THE interior ministry may intend the numbers to convey a sense of achievement, but they only raise troubling questions. In a parliamentary update on actions taken under the National Action Plan, the interior ministry has claimed that 2,159 militants have been killed and 1,724 arrested by law-enforcement agencies.

Who were and are these nearly 4,000 individuals? Where were they killed or arrested? What are the crimes each of them is alleged to have committed?

Disturbingly, neither does the government seem to think such questions need detailed responses, nor do the opposition parties in parliament appear to have any interest in getting answers.

Had that been the case, the interior ministry may perhaps have thought twice about clubbing together statistics on alleged terrorists killed with the number of SIMs and websites blocked.

Surely, all statistics are not the same — especially when some of those statistics involve killings that are not judicially investigated or specifically authorised.

Clearly, NAP was necessary because there is a serious terrorism problem. It would be unsurprising if, after a year of intensive effort, several thousand militants were identified and captured or killed across the country.

The scale of the terrorism threat makes it almost inevitable that thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, are involved.

But there is also another reality — if allowed to operate without careful and sustained scrutiny, the state can often veer into excesses.

Perhaps the 2,159 killed were all involved in terrorism — but when there are no explanations offered or details demanded, should it be assumed that only actual terrorists have been caught in the cross hairs? Individual names, details about terrorist affiliations or activities and the specifics of the encounters would go a long way to assuage doubts.

What about the 1,724 arrested? Where have they been detained? Will all, or even most, of them face trial? It is not unheard of for the law-enforcement agencies to exaggerate their effectiveness by arresting many individuals and then quietly releasing them later.

The lack of transparency and absence of scrutiny in fact impedes NAP. If details are publicly known and shared among the various law-enforcement and intelligence agencies, they would help better direct NAP.

Trends would emerge — do certain regions require the application of more NAP resources; are some militant groups bigger or operating in larger areas than previously known?

Effectiveness could be better gauged, too. For instance, is the government getting the right targets? How can prosecutions be improved?

At its core though there is a question of justice here. Is it right that some 4,000 individuals, all or most presumably Pakistanis, be simply eliminated or imprisoned without so much as their names being shared?

There is also the element of propaganda to consider — militants routinely say that the state is eliminating innocent people and use that claim as a recruiting tool.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2016

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