Declaring victory?

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Still a long way to go

 

 

The much-touted National Action Plan (NAP) is being implemented in letter and spirit. This is what Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan claims ad nauseum and would like us to buy without any questions asked.

However, his boss the prime minister is not satisfied with the progress. He thinks that the provinces have been tardy in invoking vital parts of the anti-terror plan.

The top brass and the provincial chief ministers attended the five-hour marathon meeting of the apex committee chaired by the prime minister the other day. The COAS quite candidly laid down the military’s reservations regarding the slow and in many cases non-implementation of some vital components of the counter-terror plan.

The interior minister, while briefing the media about the meeting, was quite bitter about critics of the government’s efforts to root out terrorism. He said something in Punjabi – quite untranslatable in the English language — that he was quite oblivious to such negativity.

Notwithstanding Nisar’s signature narcissism it is the job description of the media to keep on reminding the stakeholders about the clear and present danger that Pakistan still faces from terrorists of all hues and colours. Admittedly our leadership — both khaki and civilian — deserve due credit for getting a handle on antiterrorism efforts in the past one year. Nonetheless in Shakespearean parlance: we have only scorched the snake, not killed it.

The provinces have been unable to or perhaps unwilling to register madrassas and to choke their sources of funding. Of course it is essential to have data to move against such outfits. However, the will and the ability to do so is hitherto lacking

The interior minister wants us to declare victory similar to what the US president George W Bush declared in 2003. In front of a banner of “mission accomplished” on board aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, the victorious president declared that the time had come to end operations in Iraq. Ironically, the vast majority of casualties, both military and civilian, occurred after the speech.

Similarly it is quite premature to declare victory over terrorism in Pakistan. Thankfully our top leadership is well aware of the pitfalls and the wide and yawning gaps in the implementation of the NAP.

General Raheel Sharif in the marathon apex committee meeting earmarked the areas that need immediate and concerted action by the federal and provincial governments. Vital issues like unabated terror financing, inability to set up special courts to try terrorists, lack of registration of seminaries and unabated hate speech amongst other crucial omissions remain major areas of concern.

The provinces have been unable to or perhaps unwilling to register madrassas and to choke their sources of funding. Of course it is essential to have data to move against such outfits. However, the will and the ability to do so is hitherto lacking.

Similarly, provinces are dragging their feet on setting up of special courts under PPA 2014 (Protection of Pakistan Ordinance). These courts were to be set up to try hardened criminals by the federal and provincial governments after due consultations with the chief justice of Pakistan and chief justices of respective high courts. Only a handful of such courts have been set up and reportedly have not tried a single criminal.

The lack of political will is quite evident in combating hate speech. While the prime minister the other day was chairing a meeting of heads of seminaries with the army chief in tow, the same day these so called clerics were spewing venom and fire at an anti-Qadianis moot in Chiniot. Ironically, while briefing the media post meeting the interior minister said that it was decided that no one would be allowed henceforth to engage in hate speech and brand others kafir.

A deficit in political will to combat terrorism seems to be the major concern of the military at the vital stock taking apex committee meeting held last Thursday. It is interesting to note that the Army, trained only to see things in black and white in a single dimensional manner, is the one urging the government to follow up its anti-terrorism efforts with political and administrative measures.

Unfortunately, governments both at the federal and provincial levels, perhaps with the sole exception of Balochistan, are still not geared up to meet the existential threat in letter and spirit.

Both the PML-N governments, at the centre and the largest province Punjab, and the PTI in KP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) are late converts to the anti-terrorism efforts of the military. For decades their only mantra was to negotiate with the terrorist outfits.

Nisar Ali Khan was a big proponent of talking to the TTP (Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan). Along with his boss Nawaz Sharif he perhaps sincerely reckoned that this was the only way to deal with the terrorist threat.

So far as Imran Khan is concerned he still believes negotiations with the militants is the only long-term solution to the problem. But how to negotiate with elements that do not hide their nefarious agendas to undo Pakistan in the name of religion?

Sindh is a different kettle of fish. The LEAs (law enforcement agencies) in the province have to deal with the twin menace of urban terrorism in the form of MQM and religious terrorism foisted by TTP and various sectarian groups.

The ruling PPP in Sindh never had a soft corner for the TTP. When Zardari was president for five years it was the military under its chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani that was reluctant to move against terrorists holed up in our badlands.

Is the endgame to root out corruption or terrorism? Perhaps both. But unravelling the (democratic) system in the name of combating terrorism and to clean the Augean stables will be suicidal

The provincial government is unfortunately mired in corruption charges and incompetence. The other day in the apex committee meeting, its octogenarian Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah bitterly complained that under the hammer of the Rangers and NAB he was rendered utterly powerless.

Whatever the merits or lack of them regarding the PPP in Sindh using looted money for terrorism, the present state of affairs are deflecting the stakeholders from the main objective of rooting out terrorism full throttle. It has also given rise to the demand by PPP that why NAB is not moving against the Punjabi leadership.

This is a dangerous game to play. Is the endgame to root out corruption or terrorism? Perhaps both. But unravelling the (democratic) system in the name of combating terrorism and to clean the Augean stables will be suicidal.

This will be tantamount to throwing the baby with the bath water. Thankfully the military leadership, despite being unprecedentedly high in approval ratings, has ostensibly no stomach for an overt takeover.

As the hybrid model of civilian-military partnership is working without hiccups. Why flog a running horse?

Nonetheless our ruling elite should be seen to making concerted efforts to run a clean ship. It should outgrow its penchant for tentativeness, ineptitude and lack of transparency that has become its hallmark.