As the third year of COAS draws to a close, questions regarding the future of the National Action Plan (NAP) arise. There is a group of analysts who feel that NAP was a compromise and lacked the direction and endurance of going the full distance. Their argument is that quick spatial gains by law enforcement agencies are trailed by dysfunctional political voids that could one day turn the clock back. While the military has patiently stood aside in this decade of democracy, time and again its patience has run out with the nonexistence of a political initiative to hold military gains.

The abstinence on part of Punjab to join the operations despite its obscure expanses providing sanctuaries to militants is evident in Chotu Gang and presence of Baloch militants in Punjab. The area linked to three provinces, cross-border movement from Afghanistan and India and Punjabi militants warrants sustained operations lest the outfits reorganise to fight another day. The Federal and Punjab governments feel that full-fledged operations may tilt the balance against them; something they cannot afford. The military on its part has fought its lonely battles with vigour but seems helpless in areas of civilian and political expertise. Fly flapper operations against a floating invisible threat are of little consequence. With the military operations peaking and political initiatives absent, there are dangers of the genie resurfacing. By keeping a safe distance from interventions, the military has ensured it does not trigger a destabilising trajectory for outside intervention. But unless other institutions become more assertive, the choice will be between the rock and deep sea. 

Given the internal and external environments, NAP will run into roadblocks. These obstacles are overridden by fears related to loss of civilian supremacy, skeletons in cupboards and power. The ballad on a razor’s edge is being played to perfection and surely the scriptwriters have fingers on the pulse. The diabolic mandates of the Charter of Democracy and NRO will take their toll on the nation and its people. Due to proliferation of expediencies and ethical bankruptcy its liquidation will also come at the hands of the federal government. The state, whose responsibility is to provide security to its people, is embarked on a trajectory irrelevant to counter terrorism. The policy of self-preservation is bound to lead the country into a bigger quagmire.  

Debates with a missing intent leading to NAP merely skimmed the surface. Deliberations were never substantive and incisive. Suggestions by experts were set aside. The intellectual capacity to come to grips with the challenges and cutting element was missing.

World over, special legislations were adopted to counter-terrorism. During sittings on terrorism Pakistan had the choice of an emergent counter-terrorism model or a criminal justice model. Pakistan ignored the counter-terrorism model and inserted some clauses into criminal justice to fill the blanks. Military courts were preferred over legal reforms. This was done to avoid the onerous task of civilian capacity building.  It is no surprise that during these years, even residual civilian capacity has collapsed due to politicisation.

The war model was rejected outright because it gave more powers to the LEAS (read military) and was deemed a threat to civilian supremacy. Rather than creating the civilian capacity for preemption, it was excluded within the strategic framework on the pretext that it required enormous resources, state of art technology and geo-strategic clout. How the government plans to mop up the WOT with its many internal and external linkages without preemption begs answers.  

Pakistan has embarked on the world’s biggest war on terrorism with patchwork modifications, limiting the role and preemption capabilities of its combating arms. This inefficient mechanism was created with predisposed fears and a false notion that it would create civilian supremacy. This was done despite knowledge that the adversaries beyond the self-created genies also included outside actors. The ultimate objective is not terrorism but the guardians to forbidden fruits. Military patience and CPEC (exclude rickety Chinese business investments) threaten to preempt the most dangerous.

The most important requirement for an effective counter-terrorism policy was to fight a sustained campaign under an effective oversight mechanism. These mechanisms are still missing. Had they, the operations could have proceeded unhindered with full momentum. To refresh readers, this is what is meant by oversight.

Post 9/11 governments around the world invoked special legislations to ensure oversight. This meant a system of inherent accountability of the executive to impartial groups dealing with ‘policy, political question doctrine and judicial oversight’. It enforced policy related unlimited legislative writ through legislative committees. NAP could have provided for inclusion of non-elected experts from diverse fields and armed forces to strengthen these committees throughout the duration of intelligence and enforcement operations.  Under the ‘political question doctrine’, judges were to avoid jurisdiction over intelligence controversies, allowing resolution of national security disputes to the government and its select parliamentary committees.

To overcome the legal drag in the obscure world of intelligence, NAP never catered for the inherent extra-constitutional sovereign authority under a ‘higher law of self-preservation’ not subject to normal judicial review. The intelligence agencies were not empowered with police powers and judges to form a water tight compartment.  Though this concept is provided by the law in ‘Military in Aid of Civil Power’ it was never fine-tuned to extra-ordinary environments. To act as surrogates for the public, NAP ignored the creation of a select judicial cadre imbedded within intelligence and LEAs. With the law and order becoming a provincial domain, the NAP had to move beyond the Apex Committees to extend the oversight mechanism to the provinces. This gaping hole provides many escape routes to self-interests and explanation why Rangers keep going and coming.

Is NAP extended to National Pacification Operations aimed at winning the hearts and minds? The answer is no. Most development work is around major urban centers. The budget allocations and lethargy about local self-governments indicate that governments barring KPK are showing no urgency in co-opting the grass roots in governance. Unless the government adopts the model of home grown sustainable development, steep vertical pockets will lead to social unrest and violence. The wide expanses of poverty and expanding slums will breed crimes and provide space for counter narratives and non-kinetic vulnerabilities.

People displaced from tribal areas are being rehabilitated extremely slowly. Despite the military’s herculean role in rehabilitation, too little in terms of socio-economic uplift is being done to address sensitivities. If revulsion sets into despair, the militants could find fertile grounds in ‘hearts and minds’. Given the track record of the federal governments in abiding by commitments to people since 1947, no out of box solutions are expected. Making FATA part of KPK is no solution till this integration is not backed by hard economic decisions and social reforms. A case study before we tinker with FATA and KPK is Balochistan.

In 1970, the British and Old Balochistan were unimaginatively merged to form what in now Balochistan and then deformed into A and B areas. The special distinction between the British Balochistan and Old Balochistan was lost creating an enduring controversy manifested in separatism, Baloch-Pashtun-Settler divide and militancy. The contrasts in poverty, backwardness, under-development and tribal history were never considered a critical national issue. Balochistan has yet to break out of this lingering time wrap. To make matters worse, PKMAP, a sub nationalist party warm to Afghanistan and India calls shots in the province. This is counterproductive.

A hard fought ordeal of nearly 15 years by LEAs of Pakistan, plus the disfigurement FATA underwent during the Afghan War, cannot be undone by creating another B Area type zone with the responsibility dumped on KPK. The imagination and impetus in planning is clearly absent. The new bill indicates, that blunders, mistakes and expediencies of past are most likely to be repeated.

Whenever systems move into denial, the sheer incompetency and failure to dominate situations result in implosion. Homegrown conditions create spaces for external intervention which cyclically provide pretexts for another denial. In a situation such as this, our rulers are ignorant that history will condemn them. They shirk responsibility to create rallying spaces and deliberately engineer exploitable fissures.

NAP in its present form is tantamount to napping. Twenty point agenda is a prelude to a book with no chapters.