TERRORISTS cannot demoralise the nation. The war will continue till the elimination of the last terrorist. Thus spoke the interior minister recently — after some weeks in hibernation. Reassuring? Or are words all he has?
He was declared the counterterrorism czar in January this year by the prime minister in a meeting to discuss the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) when it was decided that the interior minister would lead the effort to implement the 20-point counterterrorism (CT) strategy and ensure proper coordination with all stakeholders.
It is now time to point out the inadequacies of certain aspects of the CT policy being pursued and also highlight the lack of progress in implementing NAP in its true spirit.
The snake-pit of militancy needs to be cleared.
Firstly, over 100 convicts have been hanged in five months since the Dec 16 carnage at the Army Public School, Peshawar. Has capital punishment deterred diehard terrorists? All I can say with my experience of more than 40 years in law enforcement is that it is the certainty and not the severity of punishment that deters criminals or reduces criminality. As long as loopholes exist in our justice system, death by hanging will not work.
Second, NAP emphasised that no armed militias would be allowed to function in the country. While the interior ministry has banned issuance of arms licences, some provinces are generously distributing licences of even prohibited-bore weapons. There is no policy of firm gun control in any province. No wonder violence cannot be stopped by a state machinery unwilling or incapable of enforcing its writ through effective deweaponisation.
Third, the National Counter-Terrorism Authority was to be strengthened and activated. However, Nacta has not been placed under the prime minister as per the law. The interior minister continues to keep Nacta under his wing, without giving it the necessary professional staff and resources. No wonder the vacuum is being filled by the military establishment.
Fourth, effective measures were required to counter hate speech. Some progress in this regard has been achieved by the Punjab and KP governments. However, the extremist mindset has permeated society and a wholesome strategy is missing.
Fifth, choking terror financing has not met with any significant success. A task force under the finance minister held a few meetings but has failed so far to come up with an institutional mechanism to regulate or block financing for terrorists.
Sixth, NAP required ensuring that proscribed organisations do not re-emerge. The working group had suggested banning the office-bearers and leaders of militant organisations. However, proscribed groups re-emerge with new names; some pose as charitable entities, others simply flout the ban. Therefore, those responsible for creating these monsters need to show resolve to clear the snake-pit of militancy.
Seventh, the plan required “taking effective steps against religious persecution”. This is an area where a long-term strategy is required. What should be the role of religion in matters of statecraft? How should we safeguard the fundamental rights of the minorities? This is a larger debate that this nation cannot afford to ignore.
Eighth, the crucial plan to register and regulate madressahs has stalled. This is where the government has buckled under the pressure of religious parties. It was decided that all madressahs would be registered; foreign students expelled, scores of identified seminaries promoting violence closed down, independent audit of all their funding carried out and all foreign funding routed through government institutions. Eventually, all madressahs were to be brought under the provincial education departments.
Ninth, zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab was to be shown. This is the real battle zone where nurseries of religious extremism, sectarianism and militancy have thrived for far too long. While assuring that all non-state actors would be tackled eventually, the army chief will be tested hard on his commitment.
Tenth, NAP stressed on empowering the Balochistan government for political reconciliation with dissidents through complete ownership by all stakeholders. The political government has not been given a free hand to resolve the issue of missing persons. The kill-and-dump strategy has not been abandoned completely. Security forces are combating the Baloch insurgency through strong-arm tactics. No one is prepared to give peace a chance, at least for now.
Eleventh, an important NAP point dealt with revamping and reforming the criminal justice system, including strengthening CT departments. This is unfortunately not a priority of the state. The government is not willing to depoliticise the police or give them sufficient autonomy and resources. In the absence of all this, the military will keep calling the shots in internal security matters.
This, in a nutshell, is the national inaction plan against the terrorists who want to dismantle our state. Will the CT czar lead the battle against the militants in real earnest?
The writer is a retired police officer.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2015