The uncertain future of Pakistan's National Action Plan

The uncertain future of Pakistan's National Action Plan

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December 16, 2019 marks five years since the heinous attack on the Army Public School Peshawar which claimed the lives of 149 people, mostly schoolchildren. The national tragedy shook up the entire country.

In the aftermath of the attack, a number of steps and a multilayered approach was taken by the state, to not only bring the perpetrators to justice, but to prevent such incidents from occurring again, by identifying and eliminating root causes. Today, the physical wounds from that day may have healed, but the inflictions on the soul and psyche of the entire nation remain alive and unhealed.

Immediately after the incident, a National Action Plan (NAP) constituting  20 points was adopted, which included uplifting the moratorium on capital punishments through a constitutional amendment, strengthening counter-terrorism, banning hate speech, eliminating terror financing, registering and regulating religious seminaries, mainstreaming the restive Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), restoring peace in Karachi, eliminating militancy in Punjab, empowering the people of Balochistan and registering Afghan refugees to name a few.

Over the years, there has been much hue and cry about the implementation and results of the NAP, but it cannot be denied that important strides have been made by the state in this regard. However, this progress can be described as sporadic, at best. 

Undeniably, terrorist incidents in the country have been reduced. The biggest achievements have been mainstreaming the once lawless FATA which now officially falls under the ambit of Pakistan’s law and constitution. It is a big accomplishment because this area was once deemed ungovernable. The other notable step has been restoring peace to the economic capital of the country – Karachi. Considerable success has also been achieved at registering and regulating religious seminaries. 

However, the attainment of other objectives still remains unclear. Targets such as the status of Afghan refugees and the empowerment of the Balochistan government and its people seem to have fallen through the cracks, and their status remains unclear. The continuous rebranding and emergence of terrorist organizations are some of the biggest impediments in the effective implementation of NAP.

Another aspect which has not been given much attention under NAP has been the continuing and unchallenged rise of radicalism and extremism in the country. These phenomena constitute a major threat to the country and continue to make themselves evident in various forms and behaviors. The Faizabad sit-in of 2017 by a couple of hardliner religious organizations is still fresh in the national memory, where the state was besieged by a group of armed protestors.

In addition, radicalism and extremism are not limited to religious organizations and their activities, but spread over to shape up societal behavior and ethos as well. This complex and intricate phenomenon has encompassed almost all social groups in Pakistan, and often rears its ugly head in incidents such as the recent storming of the Lahore Institute of Cardiology by a group of lawyers. 

Over the years, there has been much hue and cry about the implementation and results of the NAP, but it cannot be denied that important strides have been made by the state in this regard.

Sehar Kamran

These prevailing and violent tendencies are a manifestation of decades of unchecked undemocratic attitudes and mindsets. A concrete effort is required to address the rising challenge of violent behaviors in everyday life, and to increase de-radicalization efforts at the grass roots level, which will require time, energy, resources, and firm political will. A multi-pronged approach is necessary for the future and well-being of the country. 

When the government of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) came into power last year, the Ministry of Interior issued a booklet in December 2018, highlighting its 100 days’ performance, and stated that the party would review, revisit and unveil NAP 2.0 to ‘serve as a roadmap for the next five years.’ It also highlighted that the launch was expected in March 2019. However, as of December 2019, nothing has happened on this front. 

It cannot be denied that the freedom of independent thought, expression, and opinion is shrinking, which is not only dangerous for the democratic process, but also harms the due process of accountability and results in decreasing levels of tolerance and peace in society. Pakistan cannot afford this.

NAP or NAP 2.0 can only be successfully implemented, if there is firm political will behind it. The time is now to capitalize on the gains made by the armed forces, and to set a path for a future which promotes the values of tolerance and tranquility for a better tomorrow.

- Sehar Kamran is teh President of the Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS), she is a prominent politician, acadmeician and practitioner in the areas of regional, international defense and strategic studies. Twitter @SeharKamran

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