National Action Plan: Prospect and Challenges for Pakistan
Pakistan’s national level policy framework to counter terrorism and extremism came forward in the form of National Action Plan in 2014, this was a direct response of the APS attack. An incident that not only led to the demise of 130 students and staff of the school but also shook the moral and human consciousness of the entire nation. By then the state had already borne loss of around 60,000 lives and billions of dollars from the deteriorating internal and border security situation of the country. The National Action Plan was opted on 24th Dec, 2014 by the consensus of all the political parties. Comprising of 20 key points in total the policy basically aimed at finding coherence and consensus and give operational synergy to civil, military, judicial and political institutions. Ranging from setting up military courts for granting death sentences to terrorists, breaking the narrative via media and religious clergy engagement as well as scrutinizing religious seminaries and a zero tolerance for militias to operate anywhere in the state, this framework came as a holistic plan to take a national level shift towards long term dis-armament and disengagement of armed radical religious groups, fighting against each other or against the government.
This, plan though was an important part of the war against terrorism still had certain ambiguities and lack of clarity that led to it being unable to fulfil its full potential. Although developed on state level but its full functioning at provincial level or divisional level was started rather late. Also, at first, the government pledged to strengthen the National Counter Terrorism authority (NACTA) that was also supervising the national action plan committee. After two years of assessment, the government had to change its decision and instead of strengthening NACTA as aninstitution, by giving NCTA’s supervision to National Security Division NSD. This resulted in exhibiting a fall out of consensus at the center on implementation of counter terrorism strategy and NCTA was unable to implement the plan, particularly when it came to engaging with provincial governments. There also seems to be no clear key performance indicatorsand regular public reporting onreduction in terrorist instances, number of unarmed militias, number of legislations passed at federal and provincial level to counter terrorism and extremism and number of cases heard and settled against terrorist and extremist elements every year. Lack of transparency and a clear posture of decisiveness to continue nation’s journey against war on terror with a zero-tolerance policy backed by a politically and militarily empowered institution (NACTA) is what seems missing here. Although NACTA issues annual public reports on new legislations passed and policy strengthening yet there is a clear lack of being transparent on the outcomes of these actions and any yearly progress achieved in terms of betterment in internal security.
A few positive enactments of the plan though may be recalled as; Military courts were established by the 21st constitutional amendment in which 275 terrorists have been prosecuted, sentencing 161 militant’s death penalties and 116 were sentenced varying jail terms. Military Courts have been given the extension two times. Nevertheless, if complete reform in the criminal court justice system is not achieved, military courts are not a suitable replacement for long term implementation of NAP. In fact, the last point of NAP was the reform of the criminal justice system,a goal which due to the incompatible institutions, the government has not been able to achieve so far.
A key achievement of the government on the NAP was its crackdowns against sectarian violence for the protection of minorities in Pakistan. Recently, one example is the ban on Tehreek-e-Labaik by the government due to its radical narrative andrefusal to participate in the political process. It was an important step taken by the state. Another important aspect is curbing terror financing problem in 2014, government is insistent on assertingNAP to hamper all funding to terrorists. Financial Monitoring units have been operative since 2009 to monitor all the financing and accounts that are used for terror financing. In 2014 the government established the National Terrorist Financing Investigation cell to track down all the funding to terrorist and extremist groups. According to the State Bank of Pakistan around 400 individual’s suspected accounts have been blocked and many are under surveillance.Owing to terror financing, Pakistan is facing hurdles in FATF. However, efforts like capturing the leader of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hafiz Saeed, whom has been imprisoned for 11 years on accounts of terror financing;come as another step towards Pakistan’s progress in curbing terror financing.This,if remains satisfactory,Pakistan will succeed in coming out and from the FATF grey list.
One of the primary critiques faced by the national action plan is it proscribing the freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Government and opposition as well as media have not been able to come on a consensus on this so far. As per the plan the curbing of hate speeches on social media that helped the terrorist groups to propagate their narrative was to be limited organizations and factions that mobilized people against the state. However, it’s implementation so far has faced intense criticism from journalists, civilian institutions and NGOs, that view it as a means to censor critique and opposition’s voices. The FATA reform also, was a challenging point to execute for the government because of instability and weak political system in that region. In May 2018 government merged the FATA in KPK. Though opposed by Maulana Fazul-Ur-Rehman and Mehmood Achakzai, but through 25th Constitutional amendment also known as the constitution act of 2018, was passed by the parliament and the KPK assembly in May 2018.This came as a key step in paving the path for the future stability and development of the FATA region. According to the constitutional amendments in article 51, the general seats of KPK in the national assembly has increased up to 51 and the total seats of the province have increased up to 61. The constitutional amendments of article 106, the general seats of KPK assemble have increased from 115 to 123 and women seats are reached up to 28 from 26. Political inclusion and mainstreaming of these areas in national politics will resolve long term governance and outreach issues, which in turn is key to long term dis-engagement of radical and extremist groups from politically motivated violence. These regions have in past remained in the eye of the storm; facing displacement, military engagements and persecution from armed groups. Political engagement and administrative effectives are therefore necessary in rooting out any embedded conflict and grievance from the region.
Charting out a policy and plan is not enough to curb terrorism, extremism, and radicalization permanently from any state. NAP though came as asignificant step toward ending terrorism in Pakistan, still needs long term political commitment, financial support, a better integrated military strategy and civil ownership. So far military operations, judicial trails and financial scrutiny seem to have been strong points of the plan’s implementation. Where it lags behind is perhaps;in taking soft approach via conflict reconciliation and long-term transformation and neutralizing of conflict drivers and belligerent actors.