Philippines to benefit from Pakistan’s counterterrorism experience

Photo: Ahmed Bin Mazhar, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pakistan has made major gains in its fight against terrorism and the Philippines has indicated that it hopes to learn from Islamabad’s experiences and capabilities.

By Umair Jamal

In early May, Pakistani ambassador to the Philippines Imtiaz Kazi said his government is ready to share its “vast and valuable” counterterrorism experience with the Philippines in its war against terror.

“Pakistan can rightly claim it has won the war on terror, albeit at a costly price,” Kazi said in an interview with Arab News.

Pakistan’s counterterrorism successes against Islamist militant groups have been recognized widely and the Philippines can benefit greatly from Pakistan’s experience. It now appears that the two countries are working on plans to expand their defense partnership, with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the Philippine defense ministry expressing interest in cooperation with Islamabad.

Afghan refugees heading to Pakistan. Photo: USAID / Pixnio

Pakistan has made huge gains in its war against terrorism

Pakistan was forced to join the US war in Afghanistan against the Afghan Taliban and Al-Qaida after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York. Then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell called Pakistan’s leadership and famously stated, “You are either with us or against us.” Pakistan’s support for the US war against terrorism in Afghanistan alienated many far-right Islamist extremist groups domestically which led to the start of Pakistan’s counterterrorism operations within its borders. For two decades now, Pakistan has fought a war against terrorism and dismantled militant groups like Al-Qaida and the Islamic State (IS) operating in its territories.

Pakistan’s military has also successfully pushed out militant groups like the Tehreek-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which killed thousands of Pakistanis in the country’s tribal areas along Afghanistan border. Pakistan’s tribal areas were once known as militant’s safe heavens and also hosted former Al-Qaida head Osama Bin Laden but are now under the complete control of the Pakistani military. 

General Qamar Javed Bajwa. Photo: Barth / MSC, CC BY 3.0 DE, via Wikimedia Commons

In 2017, Pakistan’s former army chief, General Raheel Sharif, claimed that his country’s military is the most battle-hardened force in the world, mainly due to the high standards of fitness and professionalism of its soldiers. In 2019, the current army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, reportedly said that his force is now ready for any militancy challenge after more than a decade of experience fighting against militant groups near the Afghan border and in regular military encounters on its eastern border with India.

Globally, countries have sought the Pakistani military’s support either to train troops or to serve directly in advisory roles. In 2017, General Sharif became the head of a 39-nation Islamic military coalition formed to combat terrorism around the world.

In 2018, Pakistan sent troops to Saudi Arabia to train and advise the Saudi army. In 2016, Major Uqbah Malik became the first Pakistani instructor to teach British cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. A lieutenant colonel was appointed as an instructor at the British Army’s Staff College in Shrivenham—a role usually offered only to British or NATO service members.

Pakistan’s military officers and air force pilots also played an instrumental role in helping the Sri Lankan army to ultimately defeat the Tamil Tigers, a separatist militant organization that waged a bloody war against the state for more than two decades.

It now appears that the Philippine leadership is taking note of these accomplishments.

Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: ACE MORANDANTE/PPD / Public domain

Pakistan and the Philippines have plans to deepen security cooperation

The Philippines can certainly benefit from Pakistan’s counterterrorism experience and Manila should consider accepting Islamabad’s help. In his recent interview, Ambassador Kazi said that his government is “ready to share the Pakistani forces’ capabilities” and experience from recent counter terrorism operations to help the Philippines in their fight against terrorism.

Kazi cited the months-long Marawi siege in 2017 which was carried out by IS-inspired groups in the Philippines, saying that Pakistan has developed defense capabilities to deal with such situations and that his country can share these skills with Philippine forces.

The ambassador also said that Pakistan’s National Counterterrorism Authority (NACTA) is ready to work with the Philippine National Police’s Salam Peace Center as part of an initiative “to bring moderation, as desired in Islam, a religion of peace and tolerance.”

“Terrorism could and should never be associated with any religion, race, faith, theology, values, culture or society,” he added.

It is important to note here that Pakistan’s counterterrorism successes have mainly been against Islamist militant groups—a problem that the Philippines also faces. Pakistan’s security forces have made these gains in a country that is highly conservative and where Islamist groups have deep support among the masses.

The Philippine government appears to be interested in developing defense ties with Pakistan to ramp up its counterterrorism capabilities, particularly by learning from Islamabad’s experience when it comes to dealing with Islamist militant groups. “Let me extend our military-to-military exchanges and sharing of intelligence and best practices, particularly in countering terrorism and violence,” Duterte told Pakistani Ambassador Kazi in December 2020.

The collaboration in this regard however is not new. Cooperation on intelligence sharing and military training programs has been going on for years. In 2005, former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf visited the Philippines and signed a memorandum on combating terrorism. Pakistan is also a regular attendee of the biennial Asian Defense and Security exhibition in Manila and of the Western Pacific Naval Symposiums.

Pakistan and the Philippines are now working on a fresh agreement to expand their defense cooperation. Expressing his view on the newly-discussed defense agreement, Teodoro Cirilo Torralba III, Philippine defense assistant secretary for assessments and international affairs, told Arab News that “It is our standard Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA) where training, exchanges, visits, staff-to-staff talks and other related activities will be covered.”

“We could also learn a lot from the experience and best practices of Pakistan on counterterrorism,” Teodoro said.

About the Author

Umair Jamal
Umair Jamal is a freelance journalist and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Otago, New Zealand. He can be reached at umair.jamal@outlook.com and on Twitter @UmairJamal15