On 24th of this month, country’s National Action Plan for countering terrorism would be aged one year. Members of NAP-Watch Pakistan, an alliance of over one hundred noted citizens and experts, have been raising concerns over the slow pace of implementation and narrow scope of the Plan’s progress almost on monthly basis. On completion of first three months, the group gave the overall approval rating of 1 to the NAP progress at a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being the least value. By the end of sixth month, the rating had gone to 3 on the scale. Its first annual report, expected on December 24, is going to rate the overall NAP progress in its first year. The prospects of a satisfactory rating appear really thin.

Before going into details of NAP point by point, it is important to see some crosscutting issues that impact the overall implementation. Many of these emerge from a difficult civil-military balance and complex realities of the role of the state in handling various non-state strategic actors. One of the primary issues has been of the lack of readiness and imagination on the part of civil and military leadership to think outside the box and innovate new tools for achieving strategic objectives replacing ages old strategy of proxies and non-state actors.

Admittedly, neither is it done by any other state and the world power. Pakistan is in a big company. Looking at the international war theatre that the Middle East has become, one would find ‘proxy war fare’ and non-state actors’ at the top of the list of key words. In the post 9/11 world, proxy warfare has given international relations a whole new face. The face that is full of blood and gore as well as human agony. It is bizarre to observe the states still being adamant to handle the insurgencies and pursuing their own strategic objectives through non-state actors.

This however, must not put us in a perpetual state of denial and smugness about the whole proxy business. Especially when we ourselves have been worst affectees of these antics. The so called ‘defence analysts’ appearing on TV every evening, most of whom run their consultancy companies for various state institutions and siphon bulk of the cash available for ‘strategic analysis’, should be utilized for re-imagining strategic tug of war and inventive tools to pursue it. Long-term agenda it might be, it still needs to take shape.

One important factor in NAP’s ineffectiveness has been continuous problem of ownership and responsibility among various tiers of the state. Whereas the military institutions have been eager to claim credit of successes, the blame of failures and inaction has been invariably put on civilian security machinery. The civilian leadership and institutions on the other hand have largely been appearing as lame ducks always waiting for the nod from the mentors of the former strategic assets. Reason: no one is sure which ones of the assets have become ‘former’.

Malik Ishaq killed in an encounter while the confusion still persists over Shafique Mengal and Kabeer Shaker. The former has been asked to ‘lie low’ while the latter is still heard – in the post-APS Pakistan – hurling threats at state institutions and Shia community in Balochistan. Similarly, in less than a mile’s radius of Aabpara center of power, one Mulla Aziz keeps shouting at the top of his over-protected throat, the threats and warnings to the government and the state garnishing his speeches with threats of unleashing suicide bombers if someone touches him. One could go on blaming the civilian government for inaction but the fact of the matter is, no one would ever dare touch this beast without the necessary nod from boots. The nod that never comes for these selective outfits.

In South Punjab and interior Sindh alongside central Punjab’s Muridke and Peshawar’s Chamkani, Balochistan’s Mastung & Khuzdar and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Mansehra etc, terror training camps are still being run with impunity by some favorite deobandi groups. The thousands of ‘intelligence operations’ that the ISPR press releases often speak of seem to never get inkling to these camps. If a counter-terrorism observer in Pakistan thinks any civilian agency could ever take any action against these camps without the ‘necessary nod’, must catch up on some reading into who has been handling the smooth running of these camps. One source in Punjab Police recently told on the condition of anonymity how a leading figure of an umbrella organization of deobandi madrassas has been actively calling the Department to release terror suspects linked to these favorite outfits.

After the 18th Constitutional Amendment, provinces have autonomy in most of the matters relating to internal security. In fact, Counter terrorism Departments in Punjab and Sindh have been very active and successful too in terms of intelligence gathering and counter terrorism operations. What lacks is effective coordination among them and before that, inaction of provincial home departments to devise operational plan to implement various NAP points upon the progress of which federal Ministry of Interior would have little control.

Unfortunately, provinces have shown little progress on action against the proscribed organisations. The confusion among different state institutions about good and bad banned outfits as well as lack of intelligence coordination and complete absence of the ‘nod’ have made it impossible to move an inch further on this important aspect of NAP. There are banned outfits (BLA etc) even the distant sympathizers of who can’t get together and talk about the genuine grievance. But then, there are proscribed outfits that come out on roads in Islamabad protesting on arrests of their militant members. Not only that, some of these banned outfits have been erecting banners and posters expressing their support for Pakistan Army.

These confusions probably could be negotiated better between civil and military leadership, had the important fora for such discussions been activated. The meetings of Council of Common Interests that have to happen every quarter according to the constitution have been missing since at least ten months now. The Parliament can’t raise questions effectively on it because of the politics of agitation (that is concerned solely for rigging in elections) and politics of reconciliation that keeps major opposition parties play effective role inside the parliament.

Last week’s meeting, that the Prime Minister chaired to review the progress on NAP and other counter terrorism initiatives, gave a ray of hope when the Prime Minister ordered to immediately form the Joint Intelligence Directorate, promised under the National Internal Security Policy. Thankfully, the Finance Minister has reportedly agreed to allocate funds for JID as well as strengthening of the dead NACTA.

One would, however, understand if JID does not go anywhere in six months or a year down the road. Intelligence sharing is not the best of the traits of intelligence agencies anywhere in the world, let alone in Pakistan where the ‘premier intelligence agency’ always tries to keep its hegemony on resources and power. It is safe to apprehend its total or partial non-cooperation in transparency of the operations and coordination of information. The best course for the government in such a scenario would be to carry on with the coordination among the civilian intelligence agencies and CTDs. This is the bare minimum that might make CT operations successful.

_Continued