Pakistan in eye of the storm after BRICS summit

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On 21st August 2017 the United States government announced its new Afghanistan policy and alleged Pakistan as the main stumbling block for peace in the Af-Pak region. Western leaders largely supported the US view claiming that Pakistan is not doing “enough” against terrorism and is granting safe havens to extremist entities on its soil.

China and Russia swiftly debunked the U.S. allegations and instead praised Pakistan’s stand and consistency in fighting terrorism in the region. Pakistan saw this support as vindication of its view on how the U.S., allies, and Afghanistan need to tackle terrorism in order to bring peace to the decades long turmoil in South West Asia.

Pakistan’s euphoria over Chinese and Russian praise and support soon received a jolt. This came in the form of a joint declaration during the 9th BRICS (Brazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa) summit held from 3-5 September in Xiamen, China. The joint declaration at the 9th BRICS summit, in its international peace and security portion, addressed the matter of terrorism in Afghanistan and the region by stating:

 “We, in this regard, express concern on the security situation in the region and violence caused by the Taliban, ISIL/DAISH, Al-Qaida and its affiliates including Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba(LeT), Jaish-e-Mohammad(JeM), TTP and Hizb ut-Tahrir”. It was also further added, “We reaffirm that those responsible for committing, organizing, or supporting terrorist acts must be held accountable”.

Such a joint declaration is an international level indictment of Pakistan’s stance on terrorism. The fact that China, its pivotal ally, has signed this declaration only adds insult to injury.

The naming of the Haqqani network, LeT and JeM is a clear denunciation of Pakistan. Moreover, till recently it was China, which on technical grounds blocked Indian attempts to have the JeM chief, Mullah Masood Azhar, included in the UN terror black list.

It is also important to compare the difference between last year’s BRICS summit in Goa, where no listing of terrorist organizations was done and discussion on terrorism was kept broad, and this year’s summit in Xiamen. In this comparison, Pakistan should perhaps note the timing of the withdrawal of Indian troops from Doklam prior to the arrival of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the summit.

The 9th BRICS summit has now sent a message to Pakistan, whether it accepts or not.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office in response said that it, too, is seriously concerned about the threat posed by terrorism and extremism in the South Asian region. The Foreign Office further stated that the “ungoverned spaces” in Afghanistan are the reason for terrorist entities operating from there – especially ETIM, IMU and Al Qaeda. The Defense Minister, Khurram Dastagir told the National Assembly’s (NA) Standing Committee on Defense that there are no terrorist safe havens on Pakistani territory.

The Pakistani response is moribund and hackneyed. This has been the stance since the 1979 Soviet intervention and has been stressed even more so after the Geneva Accord of 1988 and the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Nobody anywhere (West or East) seems to have subscribed to the Pakistani stance and narrative. Why? The policy makers, civil and military need to realistically reassess where Pakistan stands today.

In backdrop against international level condemnation on the issue of terrorism, a surprisingly perplexing jurisdiction issue has stymied the recent discussion on the Anti Extremism bill in the National Assembly. The National Assembly of Pakistan has been unable to decide whether Defense or Interior ministries have to undertake it. After so much “blood” has flowed under bridges, the discussion remains stuck over who has to handle terrorism! It is no wonder then that the world looks at Pakistan in amazement and disbelief. And then to continuously remind the nation of the over 60,000 deaths in the war against terror, while still not deciding who has to deal with why they were killed, is a sorry state of affairs.

The National Action Plan (NAP) was made after the Peshawar school massacre of December 2014. It had 20 points unanimously approved by all political parties. Only points like fighting militants, military courts, finishing moratorium on execution, some work on registering Afghan refugees and return of IDPs have been achieved. Basically all the points on which it was the responsibility of the Pakistan Armed Forces to act. The rest of the 16 points which government and parliament had to undertake through legislation, governance, financial oversight, justice, Federal Administered Tribal Area (FATA) reforms, madrassa regulation, peace in Karachi, operations in Punjab and many more, may take another 16 years at the rate selective seriousness is being shown at the political level.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) is the lynch pin for Pakistan’s anti terrorism policy. It is also point number 4 in the NAP. What NACTA has done or wants to do remains a mystery. A 94-page National Internal Security Plan (NISP) 2014 -2018 has been put on the NACTA website. 2017 is ending and what has happened to NISP on ground is anybody’s guess.

The Foreign Office has blamed Afghanistan’s ungoverned spaces as harbouring terrorist entities. That is a fact and should never be overlooked while analyzing the USA’s lost war there. However, FATA, Pakistan’s notorious ungoverned space with its porous border is still not amalgamated with rest of the country – because a political decision has yet to be taken by the central government. And in Balochistan (43 percent of Pakistan’s land mass) most of its districts have been converted back into “B” areas from “A” areas. A regressive step, taken by the provincial government, as it did not suit the feudal sardars to have regular police deployed in their area. The Punjab also has a vast tribal area in D. G. Khan.  All these areas of Pakistan constitute “ungoverned spaces” and are secure areas for criminals, narco traffickers, weapon smugglers, militants and terrorists of all hues. But we cannot decide under whose jurisdiction their governance falls.

For a country beset with terrorism Pakistan has yet to define it. The anti terrorist courts are besieged by cases, which are basically of criminal nature and should be heard in normal courts. Even traffic accidents land up in anti terrorist courts. The anti terrorist act is used to coerce political opponents while terrorists are not tried or land up in regular courts. This process has resulted in the Armed Forces wasting effort on policing duties to catch criminals dubbed as terrorists or militants. The police and civil administration conveniently palm off murder, dacoity and civil disorder as terrorist acts to avoid responsibility. Military courts, which were initially established for two years, are still functioning because normal judicial reach has not been strengthened.

Pakistan should now consider itself on a ‘terrorism watch’ from both the USA and China (through BRICS). The regional geo political environment of late the 1970’s to 1990’s has now changed significantly. The prevalent environment will not allow space for vague attempts to curb terrorist entities. One Belt One Road (OBOR) and China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) have raised the anti terrorism stakes for China and it has sent a message. How Pakistan fixes the anti terrorism narrative is now up to itself; and the clock is ticking.