The military leadership asked the federal and provincial governments on Thursday to share their burden under the ongoing National Action Plan (NAP) by activating special courts set up under the Protection of Pakistan Act (PPA), 2014, and putting in place measures necessary to stop money falling into the hands of terrorists.
Held at the Prime Minister’s Office, the five-hour, two-session apex committee huddle saw the military side pushing the chief ministers of the four provinces and Gilgit-Baltistan and the prime minister of AJK to take a hard line on errant madressahs, those guilty of hate speech and religious scholars known for fanning sectarianism, sources privy to the meeting told Dawn.
This was the first time since NAP was formulated in December last year that the civilian and military leadership sat together at the federal level to figure out how the plan was progressing.
The chief areas of concern include terror financing, madressah reforms, illegal arms and persecution of religious and sectarian minorities.
The decline in terrorist attacks because of action against militant sanctuaries in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency has generated an impression that NAP is performing well. But, beneath the surface there are grey areas, which were the focus of the apex committee meeting at the centre.
Call to revive special courts under PPA; chief ministers urged to take a hard line against sectarian elements
“The deliberations were serious and extensive,” a participant told Dawn after the meeting.
A source said that a high-ranking official, sharing his candid assessment, said that kinetic operations – military actions involving the use of lethal force – should complement the government’s broader fight against extremism and terrorism, but this was not happening and while the operations had earned the country some respite, NAP implementation left a lot to be desired.
The top official, according to the source, warned the meeting that gains achieved by military operations would be lost if NAP implementation does not improve immediately and deny space to terrorists and militants.
Gen Raheel Sharif was quoted by the source as having told the meeting that simply ridding the country of terrorist networks would not be enough and that law-enforcement agencies needed to get hold of the financiers, abettors and facilitators of the terrorists.
The army chief had, during his Defence Day address, said: “We shall not relent until all terrorists; their financiers, abettors, facilitators and sympathisers are brought to justice.”
This, the source implied, was a signal that the army was intending to expand the scope of the current action against terrorists.
According to another participant, the issue of special courts constituted under PPA, 2014, was discussed in detail and it was asked whether they were fully functional and hearing terrorism-related cases. However, the federal and provincial governments had nothing encouraging to share on this front.
Under the act, passed in July 2014, the federal and provincial governments were allowed — after due consultation with the chief justices of the provincial high courts — to set up as many special courts as required to try hardened criminals with provisions for special witnesses and judges’ protection. Initially, a few courts were set up, but so far it is not known if the government forwarded any cases to them or not.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, who also looks after the law ministry, and Ashtar Ausaf Ali, who advises the prime minister on legal issues, were not available for comment.
However, speaking at the press conference at Punjab House on Thursday, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that provincial governments hadn’t constituted courts under the PPA. “We have decided to make use of this provision and set up more special courts.”
But a senior government official, who didn’t want to be quoted, told Dawn that after the military courts were set up under the controversial 21st Amendment, the federal and provincial governments thought that there was no need to constitute special courts under the PPA.
“During the meeting, it was agreed that besides military courts, federal and provincial governments should use the option of PPA courts to ensure effective implementation of NAP.”
When the military asked for the setting up of military courts in the aftermath of the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, political parties had said that there was no need for the 21st Amendment in the presence of PPA courts.
Moreover, following up on their Sept 7 meeting with religious scholars of all five madressah boards, the military leadership urged the chief ministers to take a hard line against seminaries fanning sectarianism. The meeting agreed to discuss a set of laws exclusively meant to deal with sectarianism and it was also suggested that the government should appoint prayer leaders and Quran teachers in mosques which will help the public sector to remain engaged with mosques and seminaries.
Other important issues raised on the occasion dealt with the failure to choke terrorists’ finances. Unless the sources of funding to militant organisations were effectively choked, law-enforcement agencies wouldn’t be able to fully control the situation, a senior security official said during the meeting.
To this end, it was decided that the federal ministers for finance and interior would hold a special meeting over the next few days to review the existing set of laws and discuss ways to improve them.
Briefing reporters after the meeting, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that even though the federal government had banned the issuance of arms licences, some provinces kept on issuing non-prohibited bore arms licences. He said it had been decided that the issuance of arms licences would be banned across the country, with immediate effect.
The realm of cybercrime was also an area that required improvement, he said, adding that a cybercrime bill had been cleared by the standing committee and would soon be laid before the National Assembly.