Pakistan Reader# 148, 26 January 2021
A review of the PIPS Report titled "Strengthening Governance in Pakistan: Assessing the National Action Plan to Counter-Terrorism and Extremism"Apoorva Sudhakar
In the recent past, 2013 has been termed the “bloodiest year” - 2,700 people were killed in various acts of violence - terrorism targeted killing, and gang rivalry. Following this, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif approved targeted security operations led by the Pakistan Rangers. The approval was Pakistan’s initial step to root out violence.
However, Pakistan experienced a shocker in June 2014 when the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) attacked the Karachi airport which left 36 dead. Later, in December 2014, the TTP carried out a ruthless attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar; the outlawed group killed nearly 150 children and other staff thereby becoming a wake-up call for Pakistan to address its security situation. With this, the 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) was launched to expedite the criminal justice process, execute persons convicted for terrorism, tracing and choking terror financing, curb hate speeches etc.
The latest report by the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), released in December 2020, aims to assess Pakistan after the NAP was implemented. The report titled “Strengthening Governance in Pakistan: Assessing the National Action Plan to Counter-Terrorism and Extremism” looks at Pakistan from a pre-NAP and post-NAP prism. It also brings forth the successes and failures of the NAP.
Recollecting the 20-point NAP
Given the haste in which the NAP was implemented, it aimed to address the root causes of terrorism and extremism. However, the underlying causes of the above two were largely left out of the NAP’s ambit. For example, one of the highlights under the NAP has been the expedition of terrorism-related conviction which initially led to a series of executions. With this, the NAP was eliminating terrorists, not terrorism. Overall, the NAP had a 20-point agenda which provided for the following. Concerning militancy and terrorism, the NAP called for the death sentence of those convicted of terrorism, formation of military courts, blacklisting militant groups, preventing re-emergence of proscribed outfits, choking terror financing, deploying counter-terrorism forces and dismantling communication networks of terrorists. On the media front, the NAP aimed to implement strict action against hate speech/material, ban glorification of terrorists through any media, implement measures against abuse of the internet and social media for terrorism. Further, the NAP also aimed at introducing structural changes by pushing for political reconciliation with Balochistan, developmental reforms in (erstwhile) FATA, an end to the Karachi Operation, and formulating a policy to address the Afghan refugee crisis and lastly reforms in the criminal justice system. Next, the NAP called for zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab and strict action against sectarian terrorists. Lastly, it emphasised the revival of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). (“National Action Plan 20 Points,” South Asia Terrorism Portal)
However, the report highlights that the above 20 points have existed in various plans to counter-terrorism and extremism. Before the implementation of the NAP, Pakistan had introduced the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2013-18; this remained largely non-functional due to a lack of consensus between civilian and military leaderships. The APS attack brought about a national consensus which put the NAP into action.
The NAP: A mixed bag of success and failures
The report acknowledges that instances of terrorism in Pakistan have reduced and the NAP could have played a major role in this. The report highlights the above said 20 points in detail - what the NAP has achieved or is yet to achieve and the reasons behind each point’s success or failure. Lastly, the report provides a set of recommendations that further strengthen the NAP.
First, the success of the NAP. The report says the NAP had been successful in bringing an end to the Karachi Operation by eliminating threats of violence in the city to a large extent. Next, the NAP also resulted in the integration of erstwhile FATA with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. On the judicial front, the military courts set up by the NAP convicted and executed hundreds after years of moratorium on executions. In 2015, the number of executions stood at 340; most of the executed had no links to terrorism. Further, the NAP was also handy in implementing legislation necessary to comply with the FATF after Pakistan was placed on the grey list in 2018. Lastly, the report claims that the NAP, along with law enforcement agencies (LEAs) has been able to curb the rise of religious extremist groups.
Second, the failure of NAP. The report says the NAP has been unable to curb “violent and non-violent shades of extremism in the country.” Hate speech and religious persecution, for example, is rampant in Pakistan. Next, political reconciliation with Balochistan has not achieved the desired result. The report also believes that many of the convictions awarded by the military courts being set aside by the Supreme Court are a failure of the NAP. Lastly, the report says NACTA has failed to “establish itself as the kind of civilian-led supreme supervisory body on countering terrorism.”
Third, a set of recommendations. The report calls for “civilianisation” of the counter-terrorism policy; it says the parliament should debate the issues and determine “the broad contours of security policies.” Next, it believes narratives surrounding extremism and sectarianism should also be debated in civilian spaces thereby leading to “civilian-led de-radicalization and reintegration. It also asks for the inclusion of a revised academic curriculum and reforms focussing on religious tolerance. On the technical front, it pushes for the NACTA to be brought under the PMO to oversee its implementation and calls for redefining acts of terrorism in the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997. (“Strengthening Governance in Pakistan: Assessing the National Action Plan to Counter Terrorism and Extremism,” Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS), December 2020)
The report is a comprehensive take on the NAP. It criticises lack of political will and confusion over the distribution of responsibilities in counter-terrorism activities. By demanding increased involvement of civilian bodies, the report hints at criticism of the overbearing nature of the military. However, the report includes several quotes on the above by unnamed officials and “experts” thereby reducing the gravity of these statements.
Implementing the NAP would be useful if it is complemented with changes in judicial and legislative norms. For example, death penalties to terrorists will not curb terrorism unless extremist ideology is eliminated. Similarly, while provisions under the Prevention of Electronic Crimes (Peca) 2016, are useful to monitor hate speech, what constitutes hate speech remains undefined; this could lead to misuse of the Act. Unless these concerns are addressed, implementation of the NAP is unlikely to bring respite to the unrest in Pakistan.
About the author
Apoorva Sudhakar is a Project Assistant at the "Pakistan Reader", at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore. As part of her research, she studies issues relating to environment, gender, minorities and ethnic movements in Pakistan.