THREE months ago today, the most horrifying terrorist attack unfolded at the Army Public School in Peshawar. The scale of the devastation and the brutality of the attackers shocked and moved a country that had become immune to senseless bloodshed. It sparked all-party conferences and heady promises of ‘never again’; there were candlelit vigils and Twitter hashtags, and after a long time, a feeling of national solidarity. A National Action Plan was born.
A quarter later, one would have hoped to awaken in a Pakistan that was galvanised against terrorism. But when did such optimism serve us well? If anything, last week, just shy of the three-month mark, may be remembered as the time when the plan began to unravel.
It began with reports that questions had been raised about three points of NAP: monitoring and preventing the resurgence of banned organisations; registering and reforming madressahs; and making arrangements for the repatriation of Afghan refugees. These were reportedly viewed as long-term objectives that fell outside the remit of the National Counter-Terrorism Authority.
It is unclear which state entity could be better placed than Nacta to prevent banned groups from re-organising under different monikers, but so be it. Sadly, the government that gave us the National Action Plan has not yet articulated which entity will implement these points, and how.
Then came the raid at the MQM’s headquarters in Karachi. No action plan to counter terrorism can be effective without tackling the problem of political collusion with militant and criminal organisations, and the party’s alleged links with armed militias and targeted killers cannot be immune to scrutiny and prosecution under NAP. But the circumstances of the raid illustrated how vulnerable the plan is to politicisation, and how quickly its credibility can be undermined.
The political will to implement the National Action Plan seems to be missing.
On Thursday, Gen Raheel Sharif and Air Chief Marshal Tahir Butt visited North Waziristan to review progress in the sweep against militant groups based there. The same day, the Jamaatul Ahrar and Laskhar-i-Islam announced that they would be uniting with Maulana Fazlullah under the banner of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan. The announcement served as a reminder that despite nine months of military operations in Fata, the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban continues to operate unfettered.
It makes sense for the militant groups to unite: they can pool resources and offer clear organisational branding under which to attract new recruits and funding. The unified stance matters at a time when transnational jihadi groups such as the Islamic State and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent are said to have a presence in the region, competing for fighters and financial support.
It is also an effective way to defy the Pakistan military, which has long used divide-and-conquer strategies against militant groups. But for Pakistan this means more brutal attacks — and with less militant infighting, the onslaught will be more intense.
Two other developments also highlighted that the goals of the plan contradict Pakistan’s foreign policy agenda. Unfortunately, in matters of violent extremism and terrorism, there cannot be a disconnect between internal and foreign policymaking — the militant landscape does not have convenient borders.
News leaked that Pakistan has told the Afghan Taliban to overcome internal divisions to ensure the success of negotiations with the government in Kabul. Pakistan’s role in facilitating these negotiations is repeatedly described as key, but it once again raises questions about the distinction between good and bad Taliban, particularly with reports of collusion between the Afghan Taliban and the TTP.
Of course, the less said about the ordered release of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi the better. It was an uncomfortable throwback to the days after the Peshawar attack, when Lakhvi was given bail even while the prime minister was still delivering passionate speeches about waging a war against terrorism until not a single militant remained on the country’s soil.
At that time, Lakhvi’s release was framed as a reminder of the challenges ahead. This time, it can be understood as a signal that the National Action Plan is actually a single-point agenda to target those intractable militants who attack the Pakistan military or, at best, a cynical ploy to make the right noises to ensure that Pakistan is not declared a terrorist state by the international community.
When our political parties came together to draft the plan, they proved that they know what needs to be done to save Pakistan. The fact that the plan is not being implemented shows that the greatest crisis facing Pakistan is not the threat from militants, but the lack of political will, leadership and basic governance. But the families of the victims of the Peshawar attack deserve better. Pakistan’s religious minorities deserve better. All of its citizens deserve better.
The writer is a freelance journalist.
Published in Dawn March 16th , 2015