The charge-sheet against NAP

When an existential threat to the country is met with selective interest and short-term fixes, the outcomes are bound to be contentious

By Ismail Khan

On December 24, 2014 — a week after terrorist struck and killed 144 students and staff members at the Army Public School in Peshawar — in a televised address to the nation, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a comprehensive strategy to defeat what many had come to believe was an existential threat to Pakistan.

Sharif called the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) that had come about after two days of marathon meetings of heads of parliamentary parties, a ‘defining moment’ in the fight against terrorism. “A line has been drawn,” a sombre Prime Minister told the nation. “On one side are coward terrorists and on the other side stands the whole nation.” NAP provided for the execution of convicted terrorists, establishment of military-led speedy trial courts, action against armed militias and the strengthening and activation of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta). It also envisaged countering hate speech and extremist material, choking financing for terrorist and terrorist organisations, ensuring that proscribed organisations and individuals do not re-emerge, establishing a counter-terrorism force and taking steps against religious persecution.

The plan also included steps for the registration and regulation of seminaries, a ban on the glorification of terrorists in the media, Fata reforms, dismantling of the communication networks of terrorists, measures against abuse of the internet and social media for terrorism, reversing the trend of militancy, a Karachi operation to end lawlessness and to deny space to militants and extremism.

Besides, and most importantly, NAP called for steps to reconcile the dissident Baloch, ending sectarian terrorism, repatriation of Afghan refugees and revamping of the criminal justice system.

To ensure that work was taken in hand immediately and concurrently in a speedy and effective manner, the government also constituted various committees, 18 of which were to be headed by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

Twenty months after it was announced with great fanfare, most of the 20 points of the National Action Plan to counter terrorism have seen very little progress

Progress on NAP, however, has been uneven and unsatisfactory and, in some cases, extremely slow — a fact also borne out by a public near-rebuke of the government by the military establishment.

The lack of interest on the part of the political leadership in overseeing progress on NAP was evident from the fact that Prime Minister Sharif convened a meeting of the civil and military top brass only 19 months after NAP was announced to review the matter and that too, only after the Quetta bombing that left 50 lawyers dead and caused public outcry and anger.

Among the issues that continue to show a lack of progress are tge choking of financing for terrorist and terrorist organisations, officials associated with the process say.

Led by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, the committee tasked with the goal includes Governor State Bank of Pakistan, Chairman FBR, DG FIA, Secretary Finance and DG ISI but has failed to produce any tangible results without any legal and constitutional framework. Even the half-hearted attempt to close down Peshawar’s main currency exchange market — known for its hundi and hawala business — after persistent demands by intelligence agencies at Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Apex Committee meetings, ran into legal problems. The market has had to be re-opened soon afterwards.

Little wonder then that the demand for the American greenback in Peshawar is higher than anywhere else in the country, pushing the rate of the dollar up in the provincial capital much above elsewhere in Pakistan.

The re-emergence of proscribed organisations and individuals is perhaps one of the most contentious issues. Headed by the Minister for Interior, the committee that was to suggest steps to ensure that proscribed organisations and individuals did not re-emerge under different names did not achieve much progress either.

Fata Reforms did show some progress. A committee led by the adviser to the PM on Foreign Affairs, Sartaj Aziz, has completed its task and has prepared a 51-page report recommending Fata’s merger with KP. It has suggested a five-year transition period, allowing the government to undertake legal and administrative reforms, including scrapping the British-era Frontier Crimes Regulations, coupled with massive infrastructure development work to mainstream the area.

The reform package awaited the PM’s post-surgery return from London and has had to wait to get an appointment with him for a final presentation. Federal officials say that the PM would not only have to approve the reform package and announce it but would also have to make the resources available to set Fata on the course to be amalgamated with mainstream Pakistan.

The repatriation of Afghan refugees is also one of the key issues which have seen slow progress (see Pakistan’s Afghan problem). Pakistan has refused to grant further extension to the millions of documented and undocumented Afghan refugees, making it clear to Afghanistan and United Nations High Commission for Refugees, that it would not extend the December 31, 2016, deadline for the refugees to return to their homeland.

With just four months left for the expiry of the umpteenth deadline, and while there has been a somewhat unprecedented uptick in the number of refugees going back to their country, there still does not seem to be any coordinated plan to streamline, speed up and encourage the millions of still-sceptical refugees to return home.

But perhaps the most difficult and complex issue that has seen little or no tangible progress is the reconciliation process in Baluchistan. The process did kindle some hope when the former Balochistan Chief Minister, Abdul Malik met with dissident Baloch leaders in self-exile in Europe.

The initiativedid not make any headway, however, apparently due to the insistence by dissident Baloch leaders that they would only speak to the military establishment. In their view, the civilian leadership lacked the necessary authority and mandate. The political process is stalemated due to a lack of political and strategic direction.

