National Action Plan Pakistan Essays
Pakistan instituted the twenty-point National Action Plan (NAP) on Dec. 24, 2014, as a comprehensive, consolidated list of steps needed to be taken by the state and law enforcement institutions to curb terrorism and extremism in the country. For Pakistan to finally take this step, it took a horrendous attack on schoolchildren at the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 141 dead, including 132 children.
The first of the 20 points in the NAP was the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan, which had been in effect since 2009. As of June 23, a total of 176 people — including two who may have been convicted as minors — have been executed in Pakistan since this decision, putting Pakistan on course to match the country with the most number of executions, Iran, which had 289 executions in 2014. (Experts believe thousands are executed in China every year, but since executions are considered a state-secret, no reliable data is available.) For comparison, the United States, which voted against the United Nations’ resolution for a global moratorium on death penalty, executed 17 people within the first six months of 2015.
Pakistan’s moratorium is back in effect during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which will run mid-June through mid-July, but the executions are likely resume after this point.
The military courts (#2) were formed within two weeks of the NAP going into effect. On Jan. 5, 2015, the 21st Constitutional Amendment and the Army Act Amendment were unanimously passed, providing the legal and constitutional cover for military courts to prosecute civilians. The intention was to provide speedy prosecution for “jet black” terror suspects — those who have committed violent crimes. The military courts have come under significant criticism for establishing a parallel judiciary system, thereby implying that the justice system in Pakistan has failed. So far, six individuals have been sentences by military courts, but the Supreme Court of Pakistan has demanded the case records of the six convicts.
Several points in the NAP deal with banned outfits (#3), their operations (#7), communication networks (#13, #14), and funding sources (#6). Progress on this front is minimal, as nearly 60 banned outfits still operate openly, and have contested local body elections under different names. One concrete step the government has taken is to try and register all mobile phone SIM cards in circulation and tally them against the user’s National Identity Card number, thereby digitally tracking SIM usage. As of March 10, 2015, 57,335,550 SIM cards have been registered. However, by one estimate, Pakistan has 132 million phone users, more than double the number registered so far.
The NAP also contains other counterterrorism steps including strengthening the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) (#4), establishing a dedicated counterterrorism force (#8), as well as generic goals (#15) for eliminating terrorism like Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, though it was launched on June 15, 2014. A year later, the Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Major General Asim Bajwa shared some impressive numbers. In the one year since the start of the operation, 2,763 terrorists had been killed, 837 hideouts destroyed, and 253 tonnes of explosive recovered. He also shared that 347 military officials and soldiers had died. Bear in mind that due to the restricted access for the media and civil society in the area, the military’s numbers are the only official figures available.
A report presented to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on March 10, 2015 states that 303 actionable calls were received on the terror hotline and 2,237 intelligence-based operations were conducted across the country. Law enforcement agencies arrested 25,896 people across Pakistan on various charges, while security agencies conducted 24,844 “combing” operations across the country. The military hails this as a resounding success, and media coverage has been overwhelmingly positive. It must also be said that the intensity and momentum of terror attacks has subsided significantly, though by no means has it been eliminated. NACTA, however, sits dead in the water and even the budget for the new fiscal year made no allocation of funds to develop and strengthen this body.
Some of militants’ biggest attacks since Operation Zarb-e-Azb include a failed attempt by 10 attackers on two airbases in Quetta, another foiled attempt to hijack a naval ship in Karachi, a suicide bombing at Wagah border closing ceremony that claimed 60 lives, attacks on churches and Shia imambargahs in Lahore, and bombings and attacks in Peshawar, Karachi,Rawalpindi, and Shikarpur. While this may seem like a lot, a 2014 U.S. State Department report puts Pakistan at the top of the list of countries that observed a decrease in terror attacks, and acknowledge the military operation as a major factor in that drop.
