Policy gaps in the implementation of Pakistan’s National Action Plan
Of the many issues highlighted during his speech at the September 6 function held at the General Headquarter Rawalpindi to commemorate Pakistan’s armed and air forces’ sacrifices, Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa made it clear that no one would be allowed to use force in the name of religion, ethnicity or language. He further said that force is the state’s prerogative, and only the state can use it. Though this was not a new policy, in the context of Afghanistan’s newly achieved freedom, this message was timely and much needed.
In Pakistan, the political collusion created between the ideology of Islam and communism and the latter’s defeat built an erroneous perception that with force and violence, religion can be brought center stage. Unwittingly Pakistan as a state took ownership of this tall and politicized call and in a matter of years, became one of the countries worst hit by terrorism and militancy.
What is terror? The use of force and violence to strike fear reflecting either in general acquiescence to the fear-inducer’s ideology, in putting up with their tactics, or in refusing to provide an alternative narrative to defuse their relevance physically and perceptually. For many years, all three of these fallouts have been part of our psyche, leading to further embodiment of terror groups, until the fateful incident of the Army Public School happened that sealed the fate of terror organizations.
Efforts were afoot to counter terrorism even before APS in aid of three instruments: The National Internal Security Policy 2013, the National Counter Terrorism Authority, and the National Action Plan (NAP). Several laws had been enacted for the implementation of these policies. However, the National Action Plan became the gospel from the womb of which emerged another important policy initiative: Paigam-e-Pakistan. We shall return to this later.
Coming back to the COAS’s comment of not allowing anyone to use force: What will the state do if anyone uses force like a weapon to establish his or her ideology? Will the state use force to beat force? We saw this happening several times. During the Lal Masjid fiasco, Pakistan lost ten commandos and hundreds of students studying in the mosque’s seminary. The TLP protest against the arrest of its leader Saad Khadim earlier this year was also mishandled with brute force; however, not until the group had gone out of control. According to the Punjab Police version, they did try to engage the stalwarts of Khadim junior but could not succeed.
Pakistan is still way behind in creating an alternative narrative to end extremism in society.
Since the APS or the unfolding of the NAP, incidents of militancy have gone considerably down. Both the law enforcement agencies, including the Pakistan army and the government, were responsible for implementing the NAP. However, in the latest report released in collaboration with Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, the government has been unable to bring changes in society along the lines of the NAP. Only two have been functional of the 14 committees made in all the provinces to handle issues falling under the NAP rubric. NACT, which was responsible for implementing NAP, has been marginally functional.
Paigham-i-Pakistan is the only policy that has seen some daylight in the sense that it has at least converged different religious schools of thought on a single mandate. The central message of Paigham-i-Pakistanis: that the call to violence and hatred in the name of religion is an intolerable vice deserving severe action from the state. The platform has done some work on interfaith harmony, but it has been unable to create an atmosphere that encourages debate and dialogue on issues related to minorities and faith, such as Ahmadis. The psychology of “us” (Muslims) versus “others” is entrenched and hardly solved.
Some of the pertinent requirements expected of the NAP were involving youth in the decision-making process, engaging media, winning back estranged Baloch elements, and reformation of the judicial system that includes police and prosecution reforms. But we still have no idea what mechanisms have been developed to monitor the educational processes used in madrassas run by religious organizations.
The fact remains, Pakistan is still way behind in creating an alternative narrative to end extremism in society.
*Durdana Najam is an oped writer based in Lahore. She writes on security and policy issues.