When existential threats are met with selective interest and short-term fixes, the outcomes are bound to be contentious.
PESHAWAR: On December 24, 2014 — a week after terrorist struck and killed 144 students and staff members at the Army Public School in Peshawar — in a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a comprehensive strategy to defeat what many had come to believe was an existential threat to Pakistan.
Sharif called the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) that had come about after two days of marathon meetings of heads of parliamentary parties, a ‘defining moment’ in the fight against terrorism.
“A line has been drawn,” a sombre Prime Minister told the nation. “On one side are coward terrorists and on the other side stands the whole nation.”
NAP provided for the execution of convicted terrorists, establishment of military-led speedy trial courts, action against armed militias and the strengthening and activation of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta).
It also envisaged countering hate speech and extremist material, choking financing for terrorist and terrorist organisations, ensuring that proscribed organisations and individuals do not re-emerge, establishing a counter-terrorism force and taking steps against religious persecution.
The plan also included steps for the registration and regulation of seminaries, a ban on the glorification of terrorists in the media, Fata reforms, dismantling of the communication networks of terrorists, measures against abuse of the internet and social media for terrorism, reversing the trend of militancy, a Karachi operation to end lawlessness and to deny space to militants and extremism.
Besides, and most importantly, NAP called for steps to reconcile the dissident Baloch, ending sectarian terrorism, repatriation of Afghan refugees and revamping of the criminal justice system.
To ensure that work was taken in hand immediately and concurrently in a speedy and effective manner, the government also constituted various committees, 18 of which were to be headed by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.
Twenty months after it was announced with great fanfare, most of the 20 points of the National Action Plan to counter terrorism have seen very little progress.
Progress on NAP, however, has been uneven and unsatisfactory and, in some cases, extremely slow — a fact also borne out by a public near-rebuke of the government by the military establishment.
The lack of interest on the part of the political leadership in overseeing progress on NAP was evident from the fact that Prime Minister Sharif convened a meeting of the civil and military top brass only 19 months after NAP was announced to review the matter and that too, only after the Quetta bombing that left 50 lawyers dead and caused public outcry and anger.
Among the issues that continue to show a lack of progress are tge choking of financing for terrorist and terrorist organisations, officials associated with the process say.
Led by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, the committee tasked with the goal includes Governor State Bank of Pakistan, Chairman FBR, DG FIA, Secretary Finance and DG ISI but has failed to produce any tangible results without any legal and constitutional framework.
Even the half-hearted attempt to close down Peshawar’s main currency exchange market — known for its hundi and hawala business — after persistent demands by intelligence agencies at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Apex Committee meetings, ran into legal problems. The market has had to be re-opened soon afterwards.
Little wonder then that the demand for the American greenback in Peshawar is higher than anywhere else in the country, pushing the rate of the dollar up in the provincial capital much above elsewhere in Pakistan.
The re-emergence of proscribed organisations and individuals is perhaps one of the most contentious issues. Headed by the Minister for Interior, the committee that was to suggest steps to ensure that proscribed organisations and individuals did not re-emerge under different names did not achieve much progress either.
Fata Reforms did show some progress. A committee led by the adviser to the PM on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, has completed its task and has prepared a 51-page report recommending Fata’s merger with KP.
It has suggested a five-year transition period, allowing the government to undertake legal and administrative reforms, including scrapping the British-era Frontier Crimes Regulations, coupled with massive infrastructure development work to mainstream the area.
The reform package awaited the PM’s post-surgery return from London and has had to wait to get an appointment with him for a final presentation.
Federal officials say that the PM would not only have to approve the reform package and announce it but would also have to make the resources available to set Fata on the course to be amalgamated with mainstream Pakistan.
The repatriation of Afghan refugees is also one of the key issues which have seen slow progress (see Pakistan’s Afghan problem).
Pakistan has refused to grant further extension to the millions of documented and undocumented Afghan refugees, making it clear to Afghanistan and United Nations High Commission for Refugees, that it would not extend the December 31, 2016, deadline for the refugees to return to their homeland.
With just four months left for the expiry of the umpteenth deadline, and while there has been a somewhat unprecedented uptick in the number of refugees going back to their country, there still does not seem to be any coordinated plan to streamline, speed up and encourage the millions of still-sceptical refugees to return home.
But perhaps the most difficult and complex issue that has seen little or no tangible progress is the reconciliation process in Baluchistan. The process did kindle some hope when the former Balochistan Chief Minister, Abdul Malik met with dissident Baloch leaders in self-exile in Europe.
The initiative did not make any headway, however, apparently due to the insistence by dissident Baloch leaders that they would only speak to the military establishment. In their view, the civilian leadership lacked the necessary authority and mandate. The political process is stalemated due to a lack of political and strategic direction.
Still, government officials say, substantial progress could be made toward the reconciliation process if concerted and cohesive efforts are made to bring in hundreds of fighters holed up in the mountains, commonly known as Feraris in Balochistan, willing to surrender to the authorities.
The process of the registration and regulation of madressahs also did not make any headway in the face of stiff resistance from religio-political parties and religious bodies and the lack of consistent efforts by the federal government to coordinate the efforts with the provinces.
It is, however, the government’s failure to provide the necessary financial, legal and administrative authority to strengthen Nacta that has drawn the most criticism from almost all political parties. Government officials insist that while strengthening Nacta is essential to combat terrorism, it is not the be-all and end-all institution to fight off the menace on its own.
As one official sums up: “Leaving it to and depending on one state institution to fight the permeated cancer is erroneous. Nacta plays an important role but the kind of problem we are in requires all state institutions, federal and provincial governments to work together more closely and more effectively. It is a process and a long haul but you can’t work in fits and starts.”
By: Ismail Khan