionally ruled by military or quasi-military regimes, Pakistan is struggling to strengthen its democratic governance but the military remains in charge of country’s security policy. This period of incremental democratization corresponds to the unprecedented rise in terrorism and domestic insurgencies that have challenged state capacity and taken a toll on both the morale of the country and the economy. This report reviews Pakistan’s progress in devising and implementing counterterrorism policy frameworks in recent years. In highlighting key related strategic and operational issues, it offers Pakistani policymakers ways forward on how best to ensure internal stability and security, reminding us that a balance in civilian and military institutions is vital for effective policy outcomes.


  • Pakistan’s recently announced National Action Plan focuses on combatting both terrorism and militancy and addresses endemic insecurity and radicalization. The plan follows in the wake of the National Internal Security Policy, which has been in place for more than a year.
  • These two policy frameworks underscore the commitment of the government to implement counterterrorism operations. Implementation of both, however, is affected by the civil-military divide that defines Pakistan’s power landscape and by the altered governance architecture since the onset of devolution reforms of 2010.
  • Pakistan’s historically entrenched civil-military imbalance puts the military in the driver’s seat on all issues related to national security. The current civilian government has enabled the military to take the lead on internal security arrangements as well.
  • Internal security challenges of Pakistan are directly related to its external security policy, especially with respect to India and Afghanistan.
  • Centralized management of internal security policies, however, is fraught with difficulties. It is unclear whether the provincial governments “own” the National Internal Security Policy and how far the central government is enabling reform to achieve results.
  • Progress to date remains mixed. In fact, recent decisions indicate that key counterterrorism goals, such as action against proscribed militant outfits and madrassa regulation, may have been diluted to prevent backlash from religious militias. Counterterrorism efforts cannot succeed without dismantling the militias that have operated with impunity.
  • To effectively counter internal militancy and external terrorism, Pakistan’s policymakers will need to harness both civilian and military institutions. To do so, they need to develop a multifaceted strategy that incorporates a national intelligence directorate, an internal security adviser, enhanced jurisdiction of the National Counter Terrorism Authority, parliamentary participation in counterterrorism, increased financial commitments, education reform, provincial counterterrorism strategies, and altering public narratives. Such measures need to be implemented in letter and spirit with complementary institutional reforms.

About the Report

This report reviews the progress to February 2015 on Pakistan’s counterterrorism policy frameworks and highlights related key strategic and operational issues. Funded by the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), its original focus was on Pakistan’s National Internal Security Policy in the context of 2010 when devolution reforms shifted. This scope shifted in light of the attack on an Army school in December 2014 and the subsequent announcement of the National Action Plan against terrorism.

About the Author

Raza Ahmad Rumi is a Pakistani policy analyst, journalist, and author. A senior expert in residence at USIP from September 2014 to February 2015, he focused on Pakistan’s internal security policies and the impact of federal devolution on policymaking. Previously, as a director of the Jinnah Institute, a Pakistani public policy think tank, he worked for the government of Pakistan and the Asian Development Bank as well as in a variety of journalistic roles. Currently a visiting fellow at National Endowment for Democracy, Rumi is also an editor at The Friday Times of Pakistan. The author would like to acknowledge the support of Mohammad Faisal, affiliated with the Center for International Strategic Studies, Islamabad.

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