Still, government officials say, substantial progress could be made toward the reconciliation process if concerted and cohesive efforts are made to bring in hundreds of fighters holed up in the mountains, commonly known as Feraris in Balochistan, willing to surrender to the authorities.

The process of the registration and regulation of madressahs also did not make any headway in the face of stiff resistance from religio-political parties and religious bodies and the lack of consistent efforts by the federal government to coordinate the efforts with the provinces.

It is, however, the government’s failure to provide the necessary financial, legal and administrative authority to strengthen Nacta that has drawn the most criticism from almost all political parties. Government officials insist that while strengthening Nacta is essential to combat terrorism, it is not the be-all and end-all institution to fight off the menace on its own.

As one official sums up: “Leaving it to and depending on one state institution to fight the permeated cancer is erroneous. Nacta plays an important role but the kind of problem we are in requires all state institutions, federal and provincial governments to work together more closely and more effectively. It is a process and a long haul but you can’t work in fits and starts.”

The writer is Dawn’s Editor (KP)

Pakistan’s Afghan problem

NAP had promised a comprehensive policy on Afghan refugees’ registration and repatriation. Pakistan seems nowhere near it

by Zulfiqar Ali

When Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif unveiled the National Action Plan (NAP) in December 2014, the second last point of the strategy resolved to prepare “a comprehensive policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees, beginning with registration of all refugees.” But almost 20 months later, policy makers in Islamabad are still sifting through files to work out a strategy or plan to deal with this chronic issue once and for all.

In the aftermath of the attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar, the presence of millions of Afghans was deemed as one of the factors which contributed to the menace of terrorism and extremism in the country. No doubt some Afghans nationals were involved in heinous criminal activities, but after the APS attack Afghan refugees were considered ‘the mother of all evils’.

Two goals were therefore set in the NAP agenda for refugees’ repatriation. First, there will be no further extension beyond December 2016 for registered refugees to amicably return home, and their return would be facilitated under the UN-sponsored voluntary repatriation programme.

Second, undocumented Afghans would be registered through the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) within six months; this would enable authorities to compile authentic data before sending the refugees back to their country. At the same time, police and other law enforcement agencies were to check the movement of undocumented Afghan nationals and take action against them under the Foreigners Act.

But perhaps, that bit was all for rhetoric; without a plan to re­p­atriate refugees, there isn’t much to speak of implementation.

Since refugees’ repatriation is a federal subject, the federal government is supposed to provide a roadmap or guidelines to various provincial governments for the return of Afghan nationals, including registered refugees. Before the NAP, dozens of strategies and plans had been designed to ensure the return of Afghan nationals but these plans never saw the light of day.

But implementation of Section 19 of NAP remains in limbo as the government struggles to find a sustainable solution for the repatriation of registered as well as undocumented Afghans who are living in Pakistan without valid documents. More than one million Afghan nationals are estimated to be still residing in the country without legal documents.

In fact, none of the major stakeholders are on the same page. The Min­istry of States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) favours a one-year extension in the stay of registered refugees after Dec­ember 2016 while other stakeholders are not in favour of this proposal. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government in particular is opposed to this plan, as are nationalist forces and religious parties. But officials maintain that another one-year extension is on the cards for registered refugees.

SAFRON had also prepared a plan to start registration of undocumented Afghans throughout the country, with an estimated one million Afghan nationals without refugee status to be registered in the first phase. The ministry had allocated 74 million rupees for this registration drive and assigned the task to Nadra.

The authority, in collaboration with the Commissionerate for Refugees, identified 24 registration points to issue temporary registrations cards to undocumented Afghans. Nadra was just about to start the drive when the interior ministry clamped down on this registration plan, claiming that the registration of refugees was not under SAFRON’s mandate. The issue was therefore put on the backburner.

Recently another committee comprising officials of SAFRON, interior ministry and other stakeholders was tasked to prepare an action plan to pave the way for the repatriation of 1.5 million registered refugees and to deal with the return of undocumented Afghans. The committee has completed its work and is awaiting approval from the federal government.

Meanwhile, no comprehensive border management policy with Afghanistan has been put in place either. Cross-border movement of people and goods has been regularised only at Torkham but other routes still remain open for human traffic as well as for smuggling purposes.

In the absence of any plan or policy, the Prime Minister’s Secretariat has adopted a short-term solution by handing registered refugees a six-month extension. Their legal stay is due to expire in December, 2016.

There are also reports that the federal government has decided to hand undocumented Afghans some relief till November 15 next, and has issued directives to all provincial governments to stop the police from detaining or deporting unregistered Afghans till that date.

Despite these orders, however, the police and other law enforcement agencies in various provinces continue to arrest and intimidate unregistered Afghans by applying different tactics such as travelling restrictions, harassment and raids. As a result, the number of Afghan refugees who have left Pakistan has witnessed a surge.

