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Not really a plan

Updated Feb 13, 2017 08:13pm


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THE National Action Plan has become a reference point for everything counterterrorism (CT). Media and civil society have been demanding its transparent implementation and monitoring. Talking to folks within the government, it’s clear they are feeling the heat.

Of course, this is good news. We have a marker that everyone seems to consider fair in terms of judging the government’s performance, and the government seems to recognise this.

The problem is that there isn’t much to measure against. NAP isn’t a ‘plan’.

One of the first things students in the field of management learn is the importance of distinguishing between an organisation’s vision, mission, goals, objectives, and work plans. A vision is the broadest — the pie-in-the-sky aspiration. A mission is what you want to achieve. Goals allow you to broadly define your desired outcomes, and objectives suggest ways to achieve the goals. Finally, you have plans that are supposed to specifically identify actions that will get you to your objectives; they are meant to be observable and measurable, and set to clear timelines.

The National Action Plan wasn’t a thought-out document.

NAP’s a hotchpotch: it’s got vision statements (no extremism in Pakistan; no militant and armed gangs; protection of minorities); many things you’d call goals (reforms of criminal justice; empowerment of Nacta; completion of Karachi operation); some objectives but no clarity on how they link up to goals (military courts; implementing death sentences; action against outlets promoting hate speech), and stuff that is irrelevant (political empowerment of Balochistan’s government; repatriation of Afghan refugees). One thing it doesn’t have is a plan. Not one of its 20 points has been unpacked to say how precisely it will be achieved, and in what time frame. Or even more importantly, there is no sense as to why we decided on these 20, and if these are actually things that can add up to bring sustainable peace to the country.

Why so? Because NAP wasn’t a thought-out document. It was a list of bullet points meant for the prime minister to show that the APS attack had woken us up. Lost was the fact that the interior ministry had spent months preparing a National Internal Security Policy (NISP). Its shortcomings aside, it was a far more detailed plan whose implementation (with modifications) could have served us better. Instead, we are left to push the government to monitor a set of largely immeasurable statements.

The result is that since no well-thought-out benchmarks exist, and there’s no sense of how individual actions should add up, the focus tends to shift to what you did (actions), not how it helped. But if you don’t know how much you need to do in each category, or if what you have promised is even the right solution, it can become meaningless.

Skim the government’s listing of its achievements under NAP and you’ll find each reports actions, not outcomes (impact). X number of people hanged; Y number arrested; so many Afghan refugees deported; so many combing operations conducted, etc. The numbers may be impressive, but what are we going to do with those we’ve arrested; are we able to see a correlation between combing operations and decrease in terrorism, how does all of this add up, etc? Since these were never thought through, no answers are forthcoming.

Unfortunately, the stakes are too high for us to let this be. Otherwise, the default will continue to be the hope that the military’s kinetic actions can keep a lid on things. That is no solution. Even there, the output has peaked.

North Waziristan is probably the last mega operation the military can undertake. Most other areas needing attention are in urban, settled Pakistan, a different ballgame. Even Zarb-i-Azb didn’t happen overnight. In fact, the security establishment has sold itself short by equating its CT successes with this operation. It had already spent years cleaning up Fata and parts of KP when Gen Raheel Sharif took over. KP and six Fata agencies had been cleared; thousands of soldiers were lost in the process.

This included densely settled parts like Swat where an area larger than all of Fata was cleared in less than four months and IDPs went back in record time. Challenges in North Waziristan were acute; by all accounts, the outcome is phenomenal, even if progress has been slower. But any military will be the first to tell you that all these operations can do is create space for other elements of a national CT plan to work. Nothing more.

Thus, we come back to NAP. The government needs to give it real meaning by devising specific action plans for each of its achievable elements and performing sincerely against those. Else, it will be blamed for failure; and we’ll keep firefighting through kinetic means.

The writer is a foreign policy expert based in Washington, DC.

