National Action Plan: Politics of rhetoric

Spearhead Analysis – 02.07.2015

By Abdulla Wasti
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

the-national-action-planThis week, Sindh chief minister Qaim Ali Shah stressed on the importance of implementing the National Action Plan while stating, “Whatever assignment the government of Sindh has been entrusted under the National Action Plan must be given top priority. It is our commitment and we have to fulfill it.” Six months after the plan was formulated, the chief minister has finally come to the realization that the NAP is deserving of some attention by the Sindh government. The rest that followed was the usual, figures and statistics without any background or context, and blanket statements with regards to how the government had adopted zero tolerance when it came to tackling terrorism and extremism in the country. Arriving at the topic of militant organizations, he added that 661 banned religious outfits had been identified, and that since January 2015, 447 terrorists/criminals have been killed and 41,077 were arrested by the Sindh police. While those are indeed impressive numbers, there is again no information provided as to what organizations these terrorists/criminals had belonged to. Moreover, while the Chief Minister makes claims of 661 banned outfits being identified, I wonder if he would oblige us with an answer about why the list of banned outfits was taken down from the NACTA website somewhere around April 2015. The answer is fairly simple; a selective implementation of the National Action Plan has been taking place.

However, it would be unfair to solely blame the Sindh government, because this apathetic behavior is a defining characteristic when assessing the performance of all the provinces with regards to the implementation of the NAP. Three months after the NAP was put together, the federal authorities in all their wisdom decided to water down their counter-terrorism strategy after quietly excluding from the implementation process three key points in the NAP.  These points included action against proscribed outfits, reform of religious seminaries and the repatriation of Afghan refugees. Back then, experts had cited the lack of any practical mechanism being devised by the provinces as the reason behind this move. Fast forward a couple of months, a review meeting is held by the country’s political and military leadership where they reach an unsurprising though worrying admission: in key areas of NAP, the government has accepted that implementation has been far from satisfactory. An article published in DAWN further elaborated on the areas in which implementation was found particularly unsatisfactory, and once again there were no surprises: foreign funding of seminaries and terrorist groups; proscribed organisations and sectarian groups; hate speech; and madressah reforms.

Regardless of the above admission, our ‘leaders’ continue to claim that they have made considerable progress under the NAP in curbing terrorism and extremism in the country. What is even more frustrating is the way the word ‘extremism’ is bundled together with terrorism in each and every statement of theirs. While there is a correlation between the two, there still isn’t a realization of the fact that different measures need to be put into place for each. Much to the disappointment of our civilian government, there exists no convenient ‘all-in-one terrorism and extremism killer spray’ that can help them get rid of these phenomena in one go. While terrorism can be tackled with the use of short-term measures (Operation Zarb-e-Azb), extremism cannot. The latter requires more of a long term strategy coupled with bold steps, both of which are alien concepts to our beloved leadership. 

Politics of rhetoric:

Earlier this week, Sartaj Aziz while addressing a seminar on ‘accountability and good governance” stated that the National Action Plan was doing wonders in countering the threat of extremism and terrorism so far. One is left wondering as to what has changed over the past month that the implementation of the NAP has gone from being ‘unsatisfactory’ to ‘achieving wonders’, and that too in such a short amount of time.

Six months on and the strategy remains the same. While significant progress has been achieved with regards to reducing the operational capacity of the TTP, the rest of the focus has remained on shock inducing executions and never-ending numbers to prove that something is being done. The fact of the matter remains that the fight against terrorism has more or less been confined to the TTP. There has been no visible decrease in sectarian killings, but since the targeted killings of these sects does not come under the bracket of ‘terrorism’, this really does not seem to be a cause of concern for the state institutions, or the media for that matter.

In her recent piece, Marvi Sirmed breaks down the progress achieved so far as she provides some interesting statistics, “ under the first NAP point, according to the HRCP, 176 convicts have been executed so far, of which only 13 (i.e. 7 percent) were from terrorist organisations. Of these 13 terrorists, two had attacked the GHQ and eight had attacked military dictator Pervez Musharraf while three had target killed Shias.” Moreover, under points 3, 7, 15 and 18, the armed militias, proscribed organisations, militants in the Punjab and sectarian militants had to be curbed. However, it is no secret that armed militias such as the LeT, LeJ, ASWJ, and many more continue to operate freely. The very same concern with regards to Pakistan’s selective war on terrorism was also raised in the US State Department report that was released recently. According to reports, not only are nearly 60 banned outfits operating openly, many of them have also contested local body elections under different names. In addition, Amer Rana in his weekly article explains that militants use the month of Ramazan to secure their yearly finances. Apart from routine fund collection through charity and donations, banned groups have three major sources of financial supplies: zakat collection in Ramazan; collection of animal hides on Eidul Azha; and foreign funding. Even if one of these supply lines is blocked, it will have huge impact on the militants’ operations.

Many militant groups within Pakistan are constantly changing their organizational structure as they look for new ways to generate funds. What is even more worrying is that a number of them have established public welfare wings to shield their activities. Banned groups have been resurfacing as charity organisations aiming to overhaul their image among the masses and to avoid being reprimanded by the government. Such tactics do not only help them gain social acceptance but also allow them to entrench themselves within society which as a result expands their support base. Anyone remember NACTA? NACTA seems to be the neglected middle child in a family as the budget for the new fiscal year made no allocation of funds to develop and strengthen this body. Our leaders flaunt achievements such as the arrest of a hate spewing Imam in Kasur, while Maulana Abdul Aziz remains untouched in the heart of Islamabad. Like everything else in this country, be it the law, religion, or the NAP in this case, we get to see a selective implementation catering to the convenience of our leaders. Perhaps Mr. Sartaj Aziz was partly right, the NAP has been doing wonders; but only for the militants who want to see this country burn to ashes.