Officials in the government as well the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) both claim that around 60,000 refugees out of 1.5 million registered Afghans have returned home since January this year.

The writer is a Dawn staffer

In the heartland of militancy, a lack of coordination among Punjab’s law enforcers

Despite killing over 300 suspected terrorists and making over 700 arrests, the state maintains its ‘good militant, bad militant’ distinction

By Imran Gabol

The December 16, 2014, attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar was described as a watershed moment in the country’s history: the civilian and military leaderships were finally on the same page and had agreed to target all terror groups without distinction. A new page had seemingly been turned.

But a year-and-a-half later, the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) resembles a hastily-conceived wish-list, devised for sloganeering during a period of crisis rather than a coherent and coordinated strategy to tackle terrorism.

In Punjab, this confusion has manifested itself as a lack of coordination among its various law enforcement agencies, which in turn hinders the state’s resolve to fight militancy and eradicate it.

Over 300 suspected terrorists have been killed in Punjab thus far and over 700 arrests have also been made, with Lahore and Multan proving to be safe havens for terrorists. But officials in the government as well as members of the civil society remain unconvinced by counter-terror efforts being made.

A member of the committee that devised NAP and a civilian security analyst, on condition of anonymity, claims that the national counter-terrorism plan recognised that Punjab is the heartland of militancy and that the “real battle” against terrorists will eventually be fought in the largest province of the country.

He asserts that the NAP clearly abolished any distinction between the good and bad Taliban; in Punjab, it was the sectarian outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) that was recognised as a major threat to the province. The LeJ, he explains, provided master trainers and facilitators to the TTP. Therefore, along with war against the TTP in Fata, the militant outfit’s strongholds in Punjab, Karachi and Balochistan were to be targeted in particular.

“Although the method adopted is totally illegal, this war decided to use kinetic force to eliminate militants who had declared war against the state, particularly the military,” he says.

The NAP committee member argues that although the Punjab Police has gone after the LJ, they are reluctant to take on banned outfits such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) as these “strategic assets of the state” have been asked to keep a “low profile.”

“Therefore, the distinction between good and bad militants still remains intact in the state mind-set. This is a dangerous trend and will cause harm,” contends the NAP committee member, pointing to the relative immunity enjoyed by the JeM even after the Pathankot folly.

Despite claims to the contrary, the security establishment still distinguishes between ‘bad’ jihadi groups — those who target Pakistani security forces — and ‘good’ jihadi groups — those who promote its strategic objectives in India and Afghanistan. Anti-India outfits such as Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) have expanded their activities even further through charity wings.

After enforcing NAP on December 24, 2014, the Nawaz Sharif-led government implemented two major demands of the military without delay: lifting their predecessor’s moratorium on the death penalty; and passing the 21st Constitutional Amendment, which empowered special military courts to try all terror suspects, including civilians.

Yet, the vast majority of the 176 executions carried out since late December 2014 has been for crimes unrelated to terrorism.

The judicial process, as practiced by military courts, has weakened constitutional protections for the accused. Reliance on blunt instruments and lethal force to counter terrorism is doing more harm than good when the institutions tasked with protecting the people end up undermining the Constitution and the rules of civilian governance, and in turn, providing further fuel to various militants’ propaganda.

Seductive numbers

In pursuance of the objectives outlined by NAP, the Punjab Police reorganised its Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), which is now being headed by Additional Inspector General of Police (IGP) Rai Tahir. Money was pumped into the CTD by the provincial government, with the department empowered to act against all forms of terror.

IGP Tahir negates the perception of inaction. He claims that since the launch of NAP, 164 “jet black terrorists” (a term used to define most-wanted criminals) have been killed as have 138 militants in encounters with the CTD. Meanwhile, 26 terrorists were shot dead in skirmishes with various district police forces.

“As many as 700 suspected terrorists have been arrested and 120 of them were convicted by the courts and the rest are undergoing trial,” claims IGP Tahir, adding that more than 1,500 activists of banned outfits, including their leaders, were detained under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA).

The CTD chief says that across the board action was being taken against all the suspected terrorists and activists of banned organisations. Quoting CTD performance in 2016, he claims that 600 intelligence-based operations (IBOs) have been conducted in the province, including 450 by the CTD and 150 with other agencies. According to a CTD spokesman, 20 terrorists were killed in CTD-ISI-MI joint operations while 49 terrorists were killed in exclusive CTD operations.

“Sixty-nine jet black terrorists have been killed in CTD Special Operations in Multan, Muzaffargarh, Layyah, Lodhran, DG Khan, Sheikhupura and Gujranwala,” explains the IGP.

Thirty-five of them belonged to Al-Qaeda and those arrested included its senior provincial leadership. “Among other crimes, these men were involved in killing and/or masterminding the attacks on minorities’ places of worship in Lahore, the assassination of Brig Qadri in Sargodha, army officers in Parade Lane, Rawalpindi Mosque, as well as police officers in south Punjab,” he says.