The vast majority of these attacks have targeted minorities in Pakistan, as they are the most vulnerable group, and the state’s response has been traditionally weak. The NAP also covers against spreading hatred, sectarianism, and intolerance (#5, #9, #18). In Pakistan, the loudspeaker is used at mosques to deliver sermons and sometimes to incite violence and hatred against other groups. Some laws exist to limit the use of the loudspeaker, such as the Punjab Sound System (Regulation) Ordinance 2015, which allows only one speaker for Azan and restricts Arabic sermons to Friday. For violating the loudspeaker law, the police have arrested a total of 3,906 people, including 2,874 in Punjab, 169 in Sindh, 322 in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, three in Balochistan, and 90 in the federal capital. In a landmark decision, an Anti-Terrorism Court sentenced a prayer leader in the city of Kasur to five years in prison for delivering a hate speech at a public gathering. While these are good steps and solid metrics, the assault on minorities has not let up, when compared to the overall decline of terror attacks.
The NAP also attempts to address local conflicts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) (#12), Karachi (#16), and Balochistan (#17). The FATA conflict is being addressed partially by driving out the militants under Operation Zarb-e-Azb. However, to date there has been limited conversation about FATA reforms. Karachi, Pakistan’s largest, most complex city is also its most violent. Even with Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Karachi showed the most number of fatalities from violence in all of Pakistan in 2014. The security of the city is jointly managed by the local police and the Rangers, a paramilitary unit. In recent months, the Rangers have targeted the headquarters of political and religious parties allegedly involved in urban terrorism, extortion, kidnappings, and turf warfare.
Balochistan — a largely neglected and disenfranchised region since Pakistan’s inception — has seen a number of tribal uprisings against the government over the last several decades. While the NAP stresses the need to reconcile with relevant stakeholders, progress on this front has been lackadaisical at best, and limited to raids in which suspected terrorists and criminals have been killed — 40 at last count.
Sections of the NAP also call for a stop to the glorification of the jihadist elements, and promises strict action against media that promotes sectarianism, hatred, or incites violence. Action against hate literature especially is a daunting task, as there is no mechanism to monitor or control its dissemination. As an example, the government imposed a ban on 22 magazines after the 9/11 attacks. But many of these publications were back at newsstands a few weeks later, either under a different name, or in some cases, even the same name. Another example is Masood, a leader from the militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, wanted by authorities and in hiding since 2009, yet he somehow manages to publish with alarming frequency under the pen name “Saadi.” Lacking a central command, control, tracking, and identification mechanism, this is one of the toughest points in the NAP to implement.
In addition, members of proscribed outfits continue to enjoy airtime, and their interviews are televised without repercussions. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) may invoke section 37 of the PEMRA Amendment Act of 2007, banning the airing of material that may be deemed against national interest. But so far, it has been used as a political tool, and not as a counterterrorism instrument.
One of the most controversial points in the NAP is the crackdown on seminaries (#10), which faces fierce opposition to government oversight from right wing religious parties and banned outfits. It is estimated that there are 22,052 registered seminaries in Pakistan, and the unregistered number could be much greater; just in the federal capital of Islamabad, there are 187 registered seminaries, but 446 unregistered ones. The federal government is currently in the process of formulating anIslamic Education Commission to regulate religious seminaries across the country, which it claims will be implemented soon. A positive development, however, is Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to stop funding religious seminaries in Pakistan, and to provide transparent development aid to Pakistan.
The NAP also calls for a comprehensive policy for registering Afghan refugees and rehabilitating the Pakistani population displaced due to internal conflicts or military operations (#12, #19). According to the report presented to Sharif on March 10, around 6,408 Afghan refugees have been deported, whereas 328,034 have been registered. The military also plans to repatriate the displaced population in the operational theaters by December 2016, though that is subject to the security situation.
The last point in the NAP list pertains to reforming and drastically improving the criminal justice system in Pakistan (#20). Reforming the Code of Criminal Procedure, experts believe, is one of the most crucial steps needed to improve the law and order situation in the country. To date, little-to-no progress has been made on this front. Like several other points in the NAP, the political will seems to be there, but the operational mechanisms remain elusive.
Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images
Zeeshan Salahuddin is a journalist and serves as a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Research and Security Studies, Islamabad. He holds a bachelor's and master's degree in strategic communications from Ithaca College, NY. He tweets at @zeesalahuddin.
