IN the plan to counter terrorism through the National Action Plan (NAP), 2016 was the second operational year. Towards the end of it, we are still mired in debate. After the December 2014 attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School (APS), it was hoped that the political and security leaderships would rationalise the country’s course of action. Sadly, that hope has only partially been realised.
Security institutions made a few adjustments in their operational strategy, but failed to completely transform their counterterrorism approach. The statistics show some improvements, for which every institution is trying to take the credit. Although a downward trend in incidents of terrorism has been apparent since 2010 — owing to multiple reasons — terrorists’ operational infrastructure and support networks, albeit weakened, remain intact.
The APS massacre has become part of bitter memories. NAP was the reflection of a collective pledge that state and society would not repeat past mistakes. Many have welcomed the fact that the mastermind of this crime was killed in a drone strike in Afghanistan this year. But has the Pakistani state changed its course of action?
The government has not seriously attempted to take internal security policy completely into its own hands.
Just a day before the APS anniversary, the judicial commission probing the Aug 8 Quetta hospital bombing put forth its findings, reminding us that old habits die hard. The Quetta hospital bombing was no less a tragedy than the APS one, but state institutions reacted differently. After the Peshawar atrocity, the nation spoke up clearly and loudly against the problem of internal militancy; NAP was an outcome of this realisation. But, apparently, that threat perception almost died by the time the Quetta hospital carnage occurred, where the old problem of externalising the threat became prominent. Indeed, the externalisation factor has become so strong again that state responses have become absurd, as also pointed out in the Justice Qazi Faez Isa inquiry commission report.
Apart from its findings on the Quetta bombing, the commission has come up with some comprehensive recommendations. However, it is not certain whether the government will take the advice seriously. The commission has suggested “NAP should be made into a proper plan, with clear goals, a comprehensive monitoring mechanism, and periodic reviewing”.
Implementation of NAP is a vital challenge that the government has continuously been avoiding. The lack of coordination and cooperation among state institutions and, in particular, the not-so-cordial civil-military relations remain a huge challenge.
However, the government has not made any serious attempt to take internal security policy completely into its own hands. While the government spent 2015 saying that NAP would take time to make progress, this year exposed the low capabilities of those heading internal security. Initially, they successfully shifted the pressure on to the police and its counterterrorism departments, using the National Counter -Terrorism Authority (Nacta) as a cover for their failures. The formation of NAP implementation committees was another tactic to keep shifting the burden of failure. Eventually, NAP has become a political gimmick.
After the Quetta hospital bombing, another implementation committee was formed, and retired Lt-Gen Nasser Khan Janjua was named its head. However, the interior minister has been insisting that the newly constituted NAP implementation committee was “merely an administrative body and both the interior ministry and Nacta will continue to have an oversight role in NAP’s implementation.”
Nobody ever asked about the fate of 16 committees on NAP implementation; the interior minister heads 13 of them. The head of the new NAP implementation committee formed regional committees in all four provinces, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, despite knowing that provincial apex committees already existed to do the same job. October’s crucial meetings to review progress on both internal and external threats were also briefed by Mr Janjua. As reported in the media, he shifted the burden on to the provincial governments.
The Justice Isa commission recommended the activation of Nacta according to its constitutional mandate. Apparently, the authority showed some progress in 2016. It worked on a ‘red book’ of terrorists containing complete information on and profiles of them. It made available the list of banned organisations on its website and included two more groups on that list, the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Aalmi and Jamaatul Ahrar; Nacta had included these two names when Justice Isa asked the federal government about their status. It rationalised the Fourth Schedule lists and advised banks to take immediate action against individuals on the lists. Nacta was also assigned the responsibility of developing the task force to curb terror financing.
Another initiative that the authority took was the preparation of new forms for madressah registration with the consultation of the Ittehad-i-Tanzeemat-i-Madaris Pakistan, an umbrella organisation of different madressah educational boards. However, despite promises and several announcements, it failed to activate the Joint Intelligence Directorate, which was its core mandate.
What Nacta has achieved is not because a certain institutional mechanism has been evolved where it is operating as an independent authority. The credit for these achievements may go to individuals; otherwise, the counterterrorism body is still operating as a subsidiary of the interior ministry.
A comprehensive review of NAP’s implementation and state responses may reveal more shortcomings in counterterrorism approaches. The state has also failed to address structural issues — crucially, the handling of banned organisations.
The exact level of extremism and potential of terrorist outfits cannot be measured until the complete enforcement of the laws referring to banned organisations. The reason is that groups involved in terrorism get their human resource from them. Banned organisations provide not only ideological legitimacy to terrorist groups but also a conducive environment for their operations. Additionally, banned organisations have encroached on far-right territory and, if this process continues, they will erode the socio-cultural fabric of society.
Threat perception is not a tricky thing and it does not require a tragedy to correct it. It only requires vision, vigilance, and commitment. Otherwise, the National Action Plan remains merely a bunch of documents.
The writer is a security analyst.
Published in Dawn December 18th, 2016