National Action Plan: unimplemented measures

Attacks targeting the Shia Hazara community in Quetta, the buses of Shia pilgrims going to or coming from Iran and the target killings of doctors, professors and religious leaders is common news in Pakistan

The National Action Plan (NAP) has been a catchword in the media and for the government, announced with much fanfare. The Pakistani military has tackled its mandate of tackling terrorists militarily and has made commendable progress. However, months later, for the civilian administration implementation has been lacklustre and there seems no strategic direction.

NAP has lacked effective implementation and execution despite the existing three-tier structure in the shape of the NAP Committee chaired by the Prime Minister (PM), the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and provincial apex committees. There are ample institutional mechanisms to implement NAP. Besides, committees on money laundering, counter-terrorism and madrassa (seminary) reforms can supplement effective implementation.

However, the overlapping role of the national anti-terrorism force, lack of mechanism to control foreign funding to religious seminaries, resistance to registration and reforms of existing madrassas in the country, continued political activities of banned outfits and lack of effective intelligence coordination along with lukewarm response of the federal and provincial governments are some of the factors hampering this initiative. Examining some of these NAP points we can shed some light on their state of implementation.

The point that says NACTA, the anti-terrorism institution will be strengthened. NACTA still remains un-empowered and the combined deterrence plan and comprehensive response plans envisaged under the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) remain largely un-implemented. It needs to be remembered that NISP was a 96-page document that seemingly was trumpeted as the counter-terrorism and counter-extremism blueprint for Pakistan.

However, it remained only on paper and most of its stipulations were re-worded in NAP. Importance given to NACTA can be gauged by the fact that NACTA does not have dedicated leadership; a senior police officer, albeit a capable one, has been given dual charge of both NACTA and the National Police Bureau (NPB).

The point that mentions strict action against literature, newspapers and magazines promoting hatred, decapitation, extremism, sectarianism and intolerance and the taking of concrete measures against the promotion of terrorism through the internet and social media. Some action is being taken against such publications espousing hate speech by cases being registered under the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 but the law remains inadequate to guarantee convictions for such accused.

There is a list of books and periodicals that are banned and notified to the government as espousing enmity between different groups of society. However, such publications continue unabated and there is no apparent mechanism to preempt such publications. Presumably, such publications get banned after coming to the notice of the government and by then dissemination might have already occurred. Also, most such dissemination is through the internet and there is no comprehensive plan in place to check such proliferation of online publications.

Browse through the internet and you will find many chat rooms and social media channels that freely spread hate speech regarding Pakistan. The whole might of gadgetry at the disposal of the west has been inadequate to prevent Islamic State (IS) from spreading its message on the internet, and corporate giants like Twitter have slapped bans only grudgingly and too late. Does Pakistan have the infrastructure to implement such measures?

The point saying all funding sources of terrorists and terrorist outfits will be frozen. Terrorist outfits have already switched to innovative alternate money transfer networks, some hawala based and some informal. The time is gone when they would open up bank accounts brazenly and there is no action plan to combat such alternate mechanisms.

The point that says defunct outfits will not be allowed to operate under any other name and the point concerning action against elements spreading sectarianism. It is widely known that many groups that were defunct still operate in the country under different names, notably those that do not attack the state but engage in sectarian activities. They regularly hold street protests, donation drives, operate madrassas and generally operate without much check.

Their spate of killings has claimed more than 5,000 lives in Pakistan so far, besides the scores of thousands left wounded or maimed. Attacks targeting the Shia Hazara community in Quetta, the buses of Shia pilgrims going to or coming from Iran and the target killings of doctors, professors and religious leaders is common news in Pakistan. Do these figures imply control over the situation?

The point about establishing and deploying a dedicated counter-terrorism force. Such a force has already been deployed in the form of 1,180 new counter-terrorism department corporals in Punjab and they have already been in the field for two years now. Despite a nine-month-long training programme and several capacity building initiatives, this spectacularly paid force in Punjab has yet to show any concrete results in the form of high value counter-terrorism operations. Besides, they have been recruited on basic pay scale nine, which is inadequate to qualify them as counter-terrorism investigators under the ATA.

They still have to work under the tutelage of senior inspectors and thus imbibe the same old institutional culture and practices of the police since they work in the same environment. If these corporals were raised as a potent independent force, they have not delivered anything after more than two years of expenses by the government. How many years will we have to wait before they start delivering?

The point saying the end to religious extremism and protection of minorities will be ensured. This is more of a running joke: Pakistan’s lack of protection of minorities and indiscriminate use of laws to persecute them is legendary now. Ask any member of the minorities in Pakistan and they will tell you that NAP has done nothing on this except issue statements.

The point about the registration and regulation of religious seminaries. NACTA was supposed to have done this by now under the NISP but, despite utterances to the contrary, ghost madrassas continue to be problem. The registration of madrassas is actually a problem due to the presence of unregistered madrassas. The total number of madrassas affiliated with the Wafaq is approximately 28,000; scores of unregistered seminaries escape the scrutiny of the government since they are usually built as an additional room of a mosque where students get nazira Quran and hifz lessons.

The mushrooming of unregistered madrassas is a severe problem for the government. There is no credible information for the number of unregistered madrassas, particularly since these are generally located in remote areas. Thus, many such ghost madrassas escape detection. Detecting them will have cross cutting implications in which the stakeholders will be reluctant to register or will attempt to hide such madrassas from official scrutiny, and may even mobilise religious street power in protest if steps are forcibly taken.

The point that says no room will be left for extremism in any part of the country. Sooner said than done. Extremism is a state of mind that can remain internalised within a person till expressed overtly in the form of action through militancy or violence. We need to first ask the question: are many Pakistani getting radicalised and becoming extremists? If they are, what are the real reasons besides the innuendo we commonly roll out? What exactly is our identity from which we will glean who is an extremist and who is not? Have we decided finally that we are a secular or an Islamic state, or a mixture of both? Is this perception just in our minds or can we actually be spreading this?

This is just the tip of the iceberg, Many other points like integrating the Balochistan government for reconciliation with complete ownership by all stakeholders, formulation of a comprehensive policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees beginning with registration of all refugees and reforms in criminal courts to strengthen anti-terrorism institutions remain wish lists rather than actual implemented measures.

This forces me to think: will we be getting another ‘action plan’ soon on paper to supplement what was left undone in the NISP and regurgitated in NAP, and in turn will it again be left unimplemented? I think so. Unfortunately, making plans on paper and then doing nothing about them will not improve the situation of our country.

The Writer Khawaja Khalid Farooq is ex inspector general of police and ex head of the National Counter Terrorism Authority of Pakistan