Tags: Pakistan, South Asia
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The National Action Plan (NAP) was created on December 25, 2014, in reaction to 133 children being murdered by the Taliban. Ostensibly, NAP was designed with the consent of all political parties, and the blessing of both civil and military leadership, as a comprehensive document detailing ideal steps to rid Pakistan of the menace of terrorism and militancy. Two years on, this idealism is tempered by ground realities, the limited ambit of political will, and a tenacious, unrelenting enemy. Thus, Pakistan’s course of action is nebulous, unrealized, and incomplete.
The first point in the NAP is the controversial lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty. The problem is that there is no mechanism to selectively apply the lifting of the moratorium to a particular group of death row inmates. Once it is lifted, all on death row must be put to death. During the first 13 months, there was a surge in executions, 345 to be exact, catapulting Pakistan to the country with the second highest number of executions worldwide. This year, that figure has crept up to 419. This impedance in the frequency of executions comes from pressure from civil society and rights groups. The government was mired in scandals earlier this year as it tried to execute a quadriplegic inmate. A scathing report recently also showed that the bulk of executions, an alarming 98 percent, are not related to terror convictions at all.
Setting up military courts (MCs) to convict terror suspects faster was another salient feature of the NAP. In the first full year, these courts convicted 40 individuals. In the second year, this number has risen to 85. Considering that a province like Sindh, which accounts for about 17 percent of the country’s population, had 3,360 pending cases in anti-terrorism courts (ATCs), and some cases have been in limbo for up to eight years, this rate of convictions from the MCs is simply insufficient to deal with the scale of the problem. MCs, while constitutional and legal, are not the long-term solution to a systemic problem.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Proscribed outfits in Pakistan have several points in the NAP dedicated to the mitigation and curtailment of their operations, communication networks, and funding sources. The government maintains a list of 63 banned organizations, but this list has been around since well before the NAP, and only the Islamic State (ISIS) has been added to it since the NAP went into effect in the first year. Two additional organizations were added this year, Jamat Ul Ahrar (JuA) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Al Alim (LeJA). However, being a proscribed organization has little meaning, as there are consistent reports of their members moving freely, holding rallies and public gatherings, openly inciting hatred and bigotry, and being given airtime. Schedule IV should go into effect, restricting their movements and communications, but it is rarely applied. As proof, the country was shocked by the victory in a by-election of Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, a veritable person of interest under the fourth schedule, a son of the founder of one of the most violent sectarian groups in the country. But even this fails in comparison to reports of the Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar meeting with the heads of banned organizations in the country.
Counterterrorism, understandably, is a big aspect of the NAP, which details steps to strengthen the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), establishes a dedicated counterterrorism force, and sets generic goals as well as specific goals for improvement in the overall security situation. NACTA remains a significant challenge as the political will needed to strengthen the organization is fleeting at best. The government continues to claim, without proof, that NACTA is fully operational and functional, raising questions about its commitment and solemnity. Since the enactment of the NAP, there has not been a single meeting of the NACTA board of governors, and despite the belated allocation of funds, it has failed to set up a Joint Intelligence Directorate (JID).
The military began a comprehensive ground campaign to liberate areas that had fallen under enemy control in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a semi-autonomous region bordering Afghanistan, and in the city of Karachi, a massive metropolis with an estimated population of 24 million. The operation began on June 15, 2014, and in September 2016, the then-chief of the army staff, General Raheel Sharif, declared two years of success, stating that Pakistan was safer as a result of the operation. His words are not without merit. The number of violence-related fatalities in the country dropped from 7,611 in 2014 to 4,653 in 2015. Data from the first three quarters of 2016 suggests that the decline is still sharp and continuous, with 2,061 people losing their lives to violence in the last three quarters, and each quarter less violent than the one prior. The overall security situation has undoubtedly improved by leaps and bounds.
However, this progress a) may plateau out; b) is most certainly artificial and temporary; and c) does little to address the root causes of militancy and extremism that plague the country. The military is the primary driving force behind counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, and in the case of Karachi, urban crime pacification. This is neither a perpetual solution, nor a sustainable one. The long-term solution is the complete overhaul and strengthening of the civilian law enforcement agencies and the systemic reform of the criminal justice system. The NAP also speaks about improving the criminal justice system, but to date progress on this front has been lackadaisical and stagnant. Law enforcement has seen limited improvement in select cases, such as the police force in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province, but that is more of an exception than the norm.
