Under the 1997 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), the idea of proscribed organisations was introduced, whereby governments would draw up a list of organisations connected with terrorism and would then proceed to taking action against these groups under the ATA’s steps of procedure. The wavering attitude of Pakistani governments, past and present, towards such organisations is evident from the fact that Pakistan’s list of proscribed organisations was not available to the general public up until very recently, while in fairness, alerting the people to the organisations that threatened them should have been the first step in countering terrorism. Going through the list on NACTA’s website brings one’s attention to the absence of any entries of domestic organisations into the list between 2013 and 2015, whereas this time period saw terrorism reach its peak. Much of these proscribed organisations may not be directly involved in terrorist activities but play an important role in fostering, promoting, supporting and glorifying terrorism. The existence of such organisations has created a dilemma for the leadership in Pakistan over how to treat such organisations, a dilemma that is completely unwarranted, since the ATA does not differentiate between proscribed organisations.

The Quetta Inquiry Commission set up under Justice Faiz Esa to investigate the August 8 Quetta attack has not just investigated the attack but has gone a step further and has highlighted the loopholes present in our counter terrorism narrative and the National Action Plan. In its report, the commission notes that the National Action Plan does not have timelines for achieving any of the twenty goals that it has set out and that the Plan also fails to mention those who will implement it or monitor its progress. The one-member commission also points towards the importance of making sure that Islamic teachings in Pakistani institutions do not spread hate or extremism. Under its recommendations, the commission’s report specifically requires hate material publication to be restricted and media personnel propagating the views of proscribed organisations to be prosecuted. Amongst these recommendations, the commission also emphasises the need for publishing specific reasons for the proscription of each proscribed organisation. According to the commission, these reasons should include the terrorist acts or assistance activities carried out by these organisations. Another proposal made by the commission is the public announcement of new additions to the list of proscribed organisations while the existing list should be readily available on the websites of NACTA, the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Information, Ministry of States and Frontier Regions as well as on those of the Home Departments of all provinces and territories.

Growing up in a country that has lost 35000 lives and $118 billion in the war on terror, suicide attacks have become a norm for me. It is not a surprise anymore to wake up each day to the news of a terrorist attack somewhere in Pakistan. Yet, even though I study in the finest institution of Pakistan, other than ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, I have never been told of any of the other 60 proscribed organisations. And this shameful situation seeps down from the mentality of the Pakistani government that has consistently failed to define exactly who is a terrorist. And even when this line has been drawn, there have no public awareness campaigns, no seminars or lectures, not even an online notification or a social media post to let the people know exactly which organisations are terrorist groups. There has never even been a public announcement in which a certain organisation has been proscribed. It is because of this lack of public awareness that people end up mingling with extremists, being brainwashed by them and donating to their cause. After all, how would I know which mosque is spreading hate or extremism? How would I know which fundraising box is funding terrorist activities? How would I know that the bearded person I just talked to was the member of a proscribed organisation?

It is because of these unanswered questions that Justice Esa’s report is so important. It provides us with a judicial direction to implement inter-alia ATA’s Article 11 and several others that deal with the treatment of proscribed organisations. Under this Article, all organisations that commit, prepare, promote, support, patronise, glorify or assist terrorism in any form are terrorist organisations and should be enlisted in the list of proscribed organisations. The ATA then sets out measures to be taken against proscribed organisations. Under Article 11-E, it states that all offices of a listed organisation shall be sealed, their accounts frozen and their printed and published material prohibited. In addition to this all those involved in the organisation’s activities in any capacity including its fund raising arrangements will be tried in court. In a nutshell, the Quetta Inquiry Commission Report underlines the one major problem in our counter-terrorism narrative; the lack of awareness amongst the population about proscribed organisations. Until and unless the Pakistani government is forthcoming on its stance on proscribed organisations and people are made aware of the groups that pose a threat to national security, the war on terror would have been in vain and Operation Zarb-e-Azb would be nothing more than a facade, a facade created to feed the nation’s awakening conscience.

 

The writer is an O-level student at Aitchison College and is an avid speaker, MUNner and footballer.

sadiq.jc@hotmail.com