A brief but well-researched “Overview of Security” during the first four months of the current year, prepared by a non-governmental think tank, has taken stock of the progress of the National Action Plan (NAP) during this period, throwing into bold relief the failure of government to implement a number of important steps listed in NAP. As has been pointed out in the Overview, the first quarter of 2016 has seen a sharp rise in terrorist attacks across Pakistan. This happened despite official claims of robust government-led anti-terrorist operations. The attack on Lahore’s Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park was the deadliest in terms of its lethality. The Bacha Khan University attack in Charsadda in January was also a shocking development that came soon after the first anniversary of the APS attack.
Punjab, which had remained relatively less terror-prone since the launch of Operation Zarb-e-Azb in June 2014, has experienced the biggest jump in violence this year. This understandably prompted the civil and military law-enforcement agencies (LEA) to launch a coordinated security operation, codenamed Operation Zarb-e-Ahan. Ironically, the operation, instead of leading the LEAs to hideouts of terrorists, pitted them against gangs of dacoits in the riverine area of Rajanpur in south Punjab. While the gang leader, Chhotu, and his followers have been captured, the combing operation in the area is said to be continuing. However, it is extremely disturbing to note that it is still unclear if the ambit of the operation in south Punjab will also extend to militant outfits that are entrenched in the area, long-considered a hotbed of violent extremism. Disturbingly, while 167 seminaries with suspected militant ties have been shut down in Sindh since the launch of NAP, Punjab that perhaps has the largest number of such institutions, has closed down only two seminaries. Also, the utter silence of the Punjab government over the reports of the Jamatud Dawa setting up parallel courts in Punjab is, indeed, a matter of grave concern, given that that the group is still listed as “under observation” by the interior ministry. There also appears to be no let-up in hate speeches delivered on a daily basis by extremist groups and from mosques.
One suspects that the Punjab government, like its counterpart in Sindh, does not feel comfortable handing over the functions of police to the Rangers. One would very much like to agree with the two governments because the Rangers cannot provide a long-term substitute for the police. However, since the police forces in the country have over the years been almost completely politicised, and also lack the right kind of training for the job and the required hardware to combat terrorists, one cannot help but feel that perhaps there should be a role for the Rangers for a limited period when it comes to counterterror operations. At the same time, there need to be urgent reformation exercises to transform provincial police forces into competent entities. Another aspect that needs to be looked into is the area of terror financing. Detecting and investigating such cases is much more complex than ordinary criminal investigations and the FIA’s dedicated Terrorist Finance Investigation Unit needs more sophisticated software to do its job efficiently.
Under NAP, the effectiveness of the National Counter Terrorism Authority has remained weak. It needs to be activated post-haste. The repatriation of undocumented Afghan refugees, another of the NAP points, has yet to begin in earnest. Meanwhile, one would completely endorse the opinion of the author of the Overview that going forward, there is an urgent need to take stock of NAP’s progress, and to take course-corrective measures to plug implementation gaps. There is equally a need for synching and sharing intelligence across provincial Counter Terrorism Departments, anti-terror forces, the Rangers and other LEAs to successfully crack down on terror activities.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 16th, 2016.
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