Despite this, highly coordinated and brazen attacks in 2016 indicate that while militants and extremists have been undoubtedly weakened, their capacity has not been reduced and they still have both resources and access. In January, militants stormed a college, killing 20. In March, a local court in Charsadda was attacked, killing 16. In March, a bomb went off in a children’s park in Lahore, killing 70 and injuring 331. In August, the lawyer community in Quetta was targeted, killing 72 in a horrendous suicide attack. In October, militants infiltrated a police training center, and killed 61. A bombing at a religious shrine in November took the lives of 61. Despite a reduction overall, this shows that the enemy is obstinate and ingenious. A judicial inquiry into the August bombing recently made its findings public, lamenting the lack of government buy-in and empathy and chastising virtually every link in the chain of law enforcement and public safety.
The NAP also has stipulations for combating hatred, sectarianism, and intolerance. A report from August reveals significant movement toward the attainment of these goals. Law enforcement agencies arrested 15,259 clerics, religious teachers, and prayer leaders for delivering hate speech and inciting violence, and registered 14,869 cases. Tens of thousands of arrests were also made in combing operations across the country, while close to 6,000 cases were registered against shop owners for selling hate materials. By the numbers, the number of people who died at the hands of sectarian conflicts in the country reduced from 616 in 2013, to 420 in 2014 to 304 in 2015. In the first three quarters of 2016, so far, this number stands at 147. This shows a marked and undeniable reduction in sectarian violence across Pakistan. While not completely eliminated, this level of mitigation is a positive sign.
Crackdown on seminaries in the form of uniform registration, curriculum reform, and routing their finances through banking transactions was a highly controversial point in the NAP. This goal was so volatile that just days after the school attack, hardliner religious right parties refused to get on board with the NAP if seminaries were targeted. The net result is that even two years after the fact, progress on this objective remains stunted and negligible. Even the official form for registering the 26,465 seminaries did not have the prime minister’s approval as of September. In October, in a meeting, it was decided that the process would be “sped up” without giving any details on what said speed would entail. The government’s progress on this front has been nothing short of timid and docile.
Rehabilitating internally displaced persons (IDPs) and repatriating (or assimilating) refugees are the remaining two points of the NAP. The COAS in June stated that 61 percent of IDPs had already been successfully rehabilitated. By this count, nearly 600,000 IDPs still remain. The focus, he said, would now shift to better border management. There are between 1.5 and 1.6 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan, and following a border skirmish with Afghan forces that claimed the lives of Pakistani soldiers, there has been a concerted, accelerated push to repatriate the refuges. Unfortunately, the push has only garnered Pakistan ill-will from both Afghanistan and rights groups, as exemplified best by “Afghan girl” Sharbat Gula’s deportation scandal earlier in October and November. Nevertheless, the porous mountain terrain and allegations from Pakistan that Afghanistan allows its soil to be used for planning attacks on Pakistan, and vice versa, exacerbate this matter further.
All things considered, Pakistan’s military, with a long-standing history of coups and aversion for their civilian counterparts, stands as the clear victor here, and to the victor goes the spoils. The military has run very successful urban pacification and armed non-international conflict campaigns against militant and criminal elements. Their efforts can be measured from the dramatic decrease in violence-related casualties across the country in the last two years. They are not without fault, and their methods are often questionable and blur the boundary between the judicial and extrajudicial, but they have reaped immense public support and sympathy for their efforts.
The civilian government is an entirely different story. Whether it is the interior ministry, or the stillborn and flailing NACTA, or the law enforcement agencies, the implementation of NAP and its various objectives leaves a lot to be desired. There seems to be a particular bottleneck whenever the religious right is involved (proscriptions, seminaries, hate speech, etc.) There also seems to be a distinct lack of political will for reform of the criminal justice system, or the inept police forces.
More than ever, NAP feels more like a political tool than a unified, unifying plan. What started off as an integrated means to eradicate extremism in the country is now at best a sidelined instrument, with every state organ clamoring to claim the smallest of the limited victories, and scrambling to shift the blame for its many, many failures. Ultimately, Pakistan has grown surgically adept at killing terrorists, but unable (or unwilling) to kill the ideas that fuel them.
Zeeshan Salahuddin is a Pakistan-based journalist.