The troubled and volatile civil-military relations instantly became a hot topic for media debate in the country following the press release issued by the ISPR at the conclusion of Corps Commander Conference last week. The press release stated that, “He (COAS) however, underlined the need for matching/complimentary governance initiatives for long term gains of operation and enduring peace across the country.” It further maintained that, “Progress of National Action Plan’s implementation, finalization of FATA reforms, and concluding all ongoing JITs at priority, were highlighted as issues, which could undermine the effects of operations”. Subsequently, being overly sensitive and concerned about civilian supremacy and democracy in the country, the government spokesperson readily ‘advised’ the institutions to “remain within the ambit of the constitution”. The spokesman further reminded that implementation of National Action Plan is shared responsibility of all institutions.

Somehow making a tempest in teapot, the media overplayed, and twisted ISPR’s recent press release. As usual, it tried to smell a conspiracy against county’s current democratic dispensation out of this press release. However, the press release has been analyzed and viewed out of its actual context. In fact, the ISPR’s mention of poor governance initiatives was not general but rather specific. It only tried to point out the poor civilian response towards the implementation of NAP, FATA reforms besides the slow pace of investigation and prosecution process of criminal elements in the city of Karachi. Indeed, it cannot criticize the general state of governance in the country which is obviously quite ‘exemplary’ and ‘ideal’.

Nothing substantial has come out of the current media debate on this issue. The government continues to pursue a sort of business-as-usual policy vis-à-vis the counter-terror issue. In fact, apart from ISPR press release, we are well cognisant of the nature and degree of resolution and commitment on the part of civilian government to curb the menace of terrorism in the country. It is not the NAP only which signifies poor civilian response but the past track record of the successive civilian regimes speaks volumes about their apathetic attitude towards this single issue. The civilian leadership has constantly been maintaining a dilly-dally approach towards this crucial issue. The incumbent government obviously did nothing beyond holding APC’s over this issue after coming to power following the 2013 General Elections. Ignoring altogether the ground realties, it preferred to initiate a misconceived, poorly-executed, and rather open-ended, dialogue process to make peace with the miscreants in the country.

Aimed at effectively curbing the menace of terrorism in Pakistan, the 20-point National Action Plan for counter terror was devised following the unfortunate APS Peshawar incident last year. The intended action plan involves certain administrative measures ranging from strengthening the NACTA to the establishment of the military courts and a special counter-terrorism force. It also included some strict actions against militant outfits and armed gangs like freezing their funding sources and dismantling their communication network. Similarly, the sectarianism and extremism were also vowed to be tackled through effective regulation of the religious seminaries across the country.

The twentieth point of this plan says that the existing criminal justice system will be reformed, and the provincial CID departments will be mobilized.

As a matter of fact, the NAP, by and large, contains certain counter-terror measures that necessarily relate to the ordinary function of the police. Therefore, serious endeavors are needed to instantly enhance the institutional capacity of our civilian law enforcement agencies.

Had we efficiently mobilized our police force in the past, we wouldn’t have to discuss some basic points of this plan these days. Pakistan has been in the grip of sectarian violence since the last 1980’s. There have been many political regimes in the country but no one has ever cared about addressing this issue seriously. Consequently, this menace has somehow become a vociferous hydra in Pakistan now. In fact, the state should have taken concrete steps to register and regulate the religious seminaries in the country. Instead, at times, certain half-hearted operations were carried out against various sectarian outfits making them able to operate in the country under different nomenclature.

Two years ago, the much-debated Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014 was passed by parliament to help Pakistan fight against extremism and terrorism. This law somehow addressed the underlying issues necessarily associated with the very task of counter-terrorism in Pakistan.

But regrettably, owing to usual laxity and lack of the seriousness on the part of the civilian government, this law could not be effectively enforced in the country. The government has never seriously tried to set up special courts, a special prosecution agency or joint investigation teams required by this law. Nor did it make any arrangement to ensure the protection of judges, prosecutors and witnesses under this act. Instead, after the APS Peshawar carnage last year, it readily chose to make a constitutional amendment to establish military courts in the country. In this way, the government shifted the very burden of court trial of terrorists to the military which was necessarily a civilian task.

In Pakistan, politicians have somehow failed to rise above their political expediencies as far as the Karachi issue is concerned. Instead of extending unqualified support to LEA’s to curb criminal elements in the city, they have been advocating for retaining the political relevance and significance of MQM, covertly and overtly, ignoring altogether the irresponsible behaviour constantly exhibited by its chief for a long time. The provincial government of Sindh has also been a bit reluctant to extend the full legal apparatus required for the proper investigation and prosecution of the criminals nabbed by the military-backed LEA’s. Consequently, various JIT’s in the city have yet not concluded the legal proceedings to get the criminals convicted by the court of law.

Almost eleven months have passed since the establishment of military courts but no pragmatic plan has yet been evolved to switch this system back to normal. Indeed, it is not the perpetual duty of the military to conduct the court trial of terror suspects. Now the civilian government should make necessary institutional arrangements for efficiently replacing the military courts with country’s normal criminal courts. For this purpose, the Protection of Pakistan Act, 2014 needs to be enforced in letter in spirit. It will not only help fight terrorism effectively in the troubled areas but legal complications associated with investigation, prosecution and trial of criminals in the city of Karachi will also be minimized. Observably, the current criminal justice dispensation has not been so successful in completely eliminating the criminal mafias from the city.

Since authority and responsibly always go together, therefore, before exclusively claiming supremacy over all state institution, the civilian government should first assume its own institutional responsibilities proactively. It has to assert its ‘right to rule’ by diligently performing its constitutional entrusted tasks. It has to take complete ownership of the ongoing war against extremism and terrorism in the country. It has to lead from the front. A few rhetorical statements would neither strengthen the democracy nor stabilize the eroding civilian supremacy in the country.