Published in Dawn September 13th, 2016


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (35) Closed

Fazeel Mehboob Sep 13, 2016 01:44am

well written article..

Oscar Sep 13, 2016 02:35am

A very wise and new voice . Your analysis will fall on deaf ears. Army chief spoke too soon about his retirement. He is back paddling via Bajwa . National action plan failure is the excuse establishment will use to tendon at helm. Mark my word .

Jay Ramon Sep 13, 2016 07:42am

Moed Yusuf is probably the top most foreign affairs analyst in Pakistan. Well written

Anurag Gautam Sep 13, 2016 07:47am

I have heard this man in talk shows he is really Cristal clear on points and hosts who are much older than him are found wanting in front of him

Auginpk Sep 13, 2016 08:29am

Very well articulated discourse.

What are the constraints.

  1. Funds

  2. Rigid security paradigm

  3. Authority of civil government

Nothing can be done in vacum.

syamal datta Sep 13, 2016 09:53am

The author is an extraordinary brilliant man. Thanks to Dawn.

Asit Ghosh, Mumbai Sep 13, 2016 11:01am

A small write-up but such a lot of sense. Great !

Ash2000 Sep 13, 2016 11:20am

I have nothing to do with NAp as an Indian but I rad it because this writer wrote it. He write very well and very authentically.

Indian Sep 13, 2016 03:03pm

Great analysis. Respect..

Ali S Sep 13, 2016 04:19pm

Finally someone calling it out as it is.

Nasiroski Sep 13, 2016 05:16pm

As usual a wonderful article Dr Yousuf, precise and to the point. Saner elements in Pakistan media talked about it from the very get go and yet, typical of Pakistan everybody hailed the nonsense plan under directive.... and so garbage in garbage out. Useless plan useless performance.

Abraham Haque Sep 13, 2016 07:01pm

@Auginpk so first Pakistan needs to create vacuum then thimgs will happen

citizen Sep 13, 2016 07:46pm

Just an eyewash from government..They are not serious, unfortunately

sri1 Sep 13, 2016 08:56pm

In any mature nation, there should be one chain of command for broad vision, a sound management hierarchy for implementation of sub-tasks, clear demarcation of responsibilities and perception-management and capable lower rungs for execution. In here, mighty middle managers want to also be the rulers and executors at the same time and miserably fail in those attempts. Upper management just knows how to win elections and line pockets for keeping their voting networks intact.

Idrees Sep 13, 2016 11:07pm

Good Analysis.

Krana Sep 13, 2016 11:43pm

He one of few sensible scholar in Pakistan

M M Alam Sep 14, 2016 05:29am

What a niece piece of analysis. If I were a writer , I would have written the way you have. The day I read this NAP document, I had the same feeling. But then I kept quiet , convincing myself with the fact that the document did not betray the calibre of our MPs.

Thanks for this piece and keep it up.

Abul Sep 14, 2016 07:15am

@sri1 Is Pakistan a mature nation?

kanwarch Sep 14, 2016 09:24am

Well written but very short on assigning failure. This once again shows incompetence of our civilian leaders who are uneducated, untrained, mostly in wrong place, no leadership credentials and unfortunately in politics to make money. You can not expect anything good from this lot with an incompetent person at the top. Democracy is not delivering for people of Pakistan and it will never deliver as competent people will never become involved in this costly and corrupt system and criminals will always win the elections. I see no hope.

Ijaz Sep 14, 2016 11:40am

Just one thing to ask from author as cant find him clear enough on it:

Is it the "titular' rulers who are responsible for what you lament or find it difficult to say that "those" who have planned NAP should focus more on national goal of terrorism eradication than making it a primary tool for having a political influence over government and keep its security paradigm intact?

First is more of our national 'luck' but second is unfortunately what our nation is reaping after 40 years of farming. It is the second part which needs to be solved.

timetostopthis Sep 14, 2016 03:07pm

Some one finally calling a spade a spade.

