Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, while presiding over a high level meeting on Tuesday which was also attended by the COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa and DG ISI, observed that the National Action Plan was being fully implemented. He is probably right. There may be certain areas where the progress may be slower than desired but there is no denying the fact that notwithstanding some difficulties there was no lack of will or commitment on the part of the federal government to have it implemented in its entirety. Perhaps an incisive look at what has been achieved through NAP in regards to dealing with the phenomenon of terrorism and religious extremism that posed an existentialist threat to the country, is desirable.

According to the verifiable record, security forces have carried out 54,376 search operations so far resulting in 60,420 arrests; 3,019 intelligence based operations have been carried out. Law enforcement agencies have sealed 102 seminaries for fanning extremism and funds of the proscribed militant groups to the tune of Rs.1 billion have been frozen; 87 seminaries in Sindh, 13 in Khyber Pakhtunkhaw and two in Punjab having links with proscribed groups have been banned. The State Bank has frozen 126 accounts of proscribed organisations. Law enforcement agencies have recovered Rs.251.2 million in cash which was being traded through Hawala and Hundi. In regard to hate speech, 1961 suspects have been arrested and 1,893 cases have been filed against clerics out of which 271 have been convicted while 826 cases are still pending before special courts. The government has biometrically verified 97.7 million SIMs and 5.1 million SIMs have been blocked within three months. The police in Punjab has conducted 33,772 combing operations during the last ten months and 5,549 cases have been registered and 24,436 suspected criminal were arrested. The Counter Terrorism Department arrested 40 hardcore activists and 547 cases were registered for publication of hate material; there has been 27% decrease in crime rate in Punjab during this period and the government has effectively checked glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisation by print and electronic media through administrative measures and cooperation of the media itself. Out of 267 cases referred to the military courts by apex committees 153 terrorists have been awarded death sentence.

It is quite an achievement. But whenever an act of terrorism is perpetrated by the terrorist entities, there is invariably a deluge of criticism of the federal government for its alleged failure to implement the NAP without actually analysing the relevant factors and the ground realities. Nobody talks about the terrorists attacks that have been prevented through intelligence based operations and action against the terrorist organisation by the law enforcing agencies. What the critics conveniently forget is that the implementation of NAP is not only the responsibility of the federal government but the provinces also have a very significant role to play in this regard.

The major elements of the 20-point NAP were establishment of military courts, countering hate speech, choking financing for terrorist organisations, registration and regulation of seminaries, ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media, execution of convicted terrorists, not allowing the proscribed outfits and armed group to function in the country, administrative reforms in FATA, taking the Karachi operation to its logical end, dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists, zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab and empowering Balochistan government for political reconciliation with complete ownership by all stakeholders.

After the finalisation of the NAP, the government lost no time in initiating implementation of the NAP. To provide for the establishment of military courts for two years an amendment was made in the constitution. The moratorium on the execution of the convicted terrorists and murderers was lifted and they are being executed on a daily basis after meeting the legal formalities. Karachi operation is being carried out with unperturbed commitment and the Rangers have been given full powers in this regard which has led to considerable reduction in the incidents of terrorism, target killings and extortions. Balochistan is fast returning to normalcy. A five-member committee was also formed to initiate the process of reforms in FATA, which reportedly has firmed up its recommendations.

Most of the points of the NAP actually fall within the jurisdiction of the provinces. The major ingredient of NAP regarding law and order is the responsibility of the provinces. The provinces also have the responsibility of regulating and monitoring religious seminaries after the Eighteenth Amendment and as well as devising curricula for them. Some of the elements of NAP are also of a very sensitive nature and utmost care is required to handle them.

Another crucial factor, which is also neglected by the critics, is the external dimension of terrorism in Pakistan. The leaders of TTP and sectarianism outfits are hiding in Afghanistan and they are being provided support by Afghan agencies and other hostile agencies of other countries including India. International players blame Pakistan for supporting TTP in Afghanistan and the Haqqani Network. They also threaten Pakistan with serious implications. The reality is that the security forces of Pakistan are not supporting any act of terrorism in Afghanistan. The real problem is the presence of 3.2 million Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan. They have intermingled, got married and now have family links on both sides of the borders. The Afghan government, having the support of all international organisations and big powers, blames Pakistan to hide its failure. Afghanistan is using TTP operatives for tit-for-tat operations against alleged Pakistani support to Haqqanis.

There is a permeating view within official circles and the security establishment that it was imperative for Pakistan to facilitate reconciliation in Afghanistan at the earliest by using less kinetic operations to normalise the regional situation which is considered the collective responsibility of the Government, GHQ and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Stringent management of the borders and confidence building measures with Afghan government are also considered as vital policy options, where the role of the ISI is very crucial.

Operation Zarb-e-Azb has created the necessary space for the implementation of NAP therefore what is required is to fast track its enforcement in all areas through concerted and coordinated efforts between the federal and provincial government and increased intelligence sharing between different intelligence outfits to thwart the terrorist acts before their enactment as well as to neutralise the facilitators of terrorists.

In regards to the implementation of NAP it is pertinent to point out that the government had formed a National Implementation Committee under the stewardship of National Security Advisor General Janjua and similar committees have also been constituted at the provincial level to monitor and implement the elements of NAP. Hopefully it will accelerate actions on all elements of NAP, eventually leading to elimination of the scourge of terrorism and sectarianism from the country. The media being the fourth pillar of the state also needs to upgrade its efforts to discourage terrorism and sectarianism and also be a little more discreet in reporting incidents of terrorism.