After a marathon meeting, national leadership approved a comprehensive plan of action against terrorism in a move described by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as a ‘defining moment’ in the fight against terrorism. The 20-point National Action Plan that envisages establishment of special courts for the speedy trial of proven terrorists and a crackdown on terrorist support structures is now undergoing a strategy level strip down. A committee each has been formed for each point. In other words, now flesh and arteries are being woven into the skeleton provided by the Action Plan. Prime Minister is personally involved at the micro level to see that all loopholes are well plugged. Speed is the hallmark of this entire activity. Matters that could have otherwise taken months are being finalized in hours.
In his televised address, the Prime Minister said about the December 16 Peshawar school massacre that, “A line has been drawn. On one side are coward terrorists and on the other side stands the whole nation.” Elaborating the 20-point National Plan of Action, the prime minister said that execution of convicted terrorists will continue and special trial courts would be set up across the country for two years in order to ensure speedy trial of terror suspects.
Setting up of these courts was the main sticking point in the marathon meeting of the parliamentary parties as some important parties had genuine reservations about military courts. Now, an amendment will be made in the Pakistan Army Act 1952 for the establishment of these courts. The number of military courts will be according to the number of terrorists in a province.
Logistics and funding of terrorist outfits are an important aspect; lot of money flowing in under very noble banners is ending up in financing terrorism via sectarian organizations. While mobilization from domestic donations forms only a small fraction, major chunks come from some of the friendly countries for whom Pakistan is a battle ground for their proxy sectarian. It will be an uphill task to find ways and means to trace and choke such funding.
It would be naïve to view extremism and terrorism in Pakistan in isolation without looking at Afghanistan and the Middle East. Political retrofitting of most of the Middle Eastern countries in the wake of Arab Spring raised hopes but such hopes were irrelevant and an oversimplification. Some countries, like Egypt, returned to the status quo while countries like Iraq and Syria slipped in to a never ending anarchic situation with the formation of principalities under various brands. These two situations will not come to pass in South Asia; nevertheless, caution must be advised. Terrorists have to execute a high profile activity every 2-3 months to remain relevant, government has to be vigilant 24/7 to thwart this. Moreover, terrorist can fail in their attempts and still remain relevant; government does not have the luxury of failure.
The consensus that the Prime Minster has mobilized is conditional and time bound. If high profile terrorist activities continue this shaky consensus will meltdown. It does not take rocket science to restore law and order. This basically needs two steps: equality before law and tracking down the perpetrators of such acts beyond Pakistan’s borders and bringing them to justice. Fortunately, as of now, both these are achievable. If political considerations are kept apart, justice could be administered speedily and across the board. Moreover, unprecedented support from the Afghan government provides a chance of retrieving the masterminds residing in Afghanistan. Special operations also remain an option should the willing support from Afghan government fizzle out.
Similarly, the National Plan of Action envisages registration and regulation of all Madaris. Interestingly, during the meeting of the parliamentary parties, almost all participants agreed with JUI-F Chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman that this issue should not be discussed as it would an create uproar in the country. “First fight with terrorists, then focus on Madrassa reforms,” Fazl was quoted saying.
Action plan has unnecessarily broadened the scope of activity by including action against terrorists in Balochistan and Karachi, and militancy in Punjab. Though these issues need attention, mixing-up everything has inherent disadvantages: efforts will dilute and adversely impact on the outcome and chances of misuse of upcoming laws and judicial processes would increase.
Army chief General Raheel Sharif also briefed the participants about his meeting with the Afghan and ISAF commanders, who, he said, assured him of their full support in fighting militants. “Army has launched operations against terrorists and has killed 2,100 terrorists during Zarb-e-Azb and Khyber-I,” he added. Success in this kind of warfare cannot be measured quantitatively; rather, it is gauged qualitatively; not in the numbers of those killed but by the effects generated by those who still survive. Going by this criterion, our success over the years has been minuscule and diminishing.
Shortcomings of the judiciary have yet again come to the fore. The unpleasant decision of setting up military courts owes its genesis to the failure of the judicial processes to finalize the cases within the time frame stipulated by the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 and Protection of Pakistan Act 2014. According to Sub-section 7 of Section 19 of the ATA 1997, “the anti-terrorism court shall on taking cognizance of the case, proceed with the trial from day to day and shall decide the case within seven working days.”
In the wake of Peshawar tragedy, Chief Justice of Pakistan Nasirul Mulk chaired the meeting of the chief justices of all high courts and in-charge monitoring judges of high courts at the Supreme Court. He directed the participants of meeting and the anti-terrorism courts (ATCs) to conduct daily hearings as per the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) 1997 so as to ensure speedy disposal of terrorism-related cases. On perusal of reports received from the high court/ATCs, it came to fore that only 10-15% of cases pertained to bomb blasts/attacks by proscribed organizations while the rest of the cases tried in these courts only technically fell within the definition of terrorism. Hence, there is a need to set our fundamentals right before we move to conquer terrorism—terrorism must be precisely defined.

The writer is a freelance columnist. He can be contacted at kiqbal1234@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter