National Action Plan or No Action Plan: Civilian Dithering
As December gloom takes over Pakistan, much has been written about the National Action Plan, which was initiated by the government of Pakistan in January 2015 after the murderous rampage at the Army Public School, Peshawar. It was devised with the broad objective to crackdown on terrorism and to augment the already on-going anti-terrorist offensive in Pakistan. The Plan received unprecedented support across country’s political spectrum, inclusive of the federal and provincial governments. National Action Plan forms the framework of the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan.
As 16 December approaches, the day the terrorists killed hundred and thirty two young students in the Army Public School in Peshawar, it is pertinent to evaluate the actual gains from the National Action Plan not only in terms of military’s achievement but also in the civilian context. Although, the federal government takes pride in establishing a civilian front against the terrorist agenda, in reality most of our civilian government’s responsibilities are either completely ignored or brushed under the carpet putting the military under immense pressure. Out of the twenty points hammered out in the National Action Plan, a critical evaluation of each, leads to an entirely different reality to what being is claimed by the federal and provincial governments.
Our politicians and bureaucrats are not famous for their decisiveness and rapid action. But even by their mediocre standard, one would imagine that given the dangers posed by jihadi militancy and extremist mindset, the government should have stumbled into action by now. Focusing on a few major points in the National Action Plan, the government has conveniently ignored a large chunk of the agreed agenda. National Action Plan envisaged NACTA (National Counter Terrorism Authority)1 as the supreme anti-terrorism body that would coordinate with all the intelligence agencies and provincial governments. Under the plan, NACTA will report directly to the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
Herein lies the problem—clearly our Interior Minister would not like to be bypassed by a mere bureaucrat or police officer. The other major problem is the lack of a coherent and detailed coordination policy between different intelligence agencies. With a host of provincial governments and agencies involved, carving out a detailed working mechanism was always going to be a tall order. NACTA is for all practical purposes as good as dead because so far it has failed to carry out its duties, with the current NACTA Chief, Ihsan Ghani, clearly out of sorts. The service rules of the highest anti-terrorism authority of the country are yet to be framed and it has received only a fraction of its required budget. A large number of the organization’s vacancies is yet to be filled—this clearly points to a lack of effective and focused governmental policy on terrorism.
A significant component of the National Action Plan relates to the reforms and regularization of the Madrassah system. Apart from identifying a few radical seminaries, the government and political leadership has shown little resolve to tackle highly complex and sensitive issues such as their curricula, teaching methodology and finances. Government’s typical lethargy and evasiveness is evident when it comes to solving real, deep-rooted problems because of political opportunism. This is tantamount to not only a major security threat to our future but also an imminent danger for millions of children availing the Madrassah education that breeds a blinkered vision resulting in extremism.
From squeezing the financing of extremist groups to dismantling the old Madrassah system, the federal government’s actions have been slow, reactive and largely incoherent. It would require not only courage which most our political class lacks but also good old-fashioned hard work to take on the menace of extremism of various hues. Micro steps have to be taken in order to galvanize the government’s efforts to end the senseless violence, unleashed by trained militants, that hangs over the state and the society like the sword of Damocles. The government sadly cannot even sort things out with Lal Masjid cleric, Abdul Aziz Ghazi who openly supports extremist outfits and spews hatred against the state and democratic set-up. It’s the same Mr. Ghazi who was captured escaping the Lal Masjid in a burqa during the previous operation against his seminary. It is the spineless government policy which allows people like Mr. Ghazi to create space in the already rotten social system of Pakistan and pose a threat to our national fabric and harmony of the country. It is galling to see Aziz challenging the state with another Sharia movement and it would not take long before he springs back into action.
Apart from this, there are other pivotal issues raised by the National Action Plan—including basic reforms in the criminal justice system that is currently too cumbersome to swiftly try those accused of terror charges. In the absence of a protection program for the witnesses, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel, most accused are released on bail or declared not guilty. A prime example would be the notorious Malik Ishaq, Lashker-i-Jhangvi Chief, who was released on bail but later taken down in an encounter with the police.2
National Action Plan provided the framework for the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan which established speedy trial military courts for offences relating to terrorism. The government decided to proceed with the execution of terrorists convicted in terror related charges and sectarianism. Although implementation has commenced, yet only a mere handful of the hardened terrorists have been given the rope, mainly comprising of the culprits who attacked General Headquarters Pindi3, and those involved in attacking General Pervaiz Musharraf4 and the Army Public School Peshawar.5 This in itself represents the shambolic state of our justice system.
Rightfully, the armed forces are clenching their fists over the lack of progress on the various points hammered out in the National Action Plan. We should remember it was only after 132 innocent children were brutally massacred at APS last year that our reluctant and inept politicians forged a consensus over the National Action Plan. Before that, our federal government and a large majority of our mainstream political parties, desired to initiate dialogue with a ruthless foe to bring peace, with one political party even going to the extent of facilitating the opening of a Taliban office. Years of dithering and the loss of tens of thousands of lives was not enough for our government and political parties to prompt themselves into action.
Although the military’s Zarb-I-Azb operation has yielded some positive results in terms of neutralizing an extremist threat in the tribal areas, many terrorists are waiting in the wings. For instance, Rangers in Karachi have been able to bust major organized criminal gangs, operating in a nexus with the extremists, earlier protected by their political godfathers. However, in many cases the major players have either fled Pakistan or are living in hideouts in Karachi, protected by their political bosses.
In a nutshell, if Pakistan has to secure a decisive victory against the menace of terrorism and change the course of history in our favor, the current government has to overcome its failings in implementing the National Action Plan in its entirety. Essentially, in order to win the war on terror, the federal government has to work towards removing the inconsistencies prevalent in our criminal justice system vis-a-vis terror related offences especially but not limited to introducing a protection program for witnesses, judges and prosecutors. Reviving NACTA to its original constitutional position to act as the highest anti-terrorism authority without any hindrance or outside political pressure is urgently needed so that a unified national body acts as a coordinating authority between different provincial and federal intelligence agencies directly answerable to the Prime Minister. Such an act will play a crucial role in having a unified policy on terror and extremism. Last but not the least, introducing reforms in Madrassah education with the help of the concerned departments will not only address the root-cause of our problems but will also help millions of children who fall prey to the hands of these extremists elements, by keeping them under governmental check and providing the the opportunity to enter the mainstream of our national fabric.
- Dawn media report- Khawar Ghuman, June 20, 2013. Passed by the PPP government as National Counter Terrorism Authority Bill in 2013.
- Dawn media report- Imran Gabol- 29 JULY 2015, LJ Chief gunned down by police.
- Dawn media report-Mateen Haider-20 December 2014. GHQ attacker executed.
- Dawn media report-Malik Asad-23 Dcember 2014
- Dawn media report- Ali Akbar- 2 December 2015. APS attackers executed.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization with which he might be associated.