Dr. Shim ail Daud Sep 14, 2016 07:30pm

My experience on different Govt decision making bodies is similar. Everyone is focused on Quantitative discussions or outputs without any heed towards Qualitative Impacts. Result! the institutions don't learn from their own results so no corrective measures can be taken. But then who cares! Everyone is happy!

NK Sep 14, 2016 08:10pm

I have not read the NAP but I assume the writer has. Based on his comments it is not difficult to deduce that the NAP has poor intellectual content. But this can be remedied if (whoever owns) NAP gets feedback and inputs from academia, industry, press and other sections of society and publish version 2. Transparency will not only make NAP a better document but also elicit much needed buy-in from different sections if the society. Unless, of course, the objective of the NAP was only to show to the people that something was being done.

Good Luck.

Sajjad Chitrali Sep 14, 2016 08:12pm

Security situation has improved in the country. Its time to work on some better plans if NAP is not good. We have some breathing space in Pakistan

Zia Sep 15, 2016 03:20am

I agree that it is not a measurable plan. However, I disagree that we cannot draw a correlation between combing operations and decrease in terrorism. Even though we did not do it in a structured manner, a combination of things we did like arrests, deportation of Aghans and arrests of terrorists has led to decrease in terrorism. I also do not think Baloch government empowerment and Aghan deportation is irrelevant. Empowerment of Baloch will raise their stakes in Pakistan and reduce insurgency so it addresses terrorism. Afghan deportation may also lead to decrease in terrorism because despite us sheltering them for decades they do not accept the border and hate Pakistan to the core for our mistakes in Afghan civil war. While most of them may be peaceful people earning a living a disproportionate percentage of them are creating terrorism in Pakistan.

khanm Sep 15, 2016 11:30am

agree...It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan. instead of dividing the energy they must plan..then again plan without results... then just a wish ..NAP must be the change they wish to see in the Pakistan.

M Rafique Sep 15, 2016 11:29am

"NAP is a wish list without a plan" THE comment is the essence for activities since the plan is initiated

Farhan Malik Sep 15, 2016 01:22pm

A very well written article, but those sitting in Assemblies are dumb and deaf, they are just spend their time. Eliminating the root cause, is something missing in NAP. We can only wish for it to be a reality.

ayub Sep 15, 2016 03:04pm

you spoke my heart, What NAP is generally envisioned as the hard strategy to deal with extremism, you pointed out rightly, what about those who are arrested? How will you measure the reaction of hard strategy? What we are ignoring is that "ideological" part of extremism and terrorism. Recently, Imran Khan has approved to fund 300 million (Rs) to Madrassah Haqqanya. How do we interrelate NAP with soft tackling of extremism is still not clear. Perhaps, it requires more than just combing operations.

Baaligh Sep 15, 2016 03:33pm

Hope to read more on this topic again.

Samar Sep 15, 2016 07:29pm

The biggest threat to Pakistan is improper system of Motor vehicle registration system. Around the world registration Plates issued in the Name of Person, where as in our country Number plate issued in the name vehicle. If we dont change this, we cannot control even street crimes. If we can change millions of Mobile sims, why not number plates.

Maestro Sep 15, 2016 07:34pm

It goes to show the contradictions and unwillingness on part of the Govt to act. Deep down inside, they still have soft feelings for Taliban.

The whole world realizes this double play by us which is resulting in our isolation among world community.

We will continue to be isolated if we don't come out of self denial mode.....

excalibur Sep 15, 2016 09:57pm

Interesting how and why so many Indians are interested in Pakistan's internal affairs

Sig Sep 15, 2016 10:25pm

Good analysis Dr Moeed but why so late as NAP is over two years old document? Lamenting past and using hindsight is common. Strategising future course is need of the day.

AGHA Raza Sep 15, 2016 11:31pm

vision is to get wealthy,mission is to collect money,plan is to rule on people and objective is to earn commission on mega project,