The mysterious ‘Fourth Schedule’ is back in the news again; but unfortunately, the news does nothing to assure the population of the government’s ‘tough on terror’ narrative.

Two days after the Interior Minister – publicly and somewhat embarrassingly – buckled under pressure from the Difa-e-Pakistan Council (DPC) to say that fourth schedulers cannot be stripped of citizenship rights, the government has decided to strip other financial rights for the estimated 4000 people on the list. Not much of a victory for the DPC, and definitely against the spirit of the ‘deal’ made previously. Is the government really gambling on the Islamabad lockdown?

Initially it seems so; a spokesperson for the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) SBP Sunday said the bank had frozen more than 4,000 bank accounts on the request of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). Give them back their CNICs, take away financial services – balance restored, and the government can puff its chest once again. However, behind this deceptively simple equation presented by the government lurks a dubious history of the Fourth Schedule, which indicates that SBP’s directions are little more than smoke and mirrors.

The Fourth Schedule of Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 has been in force for 19 years, and financial restrictions, travel restrictions, prohibition from visiting certain public places and other such hindrances have been in place since then. The SBP has done nothing new; these accounts have been frozen for years – as evidenced by the frequent protests by people on the list.

Then why this sudden declaration? Either it is a serious dereliction of duty – not freezing accounts of people on the list – that is only being rectified now. Or, this is a classic case of misdirection, pretending to do something that has already been done to seem proactive and to counter the negative propaganda of the ‘deal’. In either case, the government comes off as unprincipled, confused and capricious.

That is not even the crux of this deception, the plain fact is that despite being put on the list, these individuals are allowed to enjoy all these services with minor hindrances. Consider, ASWJ leader Maulana Ludhianvi, who is on the Fourth Schedule, whose bank accounts are frozen and whose foreign travel is prohibited, has just returned from Hajj pilgrimage and recently inaugurated the madressah in Raja Bazaar, Rawalpindi – no questions asked.

In the end it matters little who is on the list, or what prohibitions the list demands if the enforcement is going to be a farce. And it decidedly is – there is no cooperation between provinces and influential people on the list go scot free.

Perhaps it wasn’t such a gamble then. With their accounts already frozen, most of the DPC is not affected, but the government gets to play the tough soldier all over again, as it did when Nawaz Sharif ordered everyone on the list to be arrested earlier this year. As we all know now, no one was.