The Limits of “Take them Out” Approach

J. J. Baloch


Having moved by the inhumanity of terrorists in the face of the new wave of terror Prime Minister of Pakistan on February 18, 2017, declared “full-scale war’ on terrorists”. Inculcating a complete sense of security against the terrorism is the primary responsibility of our governments yet an appropriate preparedness is required on addressing the element of “how” this war could be and should be waged! Because things on the ground give quite a different pulse beats; It is, therefore, quite disproportionate to allow the “take them out” approach to dominate our response to terrorism.

The best counterterrorism relies on strategy, not on belligerence and ruthlessness so agree the scholars of criminal justice. Years of scholarship on crime and punishment leaks that certainty of punishment is far more impactful than its severity. Public confidence in the statutory and societal systems is birthed not by the force of its authority but generated by the legitimacy and due process of law which depend largely on the public mandate, popular support, and accountability rather than merely on coercive apparatus and muscle power.

Criminal justice policy discourses have been critical of the idea that “we can best reduce crime by aggressively arresting offenders and throwing the worst of them into prison. Here are some of the reasons why scholars believe this policy is flawed.”


Despite the best efforts of police in Pakistan and elsewhere, only a tiny proportion of crimes are solved and followed by arrest and punishment. Strangely it is quite unclear as to how this proportion can be increased significantly. Combing streets and neighbourhoods, crackdowns, operations, and increased patrols can be maintained only for short periods and, in any case, produce only a handful of arrests and preventions.

Detection is the best prevention but detective work is so time-consuming that it can be used only in the most serious cases. Even faster response times do not help the police much because perpetrators are usually long gone by the time the police are called. Despite limits and slow speed of professional work, it has very negligible impacts on serving as a cause of further radicalization of otherwise good citizens as is the danger of fallout and reaction can be predicted in using violence while enforcing the law.

“Decades of criminological research have failed to establish a relationship between severe punishment and reduced crime. The best-known example is the lack of statistical evidence that capital punishment deters murder. Because most offenders do not believe that they will be caught, they do not take the risk of severe punishment seriously; others do not care if they are caught because they are drunk or enraged when they commit their crimes.”

Same is true in Pakistan. The culture of impunity reigns supreme. The criminals believe that they can use their money and resources achieved through criminal and foul means to manoeuvre their exit from the domain of punishment and other consequences. Equally true is the factor of chronic public mistrust in government organisations to ensure that all those who commit crime are arrested and appropriately prosecuted, fairly tried and duly punished. The culture of softer punishments loaded with the traditions of corruption, influence, inefficiency and compromise hardly bear any fruit in the process of building strong criminal justice grip on all criminal elements.


The tougher sentences do not promise crime cuts. The examples of “the cult of being tough on crime” abound. The United States of America being the leading country where inmate population has multiplied yet their crime rates has not shown any signs of going down. Similarly, it is true for some European states who have followed the suit. The violence graph in such countries with tougher sentences and greater prison populations keeps going up and up. Countries such as Scandinavians where rationality prevailed and they focussed investing on rebuilding the broken minds of criminals through rehabilitation and re-connectivity of inmates to their families instead of building heavy prison structures have produced amazing results.

Coercion keeps fuelling the production criminals in the society instead of working well in building peace. The supply of offenders is never ending. According to reports, with each generation of youth, five to ten percent will turn out to be regular offenders. However, many offenders we arrest and imprison others will soon take their place. High rates of imprisonment carry high economic and social costs, both for society in general and for prisoners and their families.

Catching terrorists is not easy. They take even more care than regular criminals to conceal their activities and tracking them down has sometimes led to the use of questionable procedures. Even when we know their identities, we cannot always catch them. This is especially so when they operate overseas, in countries sympathetic to their cause: witness the fruitless efforts to date to find Osama bin Laden.

Those who are willing to die for their beliefs are unlikely to be deterred by the risk of death or punishment. They cannot be tried in open court because of security concerns, and even when convicted, they make difficult prisoners. In fact, perhaps the greatest cost of imprisoning terrorists is that their supporters feel justified in planning fresh outrages to force their release.

Killing terrorists carries even greater costs. It creates more bitterness among already hostile populations, making the conflicts that underlie terrorist acts even harder to resolve. It justifies the use of violence and supports the claim that they are fighting ruthless enemies. It turns them into martyrs and, therefore, into potent recruiting symbols among the impressionable young men whom terrorists seek to attract

None of this means that we should not punish terrorists once they are caught. They deserve punishment because of their evil deeds, and it is right to hunt them down. Some might argue that it is also right to kill terrorist leaders, particularly charismatic individuals who hold considerable sway over their followers and who cannot be replaced easily. Killing these leaders might effectively decapitate the organisation and leave its body to wither, saving the lives of many innocent people.

As a developing nation, Pakistan should rely on a multifaceted approach to terrorism. We must pursue diplomatic and military solutions together with elaborate criminal justice approaches. We must try to improve economic and educational opportunities for foreign populations, both those at risk of becoming disaffected and hostile and those at risk of takeover by terrorist organisations.

We must work to prevent terrorists from succeeding in their attacks by hardening targets and controlling the tools and weapons they use. And when they attack, we must respond rapidly and efficiently to reduce the death and damages that result. Better prevention ensures better cure. “Imprisoning or even killing terrorists will not eradicate terrorism any more than severe punishment has stopped crime.” A holistic approach as laid down in our NAP requires our attention and a complete implementation.

The Writer is policing educator and practitioner






Author: PublicPolicyInsights

With MSc Criminal Justice Policy from London School of Economics, London, UK, J. J Baloch has 20 years of work experience. He has worked in National Bank of Pakistan as officer grade 2 from 1995 to 2000. From 2000 till date He is working at Police Service of Pakistan. As an author he has published three books: Introduction to sociology, 2000; On the Art of Writing Essays, 2016; and The Power of Social Media & Policing Challenges, 2016. On 17 March 2017 J.J. Baloch is launching his first novel: "Whiter Than White: The Daughter of The Land of Pure" which is being published by Matador publication from the UK. Besides this, he regularly blogs on Google, Facebook. He also writes articles in English newspaper Dawn and also in some other magazines.

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