Following the attack on Army Public School Peshawar in December last year, the civil and military leadership responded with unanimous resolve for action on militancy and produced a National Action Plan (NAP). The Plan provided overall policy direction on issues diagnosed as the fillips – as opposed to root causes – to terrorism.
Four and a half months down the road, Pakistan has yet to see a bloodless month. After every terrorist attack, media overflows with critical reviews of government’s inability to implement NAP . For some the government is not serious enough and has ideological ties with the extremist elements, for others the government lacks capacity to undertake the humungous task of counter terrorism. A fraction of loonies attribute NAP inaction to the strategic paradigm (of keeping proxies) the state appears to be still stuck with.
Looking at the NAP-happenings since December last year, it seems the state institutions have been working rather rigorously on aspects of NAP implementation. Their capacity to do so however is another story. The armed forces, for example, have been busy in the Northwest with an opaque Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber-II. Drones never stopped raining. Aerial bombings are experimented regularly. Army’s Public Relations wing is working overtime.
On the political side, Apex Committees comprising civil and military leadership have been meeting regularly. The Prime Minister has been briefed bi-monthly about the NAP progress. The Chief Ministers have been holding weekly meetings with relevant ministries on NAP . The district administration has been holding meetings with law enforcing agencies and relevant departments. In all these meetings, number crunching is done with brilliance. The meetings are followed by press releases to satiate the media with statistics of mobile phone SIMs registered, persons booked for using loudspeaker and what not.
It’s just that despite all this, the terrorists have not stopped working. And the state appears to have no possible means to stop that.
Prior to the NAP , the Federal Minister for Interior announced a National Internal Security Policy – NISP – the first of its kind in sixty-seven years of the country’s existence, that addressed the multiple internal security challenges. This historical-first happened on the floor of the National Assembly on 26th February 2014 – almost ten months before the deadly attack on Peshawar school. NISP had five indisputable objectives, i.e., establishing writ of the state; protecting fundamental rights of the citizens; promoting freedom, tolerance, pluralism and culture of tolerance; preventing threats to internal security; and peacefully resolving disputes without compromising rule of law. What a brilliant starting point.
Despite the critical reviews it got, NISP did give a policy framework backed by tentative budget requirements and institutional arrangements for its implementation with rich data as baseline. It put National Counter Terrorism Authority – NACTA – as the focal machinery for the implementation of a meticulous Action Plan that the NISP integrated in its body. It demanded Rs 32 million in total, including Rs 22 million required for the implementation at provincial level and Rs 10 million at federal level. Thanks to the internal rifts among the members of federal cabinet, the ambiguity of strategic thinking within the civil and military establishment and above all, the reactionary and frictional politics that had started in April that year and resulted in the sit-ins in August, there were few who wasted their time thinking about NISP.
With all its weaknesses, ambiguities and ambitiousness, NISP could have been the pioneering effort to fix a plethora of issues in countering extremism, radicalism and terrorism. Had it been taken seriously, it might have even prevented the bloodshed in Peshawar, Shikarpur, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi recently. It got no takers among the political and financial managers of the country. The metro buses and the urban infrastructure projects got precedence over citizens’ security. Not a single penny could be allocated to NACTA or to other aspects of NISP.
In those high adrenalin days, when the NAP was adopted unanimously, much attention was paid to the details of how to follow up the progress of NAP , what committees would be there to define the strategic direction of the NAP implementation, what forums be there for following it up and what institutions should be reporting whom. It was probably logical as well considering our bleak track record of implementing and following up on some genuinely brilliant ideas in the past. So, as many as fifteen committees were formed comprising almost all political parties represented in the parliament as well as civil society representatives, in order to oversee different aspects of NAP , while one committee under the chairpersonship of the Prime Minister was constituted in order to oversee these fifteen committees.
In addition to this, Apex Committees were formed in all provinces with top civil and military leadership, in order to lead the process of NAP implementation. Chief Ministers established Focal Points, mostly at divisional and district levels, in their respective provinces. Frequency of meetings and briefings was fixed and it was made sure that the frequency was not disturbed. Chief Minister Punjab has been most regular of all the CMs in taking these meetings. The PM hardly misses any NAP briefing. Military leadership regularly attends – rather dominates – the Apex Committees phenomenon.
Despite this, all is not well with NAP implementation. Probably because the ‘how to’ part is well conceived but the ‘what to’ element is almost missing. Little to no action planning was done to make sense of policy direction provided by NAP . A citizens’ alliance – NAP Watch – has been trying to monitor state’s progress on this, but there is no framework of action available against which the performance could be measured. The fifteen Committees to provide policy guidelines are lying practically defunct. The members of those committees – all the political parties – are silent. Government has been left alone to deal with the planning exercise, which was a shared responsibility. I recently requested a TV anchor to be part of our effort to assist the state conceive appropriate actions under NAP . His answer: Sorry I have no time for something that depends solely upon the handful of civil and military leaders. Says it all!
No action plan means no budget. Budgetary allocations are one measure of a government’s intentions. If they don’t put their money where their mouth is, they don’t mean it. The fact of the matter is that the Interior Minister by being silent on the non-availability of resources is not only risking his own performance but also his government’s credentials on citizens’ security.
Money however, is not the only problem here. The state, it seems, has not yet decided on key questions. Are some of the extremists necessary for our strategic interests? There is no cost-benefit analysis available. Are the sectarian militants necessary to please Saudi friends with their strategic and expansionist interests, or to dismantle Baloch insurgency? Would the premier intelligence agency be ready to work as part of a National Intelligence Directorate and with other agencies? Between a hardcore CT (counter terrorism) regime and a broader COIN (counter insurgency) regime, what is our pick?
Would the Fifteen Committees kindly meet for once at least to discuss what exactly do we want the state to do under NAP policy proposals?