Parliament Watch: Is new consensus on fighting terrorism 'too much, too late'?

Published December 26, 2014
The image shows a view of the National Assembly. — APP/File
The image shows a view of the National Assembly. — APP/File

Some security analysts feel that if the government had implemented even half of the internal security policy it announced early this year, it would not have had to flail its iron fist and resolves in the aftermath of the brutal massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar.

Indeed, it would have helped the government avoid setting up military courts, an extreme measure, to which many political, such as the PPP, ANP and MQM, agreed to against their better sense.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had triumphantly declared on February 25, 2014, that the National Security Policy, the first-ever prepared by civilians, would help establish the writ of the state over the country against terrorists.

Next day, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan presented the “historic achievement” to the National Assembly for approval. Whatever is required for dealing effectively with religious extremism, militancy and terror suspects, the 94-page comprehensive document provides for.

It provides remedy for most of the issues that Prime Minister Sharif highlighted in his December 24 televised address to the nation. For example, the policy has laid down clear guidelines to integrate mosques and madressahs to the national education system in one year.

Nobody knows if the government ever acted upon any guidelines. Ittehad Tanzeemat-ul-Madaris, a body that represents madressahs of different sects and claims to have around 30,000 seminaries under its control, is not aware of any government move since the promulgation of the security policy to reform the madressahs.

And the prime minister now says the government intends to do so under the “new plan”!

More importantly, the security policy had stressed undertaking emergency legal reforms because the existing justice system had failed to deliver.

Still that point consumed much of the time of the all parliamentary parties’ meeting on Wednesday - failure of the courts to put terror suspects on trial. And in view of the new situation, all the parties agreed to hand over this task to military officers.

However, many in the legal community are asking should not the government have by now analysed the causes behind the failing of the legal system? Even if military courts are a better option for dealing with hardened terrorists, why a tragedy of the Peshawar scale had to happen to bring that realisation to the decision-makers?

May be a timely discussion in the National Assembly, or forming a parliamentary committee would have brought that realisation.

Implementation of the security policy lay in comprehensively reviewing the creaking legal system, particularly the criminal justice system. But throughout the year the government remained focused on how to counter Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s charges of rigging in the 2013 general elections and its street politics.  

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said in his address to the nation on Wednesday night that his government will destroy terrorist networks through effective coordination among the provinces, setting up of terrorism specific rapid response force and by intelligence sharing. To achieve that objective, law enforcement agencies need actionable intelligence.

Under the security policy a directorate of internal security had to be set up to oversee and ensure coordination among the staggering 33 civil and military intelligence agencies that operate in the country. The directorate was to have an intelligence and analysis centre of four intelligence groups replicating the ISI, the Military Intelligence, the federal law-enforcement agencies and the police intelligence departments.

Only Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar can tell what progress the proposals made. But, according to a top government functionary there has been none.

A matter that the security policy considered of critical importance, the all parliamentary parties seems to have missed completely in the recent meeting.

It relates to constructing a national narrative against the extremist mindset in six months, with the help of religious scholars, intelligentsia, media and educational institutions. That narrative would form the cornerstone of an ideological response to the non-traditional threats.

Six months are too short a time to achieve this gigantic task, yet enough to make a start at least. Only Chaudhry Nisar can explain if his ministry took any initiative in this regard.

Chaudhry Nisar, however, reportedly did say that Rs34 billion would be needed to implement the policy in the first year. That the government could not spare the money, was one of the factors that soured his relations with the finance minister Sen Ishaq Dar, according to media reports.

PTI vice chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi was spot on when he said after Wednesday’s all parties meeting that their talking about raising a rapid response force and other measures wouldn’t serve the purpose.

“If the government is serious in implementing all these recommendations which entire political leadership of the country has supported it needs to make special allocations for that,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 26th, 2014

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