NationalVolume 12 Issue # 15

Government’s failure to control terrorism

After the new wave of terror in the country renewed questioning and criticism about the National Action Plan (NAP), new focus by the state and its agencies on the said plan has resurfaced. Generally there is a consensus that NAP, which was formulated in late 2014 after the ghastly terror act at the Army Public School, Peshawar, could not be adequately and meaningfully implemented. Of late, even Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has admitted the inability, if not outright failure, of the government of his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), to fully implement NAP. The resurgence of terrorist violence in the country, in which terrorist have carried out attacks across the length and breadth of the country, killing more than a hundred people, is largely linked by experts, journalists, officials and politicians, to the failure of the government and its institutions to enforce all the provisions of NAP. This is, indeed, very accurate because NAP is one of the most comprehensive documents on counterterrorism and counter-extremism to deal with the perpetrators of terrorism and radicalism as well as the source of all kinds of terrorism and extremism. The 20-point NAP was difficult but not impossible to implement provided there was political will within the state, its leadership and the government in particular. If today everyone is admitting that NAP could not be efficiently implemented, hardly anyone is pointing at the reasons for this failure. Therefore, there is a need to identify the challenges to the implementation of NAP.

The first point of NAP was that the execution of convicted terrorists would go on unabated. Despite being one of the easiest of the provisions to implement, not an impressive number of such convicts have been sent to the gallows. After the setting up of the military courts in the aftermath of the APS attack through a constitutional amendment, the point should have been more effectively enforced. In particular, when there has been no huge backlash, which was apprehended, from the terrorist and extremist outfits. An important article of NAP was to ensure that no armed militias were allowed to operate in the country. Still there are numerous armed groups, some of which have been operating for decades. These include the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the main group, against which Pakistan’s war on terror has been waged but it has not been conclusively defeated. Although the TTP has been neutralized to a significant extent through the operation Zarb-e-Azb, but the state agencies could not check the resurfacing of the members of the TTP with new brand names and organizational structures. The NAP point regarding strengthening and activation of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) was very much implementable. As NACTA was handed principal research and analysis functions to counter terrorism in Pakistan, it would have to have the capacity to deliver but only if experts and genuine analysts and officials having practical experience of countering extremism and terrorism were made part of the organization’s core team. Unfortunately, this could not be done and NACTA has remained largely incapacitated and, thus, ineffective. The problem with NACTA has been that the responsible ministers and top officials have been trying to fashion it after traditional Pakistani government institutions. There has been a failure on the part of the decision-makers to understand that the counterterrorism and counter-extremism in the cyber and information age is a completely new concept and needs out of the box thinking.

NAP article regarding countering hate speech and extremist material has largely remained unimplemented. The reason has been that the government would not take the requisite bold steps in this regard. It should have ruthlessly and indiscriminately enforced the already existing ban on the use of mosque loudspeakers for any other purpose than the call for prayers. Moreover, the government has also been unable to fully crackdown on newspapers, magazines, FM radio stations and internet sites, through which extremists and terrorists carry out their propaganda and get recruits, finances and sympathizers. NAP also included choking off financing for terrorists and terrorist organizations. The government has not demonstrated much commitment, highly needed, in this respect. For instance, the Hundi and Hawala business, the unofficial and illegal method of transaction of money from foreign countries to Pakistan and through which extremists and terrorists have been getting their finances, has been thriving as ever. One has observed that in KP and Balochistan, the provinces worst hit by terrorism, most of the Hundi and Hawala businesses are done by Afghans in connivance with Pakistani officials. As extremist and terrorist organizations have established huge businesses and plazas, the intelligence agencies need to identify them and their owners must be taken into government custody. Unfortunately, not much progress could be registered on this front. NAP’s provision regarding establishment and deployment of a dedicated counter-terrorism force has been largely acted upon, but it has not been totally effective in the face of the strategy of suicide terrorism. Therefore, there is a need to use a non-human countering mechanism, to deal with suicide attackers.

Taking effective steps against religious persecution was an important aim of NAP, but action on it has left a lot to be desired. The government could not even initiate banning all sources of unofficial fatawas and revamp the government-funded arrangement of district and provincial muftis and khateebs. The most important point of NAP was the registration and regulation of madrassas. Given their physical existence and the contribution of large numbers of seminaries to religious extremism and terrorism in the country and above all after the feral Peshawar school carnage, regulating and registering madrassas should have been very easy. The government, has largely failed to regulate and register madrassas. Instead, the government’s appeasement policy towards clerical parties like the Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) both factions and Jamaat-e-Islami continues. These parties wrongly argue that madrassas have never been involved in terrorism in Pakistan which is glaringly uncorrect. The extremist mindset these schools prepare has been instrumental in making terrorists and legitimizing terrorism in the name of Islam. The NAP point about carrying out administrative and development reforms in FATA with immediate focus on return of IDPs, is of extreme significance but has also remain mostly unimplemented. The reasons have been lack of understanding of the dynamics of FATA, political commitment and will on the part of the government. The point regarding dismantling communication networks of terrorist organizations, could not be achieved. Because the government has failed to take all the mosques in the country in its control and to operate them through the local communities.

The point of NAP which emphasized on the zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab was of fundamental significance but there has been hardly any progress in this regard. The reason has been the government of PML-N has not wanted to create problems for itself in its political backyard. The PML-N has wooed several terrorist and extremist organizations of the Punjab to keep its support base intact. So the political will on part of the PML-N government in this regard has been largely missing. The point regarding taking the ongoing operation in Karachi to its logical conclusion was very laudable, and partially successful, but it could not be pursued to its final conclusion. Because complete implementation on the point required the support from the PPP, the ANP and the MQM, all of which have militant and terrorist wings that they have not been willing to disband. Although these parties paid lip-service to a strong military operation, but support and commitment from them has been absent. The NAP point which called for firmly dealing with sectarian terrorists was quite easy, provided all the mosques, imambargaphs owned and operated by sectarian organizations were taken into government control and a strong statute was passed that formation of political groups on the basis of sectarianism was not allowed. But the government failed to take both of these steps. The point regarding formulation of a comprehensive policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees, beginning with registration of all unregistered illegal refugees, was extremely significant. But the PML-N government, under sway of a pro-Afghan ally, Mahmud Khan Achakzai, kept on extending the stay of the Afghans without any solid reason, allowing Afghan agencies to use elements within these refugees to carry out terrorists attacks inside Pakistan. There has also been little implementation on the NAP provision regarding revamping and reforming the criminal justice system, to strengthen counter-terrorism departments including granting of powers to the provincial CIDs to intercept terrorist communications.