“Twenty of those killed belonged to LJ/TTP-Ustad Aslam Group, and were involved in killing dozens of innocent people from all over Punjab. They were planning to attack various sensitive buildings in and around Lahore,” claims IGP Tahir. “Another 14 who were killed belonged to TTP-Mohmand and were involved in killing and kidnapping traders of Rawalpindi for ransom as well as carrying out sectarian killings in Attock.”

In terms of arrests made, 250 suspected militants were taken into custody and are now facing trial in anti-terrorism courts. About 50 of the accused — charged with involvement in 20 cases of explosives recovery, terror financing and hate speech — had already been convicted by the ATCs.

IGP Tahir further says about 50 members of Daesh were arrested and detained for pledging allegiance to Al-Baghdadi and inciting their junior members to violence. A 10-member Daesh gang was also busted in Daska and these men were now facing trial in an ATC in Gujranwala.

“Three hundred activists of banned outfits have been detained under ATA, 13,782 madressas, 60,000 mosques and 3,000 minority worship places have been geo-tagged and its data has put online. The CTD recovered eight suicide jackets, more than 50kg explosives, 200 detonators, 19 Kalashnikovs and arms and ammunition besides 500 CDs, 13 books, 1,500 magazines containing hate material have been confiscated and banned.”

Although the numbers are seductive, there is more to the matter than meets the eye.

“The biggest hurdle in the way of civilian institutions guaranteeing security is regional and foreign policy objectives that the militants carry out in furtherance of state policies,” asserts the NAP committee member.

“Banned militant outfits such as LeT and LJ are still intact in Punjab. The JuD even holds parallel arbitration courts to resolve disputes. Banned outfits tend to re-emerge with new names; therefore, it is the persons behind these organisations and not simply an organisation that need to be banned and proscribed,” he argues.

“Schedule 4 of the ATA is not being invoked effectively to curb the activities of the activists of the militant outfits. How can they openly condone or participate in the funeral prayers of slain terrorists? That is the question,” he asserts.

Short-term gains?

Former inspector general of Punjab Police, Sarmad Saeed Khan, lends weight to the argument of the government taking cosmetic measures when it comes to fighting terrorism. “Small-time terrorists are being killed but it’s like killing the mosquitoes but not closing their breeding pond,” he argues.

“NAP is not being implemented in letter and spirit; but civilian institutions should also be allowed to play their role,” says Khan, adding that banned outfits continue to promote terrorists’ agenda in the cities by setting up welfare camps and offering funeral prayers for slain terrorists.

“We should end the policy of good and bad Taliban and take across the board action against all those involved in supporting/facilitating, financing and propagating extremist agenda. The government should stop fooling people by running counterterrorism policy on selective grounds,” contends the former IGP.

Quoting an incident in Mian Channu, he says law enforcement agencies came to know about an arms dump only after it exploded.

“There are a number of seminaries being used to dump weapons and explosives but our intelligence agencies have failed to point out these seminaries. In the past, the police remained aware of any anti-state activities in coordination with the public but now, they have lost public support. Today, the police are only able to collect information from criminals, who only leak information about their rivals for personal gain,” he explains.

Khan links the loss of public trust to the absence of a counter-narrative to the militants’ narrative; he considers a potent counter-narrative to be an essential part of counterterrorism policy but says that no one is focusing on building one to push back militant propaganda.

“All institutions, especially in the education sector and civil society, should play their role to change the minds of the public. Law enforcement must adopt policies to win back public trust,” he asserts.

All statistics provided by CTD, Punjab
All statistics provided by CTD, Punjab

“There has been zero coordination till now between various intelligence agencies of the country, with every institution trying to take credit. We are losing the war on the ground and steps should be taken to build mutual trust between them,” suggests the former IGP.

Former director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Tariq Khosa, claims that the National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) is formulating a long-term strategy and narrative to counter violent extremism after deliberations with various stakeholders, but there are still some shortcomings.

“Fake police, Rangers and military encounters to eliminate terrorists are a faulty policy,” says Khosa. “They deal long-term harm to society at large. Such measures brutalise society and fuel violence.

“Fake police, Rangers and military encounters to eliminate terrorists are a faulty policy,” says Khosa. “They deal long-term harm to society at large. Such measures brutalise society and fuel violence. This is myopic and counterproductive militarisation of our internal security strategy. The police should avoid taking this course.”

He says capital punishments may be resorted to by the state in rare cases as it is the certainty of punishment and not its severity that deters criminals and diminishes crimes.

“The solution lies in following due process and the rule of law,” he argues. “This will be accomplished by building the capacity of police, prosecution, courts and prisons.”

The writer is a Dawn staffer

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 28th, 2016



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