The chief is always right

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But laying NAP at civilians’ door is not!

Chaudhry Nisar said last Wednesday that Pakistan’s successes in war against terrorism became possible due harmony and improved relations between civilian and military forces in the country. But the army chief was quick to keep the record straight by issuing a statement on Friday, August 12 that lack of progress on the National Action Plan was affecting the consolidation phase of Operation Zarb-e-Azb, and that, “Unless all prongs deliver meaningfully and all inadequacies are addressed, remnants of terrorism would continue to simmer and long term peace and stability would remain a distant dream.”

There had been a hue and cry from different quarters over the sluggish implementation of the 20-point NAP or some ‘points’ of it, and a tense civil-military relationship for a long time. Some of the critics would go to the extent to blame the government of not at all interested in its implementation; or not competent enough to face the huge threat that was termed existential in nature. But the government would shrug it off with Ch Nisar coming out of his hibernation off and on to dispel the ‘false impression created by the media’ and accuse the political opponents of orchestrating a smear campaign only to malign the government. And the wrangling continued.

The debate however took a new turn when on November 10 last year, COAS Raheel Sharif decided to go public after a Corps Commanders’ meeting underlining, “the need for matching / complimentary governance initiatives for long term gains of operation and enduring peace across the country. Progress of National Action Plan’s implementation, finalisation of FATA reforms, and concluding all ongoing JITs at priority, were highlighted as issues, which could undermine the effects of operations”, said an ISPR press release. The discussion that followed focused on the constitutional propriety of the army chief publically criticising the government of the day along with the contents of the statement but with which most of the people agreed.

Now, when the army chief has become blunter in his criticism of government in public leaving nothing to imagination, we have to address some basic issues and to pose some questions, if we can’t attempt to answer them.

The first, of course is the NAP itself. Is it a comprehensive action plan to root out terrorism and extremism from the country? If yes; then why is there no mention review/revise/overhaul the mainstream education curricula being taught in the educational institutions throughout the country? What about the narrative to counter the extremist propaganda that has currently overwhelmed the society, producing an extremist mindset that is easy to turn to militancy? And whose responsibility has it been made in that sacred action plan? Also, can someone explain where is the ‘mechanism’ part to implement the 20 points of the NAP, even in its flawed form? Without a carefully and minutely explained ‘mechanism’, how it is expected for so ambitious a plan to take off the ground?

Now, come to the non-implemented points or parts of the NAP.

Points 1, 2, 3 and 16 (carrying out death sentences, special courts under military supervision, elimination of armed/militant groups and Karachi operation) have been implemented. Luckily implementation of three and a half of these points was the exclusive responsibility of the army or its subordinated forces which they fulfilled well. But here, too, the issue of elimination of militant groups and armed gangs (Point 3) outside tribal areas is debatable. Existence/non-action against some known outfits (both local and non-local) elsewhere is cited in this regard.

There has been selective action/s on Points 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 13, 17 and 18. These were/are about ban on objectionable material, newspapers, etc, freezing funding sources of terrorists, stopping defunct groups to work under new names, registration and regulation of seminaries, ban on glorification of terrorists through mass media, dismantling terrorists’ communication network, and action against sectarist elements.  Why is this so, is a serious question to answer.

But more serious and alarming are those parts or points of the NAP on which no action had been taken during these past two years. These are Points 4, 8, 9, 12, 14, 15, 19 and 20. Sadly, these encompassed the most important, immediate and long-term aspects of war against terror and elimination of bigotry from the society, like; strengthening NACTA (National Counter-terrorism Authority), establishing a new (civilian) counter-terrorism force, end to religious extremism and protecting minorities, FATA reforms, measures against terror promotion on internet and social media, formulation of a comprehensive policy regarding Afghan refugees, and, last but not the least, reforms in criminal justice system.

This review of the progress on National Action Program clearly shows the performance – or lack of it- on the part of the government. But we must look into it in detail and not just sweep everything under the civilians’ carpet as blaming everything on them or accusing them of willful neglect will neither be true not will it help in solving the problem. Such an approach will only obfuscate reality, delaying our finding the right solutions.

There is no denying the fact that much is lacking on the political governments’ side. Their first problem is lack of vision. Their second problem is incompetence. Then they are lethargic. Political side also have people in its ranks who have sympathies with the ‘other side’s ideology’. Corruption also cannot be discounted from their overall bad performance. And to cap it all, federal and provincial governments have their own compulsions, obsessions and priorities’ lists, like political survival, metros, dharnas, etc.

At best, these problems indicate to some of the reasons behind the slow progress on the most vital national project today – that is, fighting the existential threat – but this doesn’t explain each and everything.

Firstly, many of the non-implemented points belong to the civilian side but only theoretically. For example, it is easy to say that the political government failed to bring madrassahs under the state’s control. But can anybody really believe that this is something which the civilian governments can do on its own. Similarly, failure in dismantling terrorists’ communication network, not fully choking terrorists’ resource flow or selective action against armed/militant/jihadist group beyond FATA and KP, are also things for which weak political governments can be blamed but only in primetime TV talk shows. That will be quite another thing not to accept this reality in greater national interest, but the fact of the matter is that our civilian law enforcement agencies in their current shape are no match for the militants/jihadist outfits that were nurtured in the past and that exist in many parts of the country today. In the war against terrorism during the recent years, these civilian LEAs and its affiliated intelligence agencies have further weakened vis-à-vis its military counterparts.

The task of establishing and strengthening alternative civilian law enforcement and intelligence agencies  can successfully be done only with the support, help – sometimes, even initiative and push – from the armed forces and its subordinate agencies which at the moment not only enjoy monopoly over intelligence gathering but which have unmatched expertise in the field.

There are areas, like not activating NACTA, not establishing a new civilian counter-terrorism force, not starting reforms process in criminal justice system, failure to ban glorification of terrorists, and many more such things for which Nawaz Sharif government can be criticised no end.  And they will be held responsible for that at some point in time. But fighting terrorism and extremism is not a job that different organs of the state can or will fight separately and succeed; it definitely needs unity among all the state’s entities. It simply can’t be left to the civilian side alone. No way.

The army chief’s public criticism of the government has almost confirmed that military establishment and civilian government don’t see eye to eye about many a matters, particularly, war against terrorism. And this, of course, can’t be termed an ideal situation. Besides, being extra-constitutional, this will further undermine the civilian government’s standing which needs a boost in the prevailing circumstances and to which the army chief has himself pointed in his statement; “Unless all prongs deliver meaningfully and all inadequacies are addressed, remnants of terrorism would continue to simmer and long term peace and stability would remain a distant dream.”

Let’s push the political leadership and let’s strengthen the civilian government to deliver meaningfully. Let’s not make them weaker and more irrelevant.