The agonizing incident of Dec. 16 in Peshawar has been described as the ‘Game Changer’ by some quarters. But, in the absence of the required degree of clarity and resolution on the part of government, now this incident looks nothing beyond a nine day wonder. After a brief period of mourning and lamentation, now it seems like business as usual in Islamabad. We have failed miserably in assessing the exact nature and magnitude of this more than a decade-long phenomenon. Regrettably, instead of evolving any proactive and well-thought-out strategy, the government has resorted to typical reactive remedies to curb this menace once again.
Firstly, the government hasn’t become successful in overcoming its so-called political-consensus dilemma. Like his predecessors, the Prime Minister readily chose to call an All Parties Conference (APC) following the Peshawar massacre. One absolutely fails to understand the legal and moral basis of these APCs. In any democratic dispensation, the parliament, which represents the will of the people, is considered to be the proper legal forum to discuss national issues and to make crucial decisions regarding national security. Yet we hardly witness our parliament playing any role in the whole political discourse against the terrorism. Likewise, the federal government is also supposed to take effective measures to establish the state’s writ in the entire country. In fact, it is the general will, and not the consensus-of-all, which should be the basis of decision making in any polity.
The recently-announced twenty point National Action Plan is nothing but the collection and reproduction of certain political assertions which various political regimes have routinely been making in the past. The bloody sectarian strife has constantly been playing havoc with the internal peace and religious harmony in Pakistan since the 1980’s but we haven’t yet been successful in devising any effective mechanism to regulate our madrassas, or otherwise introducing any viable madrassa reforms in the country. Leaders of certain defunct sectarian outfits have somehow managed to reorganize their parties under some new nomenclatures. In order to consolidate their conservative political support base, almost all political parties have been quite lenient and accommodating towards these sectarian outfits.
The government’s present decision regarding the formation of special military courts for speedy trial also needs serious considerations. In order to establish proposed military courts in Pakistan, we will have to amend certain provisions of the Pakistan Army Act 1952 and the Constitution of Pakistan. As a result, besides wasting more time, this decision will initiate another legal and constitutional debate giving rise to some more confusions and controversies on this issue. Perhaps the government has altogether forgotten that it had managed to pass and promulgate the Protection of Pakistan Act (PPA) in the country after much debate and discussion some months ago. Despite a lot of criticism from various quarters, this Act provided some pragmatic legal parameters within which the objective of a speedy disposal of terrorism-related matters materialize.
Regrettably, the government hasn’t made any serious endavour to effectively enforce the PPA in the country. No practical step has ever been taken for setting up the prosecuting agency and special courts for this purpose. This law also significantly allows the participation of the officers of the armed forces in the investigation process in the form of Joint Investigation Teams (JIT). Under this law, the help of Armed Forces can also be sought to provide security to the witnesses, judges and prosecutors. Therefore, instead of making any hasty decision regarding the establishment of military courts, the government should explore all possibilities to enforce the PPA in letter and spirt. Indeed, without being tried and tested, it would not be fair to reject or otherwise ignore this Act.
Likewise, under its National Action Plan, the government has also decided to establish a Special Anti-terrorism Force to fight against terrorism in the country. Under the circumstances, this decision would also hardly help in effectively and immediately solving this problem. Previously, in addition to NACTA, it has also announced to form a special counter-terrorism force to be manned by highly-paid, highly-trained individuals. Indeed, besides consuming much time, this process would require considerable monetary resources. At this stage, we can hardly afford any further delay on this issue.
The idea of recruiting a few thousands personnel to fight this war at random will be frustrating at the end of the day. Why do we forget, before making such decisions, that Pakistan has the sixth largest army in the world, which is fully capable and willing to fight this war? After successfully concluding military operations like Operation Rah-e-Rast, Rah-e-Nijat, Sherdil, Black Thunderstorm etc., Pakistan Army has launched the Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan. So far, it has successfully cleared almost 90% of the area of militants and extremists. Now, in addition to these full-fledged military operations, the troops of the Pak Army and para military forces can also be mobilized for conducting surgical operations against the terrorist inside the settled areas of the country. For this purpose, they can be made to act in aid of the police and civil authorities after making some pragmatic institutional arrangements.
As a matter of fact, there is also an important geo-strategic dimension of the issue of terrorism. After the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the prominent militant commanders of TTP including its chief Maulvi Fazlullah have managed to escape to Afghanistan, as they did during the 2009 Swat military operation. Now, Pakistan also needs a proactive strategy to engage these anti-Pakistan elements in Afghanistan. No counter-terror drive in Pakistan would be successful without countering and neutralizing these elements there. Strangely, there is no point relating to this strategic dimension of the issue of terrorism in the entire National Action Plan announced by the government.
Pakistan has to overcome all the confusions and contradictions that presently prevail in the country regarding this issue. We need a firm resolution, strong commitment and political will to fight this war. Indeed, where there is will, there is a way. We have observed this level of resolution while making decisions to launch Operation Zarb-e-Azb and execute jailed terrorists in the country. Now, we need to be more consistent and committed. Therefore, instead of riding on the horns of the dilemma, it is time that we take this stubborn bull by the horns.

The writer is a lawyer. He can be contacted at mohsinraza.malik@ymail.com.Follow him on Twitter