Recently, the new Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Ahsan Iqbal, asked the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to “ensure” implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) to counter extremism and terrorism in the country. Ahsan Iqbal asked this during his first visit to NACTA after taking charge of his ministry. The statement is surprising because how can NACTA ensure implementation of NAP? First, NACTA is not an implementation body and, secondly, it has itself several capacity issues and this was admitted by Minister Ahsan Iqbal during the above-mentioned visit to NACTA. On this occasion he reportedly said that the government would take practical steps to make NACTA “further effective”. This implies that NACTA is not fully effective. Then how can the minister ask that body to ensure the implementation of NAP? NAP is a very extensive document, having at least 20 major points to be acted upon. One thinks implementing NAP is beyond the capacity of NACTA. It is interesting to note that Ahsan Iqbal was the first minister of the interior to visit the NACTA offices since the establishment of the body in 2008 and passage of the NACTA Bill by parliament in 2013.
In order to implement NAP to counter extremism and terrorism in the country, a realistic reassessment of the issue and obstacles hindering the same must be done. Asking NACTA to act upon all the points of NAP does not, and would not, serve any purpose. It may be mentioned here that 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. At one point, disqualified Prime Minster Mian Nawaz Sharif even admitted the inability of the government of his party, the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), to fully implement NAP.
The recurrence of terrorist violence in the country, along its length and breadth, has largely been linked by the experts, journalists, officials and politicians, to the failure of the government and its institutions to enforce all the provisions of NAP. This is, indeed, correct because NAP is one of the most comprehensive documents on counterterrorism and counter-extremism and to deal with the perpetrators of terrorism and radicalism as well as the sources of all kinds of terrorism and extremism.
The fact of the matter is that the 20-point NAP has been difficult, but not impossible, to implement provided there had been political will within the state, its leadership and the government in particular. However, what we have seen is that the federal government of the PML-N has been fully engaged in trying to prove the ousted premier innocent in the face of serious charges of corruption unearthed by the Panama Leaks scandal. The scandal which emerged in April last year, concentrated the attention of the prime minister and his cabinet, in other words the entire government, on saving the skin of Nawaz Sharif and his family instead of focusing on tackling the issues faced by the country. Of these issues, the most critical has been terrorism and extremism in the name of Islam. In such a situation, the government cannot be expected to expeditiously implement NAP, despite it being its prime responsibility. Because providing security to the citizens lives and property should be the priority of any government.
Coming to NAP, its first point is regarding the execution of convicted terrorists which the plan envisaged would go on unabatedly. Despite being one of the easiest of the provisions to implement, not a significant 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 expeditiously enforced. In particular when there has been no huge backlash, which was apprehended, from the terrorist and extremist groups. But diametrically opposed to that policy, the government did not extend the tenure of the military courts. This was disastrous because the rate of conviction of dangerous terrorists by the ordinary and anti-terrorist courts leaves a lot to be desired. Against this backdrop, there seems lack of political will on part of the PML-N government. This has greatly affected the state and its citizens’ security.
An important point of NAP was to ensure that no armed militias were allowed to operate in the country. Fortunately, there has been visible improvement on this count, as many groups’ operations have been disrupted of which some 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 more than political, will, it has been due to the sacrifices of the personnel of the security forces that the operations of terrorist group have been disrupted.
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 should have had the capacity to deliver, 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, as mentioned above, 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.
The NAP point countering hate speech and extremist material has largely remained unimplemented. The reason has been that the government could not take the intrepid steps in this regard. It should have ruthlessly and objectively enforced the already existing ban on the use of mosque loudspeakers for any other purpose than call to prayers, “Azan”. Moreover, government has also been unable to fully crackdown on all newspapers, magazines, F M radio stations, internet sites, through which extremists and terrorists carry out their propaganda and get recruits, finances and sympathizers. So there has also been lack of political will in this regard.
The government’s inability to demonstrate political will to implement NAP has also resulted in failure to choke, financing for terrorists and terrorist organizations. For instance, the Hundi and Hawala business, the unofficial and illegal method of transaction of money between foreign countries and Pakistan and through which extremists and terrorists have been getting their finances, has been as thriving as ever. One has observed that in KP and Balochistan, the worst-hit provinces 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 has been registered on this front. The PML-N government has been continuously extending the stay of Afghan refugees instead of sending them back, in spite of the security threat they pose to Pakistan.
The lack of political will on part of the government to implement NAP has afforded space for terrorists. Instead of putting the ball in NACTA’s court by the federal interior minister to implement NAP, the government must demonstrate the political will to enforce the plan, otherwise countering extremism and terrorism in the country would remain a pipedream and citizens would continue to be victims of radicals and terrorists.