Spearhead Analysis – 09.12.2016

By ShahBano Khan
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

napAs we fast approach the darkest day in December, the national consciousness will once again be jostled into a period of mourning, reflection, and perhaps action: it was on the 16th of December, two years ago, that seven gunmen affiliated with the Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP) conducted the deadliest terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar; 146 lives were lost, of which 132 were children between the age of 8 and 18. What followed was a period of stunned silence wrapped in grief, shock, and anger; the nation stood still- a calm before the storm- it was time to take action. While the scourge of terrorism has taken a heavy toll on Pakistan for many decades now, it was only after the monstrosity of extremism hit a sensitive nerve that a synchronized and coordinated effort became absolutely necessary: our political and military leadership in unison with the civil society together consolidated legislative, administrative, institutional, and reformative action to counter the existential threat to the country. The result: the National Action Plan.

In a televised address by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif the National Action Plan (NAP) was announced on December 24, 2014, to crack down on terrorism and to supplement the ongoing anti-terrorist offensive in North-Western Pakistan. The 20 point plan included the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan, implementation of special trial courts under the supervision of the Army, banning militant outfits and armed gangs, strengthening of the anti-terror institution NACTA, strict action against public promotion of hate and extremism, choking financing for terrorist organizations, registration and regulation of religious seminaries, administrative and development reforms in FATA, zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab, ongoing operation in Karachi be taken to its logical end, Balochistan government be fully empowered , formulation of a comprehensive policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees, and revamping and reforming the criminal justice system among other things.

What started off as a defining moment in the fight against terrorism has come a long way since it was first enacted two years ago. Under the National Action Plan, security forces have carried out 54,376 combing operations and as a result of these 60,420 arrests were made; books and hate material have been confiscated with many shops and seminaries sealed for circulating inciting material; the government has shut down more than 200 madrassas throughout the country; the State Bank of Pakistan has roughly frozen Rs1billion in 126 accounts linked to proscribed organizations; no media coverage is given to banned organizations, of over 200 named by the government; the Rangers are still carrying out the Karachi operation with over 58, 000 criminals arrested; military courts are operational and 176 convicts have been executed; there is a mass drive to register and repatriate Afghan refugees; the operation in FATA is nearing its eventual phase; and security vigilance along the international border has been tightened.

While it is true that decisions taken in the interest of an aggregate majority often take time to manifest through vast administrative, institutional, and political processes. Yet in the course of implementing a daring policy such as the National Action Plan, a few things have become clear: the inversion of its strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand NAP was initiated as a consequence of a civil-military understanding that aimed to counter an organized threat, on the other hand, that coordination has unveiled a plethora of problems between the two institutes of the state. The political and military consensus has not entirely been friction-free, yet in initiating NAP the aim was to devote their exclusive domains of authority and work in supplementing each other through policy space. Where the military’s role is expanded into new domains in modern warfare, the political state is somewhat slow in filling the vacuum left by the counter offensive. In addition, the recent spat with India has put further pressure on the role and scope of influence the two institutions can advance in trying to maintain political stability in addition to the internal and external security pressures that have marred the country.

What this spells for future action is that both the political and military wing will have to introduce a multipronged approach to not only dealing with international aggression on its eastern and western borders, but will also have to create a ‘working’ framework through which the gains made so far under the National Action Plan sees its rational end. However, progress made so far under NAP has been deemed ‘uneven’ and ‘unsatisfactory’ with the political leadership showing lagging in some cases. While the military’s ongoing operation in Karachi and the Northern areas continues, there is no sign of one starting in Punjab, a region believed to be inhabited by many terrorist outfits. While it is not clear if the new Army Chief’s agenda includes an operation in the heartland, it is still an issue that needs more attention.

Moreover, the re-emergence of proscribed outfits in the country has also raised questions on the role and coordination efforts of intelligence agencies and law enforcing institutions. Not only has Balochistan seen a fresh surge of attacks, they seem far more sinister than before. The presence of CPEC projects has made the region even more vulnerable to internal and external threats. In the greater geostrategic game, Indian aggression has also left its footprint in the province, and now more than ever there is a need to consolidate the province into the state politically, economically, and socially. The reconciliation process that was started under the National Action Plan should now be responsibly handled by the government. It is clear the military can only do so much for a region that has always experienced political exclusion from the state of the union. In ignoring to consolidate the largest province of Pakistan, the government has missed the golden opportunity of ending decades’ old insurgency and also opening up the same space for other banned terrorist outfits to operate.

In addition, despite the decrease in target killings, kidnapping, extortion, money laundering, and terrorizing as a result of the Karachi operation, it is still in a perilous phase of its working. There seems to exist a vast underworld, patronized by almost all the political parties, that has made it hard for the security forces to rid the city off elements that continue to spread violence and assertion.

Yet, in trying to merge FATA with KP through an administrative reform, the National Action Plan has shown some progress. While a five-year transition period will ensure the government can take care of the legal and administrative aspects, meanwhile there is talk of massive infrastructural and political developments.

The National Action Plan was a move to counter the biggest threat to Pakistan’s existence, yet its implementation has been slow and half-hearted, especially if one focuses on the civil administration’s role in trying to develop a political framework that in areas of the country that have witnessed the blight of terrorism, extremism, and the circumstances that lead to it. While zero tolerance against violent extremism, a strategic objective of NAP, has seen an impact, the policy’s security centric interpretation has not seen the desired gains. In truth, it is how well the civil administration retains the gains made by the military operations that will determine the practicality of the National Action Plan.