Islamabad’s National Action Plan is in limbo.
What (and where) is NAP, said the jesting Opposition, and would not stay for an answer.
This, of course, is a variation on the opening line of Francis Bacon’s essay Of Truth, but there’s truth in it because while politicians, after every terror attack, refer to the National Action Plan and point out that it remains stillborn, there’s skullduggery in Opposition’s fulminations and in equal measure, if not more, dishonesty in the government’s responses.
But what is this plan that all talk about without, it seems, being able to do much about it?
First, it’s not a plan. It is a list of 20 points put together in the wake of the horrific tragedy of Dec. 16, 2014. As lists go, the points are in no particular order. Yet, if one were to analyze it, the 20 points could be placed under three heads: counterterrorism, counter-extremism, and reforms.
The categories are separate but interlinked. In other words, for each to begin showing results, actions must be taken simultaneously, not sequentially. This does not mean that there will be no priorities. Different points of action that can be placed under the three heads will have to be prioritized. Yet, what needs to be done in the short term must make space for complementing actions in the medium- to long-term.
For instance, the firefighting part of counterterrorism has to continue apace. It’s ongoing and vital. But, given current force configuration in the police, the optimum has already been achieved. This is where active counterterrorism actions are to be reinforced by reforming the police and turning it around. One is immediate, the rest is medium-term. Without reforms, the counterterrorism operations would have reached their ceiling for effectiveness.
To be precise, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has tried to reform the police through a new Act, created training schools and sought to equip the police with some basic counterterrorism equipment. Punjab continues to spend money on raising swanky new police units. Sindh, in the Pakistan Peoples Party government’s infinite wisdom, has decided to regress to the Police Act of 1861. Nonetheless, it has created some specialized sub-units. Balochistan, meanwhile continues with the anomaly of A and B areas, and its police is responsible for only 5 percent of the province’s total area.
All these efforts, including the more bold one by KP, however, fall short of rethinking modern policing and counterterrorism, which require reconfiguring the police and getting rid of the current system altogether. No one has come even close to working on any such plan and no one will because the vested interests within and outside the police are too entrenched.
It’s the same with setting up special (read: military) courts. The courts were created to plug a gap in the current judicial system (we are not debating the wisdom of the move). This is why the amendment bears the cross of a two-year sunset clause. The idea was to start work on what’s immediately required (operational) but also get down to reforming the criminal justice system (structural) to make the ‘exception’ redundant. Nothing has moved on the strategic-structural side of it.
The most difficult of the three categories is counter-extremism. It essentially involves turning around society. Multiple points are listed randomly that we could club together under counter-extremism. But while this is the most daunting, it is also the most crucial in terms of complementing counterterrorism efforts. It requires legal-constitutional reforms. It needs rethinking education and syllabi. It demands a political consensus of parties to legislate and, where required, amend, the Constitution. It requires registering and monitoring seminaries and streamlining their syllabi, including the religious-exegetical side. It requires criminalizing literature and sub-literature that is divisive and instigative.
This will not be easy but then no one ever said this enterprise would be a cakewalk. The paradox here is that the noise of democracy makes doing this difficult but it is only through democratic consensus that such efforts can be sustained beyond the tenure of one government or ruler. The religious-political parties will kick and scream and try to blackmail but that is exactly when other parties, especially the PTI, should step in and put their weight behind the government. That too, despite being the eminently sensible course, shall not be taken.
Equally, the government must lead because it is the government. So far, we haven’t seen any strategic plan or effort by the government to do this by, for instance, setting up a committee to review all constitutional and legal provisions that give cover to hate speech or literature—or worse, create spaces where the clergy can play.
The question is simple: why has the government been unable to move on this count in the last two years?
We do know that it can and does push through laws when it is hell-bent on doing so, a recent example being the Prevention of Electronic Crimes law, passed Thursday, about which civil society groups and technical experts have many reservations. So, why such inertia when it comes to purging the Constitution and laws of provisions put in by unelected dictators like General Zia-ul-Haq?
The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), which has been around in a moribund state since 2008 and which was recreated in 2013 through an Act is another reflection of governmental dysfunction. It can’t find money; it doesn’t have the required staff and at least half-dozen coordinators down the line remains useless. The National Internal Security Policy hasn’t resulted in anything and can’t find the money. FATA reforms, which are a part of NAP, and on which there’s political consensus, haven’t moved an inch even after they found mention in the plan. Political reconciliation in Balochistan has made shipwreck on the rocks of extrajudicial killings and disappearances. The province is effectively governed by the Army and Frontier Corps, not the elected government. Tell government ministers all this and they will feed you morsels on the tactics of it: X number of passports invalidated; Y number of CNIC verified; Z number of SIMs registered et cetera. None understands the strategy of it and the imperative of a coordinated, inter-ministerial/organizational approach.
In essence, NAP is on life support. Of the three categories, counterterrorism is the only one where I’d give 5 points to the government on a scale of 1 to 10. But firefighting hasn’t linked up with the other two categories, where the government gets just one mark, if at all. The National Security Strategy, the grand document which the government was supposed to put out and for which it created a National Security Division, is nothing more than good-intentioned deliberations, roundtables, and PowerPoint presentations.
Doing things right is not going to give us a silver bullet, but the correct direction will definitely improve our capacity tremendously to fight this fight not just through kinetic means but by employing non-kinetic tools in the kitty. The question to ask the government is: is NAP still relevant? The question to ask the opposition is: have you done your part in nudging and pushing the government toward getting things done?
Neither has done what they were supposed to do.
Haider is editor of national-security affairs at Capital TV. He was a Ford Scholar at the Program in Arms Control, Disarmament and International Security at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C. He tweets @ejazhaider
The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect, in part or whole, those held by Newsweek Pakistan.