ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s safety is essentially riding on the government’s National Action Plan (NAP) – drafted in the aftermath of the December 16 attack on Peshawar’s Army Public School– but the authors of the much-vaunted counterterrorism strategy deem it unfeasible, a document put together in haste rather than after careful deliberation.
Under the NAP, the government aims to crack down on terrorism across the country and at the same time supplement the anti-terrorism offensive in north-west Pakistan.
Combining foreign and domestic policy initiatives to ultimately eradicate banned organisations, the action plan provided the framework for the 21st constitutional amendment that made it possible to set up speedy trial military courts to dispose of terrorism cases.
The plan also led to the removal of a seven-year moratorium on the death penalty and to obligatory re-verification of all mobile subscribers through fingerprint recognition.
The authors of the NAP say the government did not allow them enough time to devise a comprehensive counterterrorism and counter-insurgency plan to ensure civilian supremacy in the implementation process.
An expert said his request for allowing at least two weeks for doing proper homework to adopt a suitable counterterrorism approach was also turned down. “The document was prepared in a few hours without meaningful deliberation.”
When the authors were contacted by the federal government, they were told to put together the action plan in the least possible time. “When we requested some time to think about it, we were told that this was an urgent issue and there was no other option but to do something on a war-footing basis,” said one of the authors.
Glossing over issues
While the authors believe that all 20 points comprising the NAP are relevant, as far as their implementation is concerned, “huge resources, experts’ detailed input and research work are required to make the plan workable”.
On the contrary, the experts could only focus on the situation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas during the “precious hours” allowed them.
“Karachi, Balochistan, sectarian clashes, Afghan refugees, banned organisations, seminary reforms and the policy on proxies were completely ignored during the discussions,” revealed an expert.
The government’s focus at the time of drafting the NAP was the situation emerging from the Peshawar massacre that had left 150 people, most of them children, dead.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan is an internal threat with an external presence, but this problem could not be fixed in the action plan, and the experts could also not make recommendations on the required policy shift towards our neighbours.
The experts did not have enough time to discuss the civilian oversight mechanism with the focus on empowering the police; as a result, the security forces have been assumed to lead the front.
The experts said that after the abolition of the magistrate system and in the absence of a local government, there was no “captain” at district level to head the machinery possessing legal and executive powers.
An official of the interior ministry said that only those experts who had a lifetime’s worth of experience had been selected for drafting the NAP.
“In the absence of any counterterrorism and counter-insurgency policy, the government’s strategy is not workable in its current form,” admitted a senior official of the federal government who is a part of the draft’s implementation process.
Majority of the experts also termed last year’s National Internal Security Policy as confusing, unclear and devoid of substance when it comes to actual implementation.
Referring to the shortcomings in the government’s present approach, they said a clear-cut policy was needed that says “we shall do this” instead of “this should happen”.
There is also no consensus on the intelligence network directorate. A former director-general of the Federal Investigation Agency suggested an independent directorate within the Inter-Services Intelligence or the Intelligence Bureau on the pattern of the British MI5 (Military Intelligence, Section 5), instead of creating a new and parallel intelligence coordination hierarchy, which would be a non-starter and might result in internal turf battles.
For appearances’ sake
Another expert said the government wanted to show the nation through the media that it was doing something. “All of this was done without working on the practical aspects and the operational framework.”
The provincial administrations have also been unable to chalk out any mechanism to monitor the activities of banned organisations.
Abdul Basit, a researcher based in Singapore, said the NAP was also silent on counter-radicalisation, which needs to be addressed to stop more people from joining militant groups. “Counterterrorism is not effective without corresponding counter-radicalisation efforts.”
He said the much talked about phenomenon of creating counter-narratives was also absent from the action plan. The policy-makers should have been cognisant of this facet of counterterrorism, he added.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th, 2015.