Countering the Monster
It was a happy augury that representatives of all the major political parties in Pakistan found themselves huddled in a ten hour long meeting on Dec 23, in the aftermath of the Dec. 16 school tragedy in Peshawar. Among them were also the Pakistan Army chief and the director general of the ISI. That day they whittled out a 20-point plan that was to be put into immediate action. Among the salient points of the plan were formation of ‘special trial courts’ led by military officers, reactivation of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), development of a special anti-terrorism force and ban on print and electronic media promoting terrorism. In subsequent days, the Pakistan Prime Minister held several small meetings with his close associates in the cabinet and formed separate committees to handle most of the issues that had been highlighted in the 20-points. This resulted in the formation of a National Action Plan with an umbrella committee and 17 sub-working groups related to the implementation of the Action Plan. It is commendable that the Prime Minister and his ministers chose to at last rise from their slumber and go about seriously addressing the terrorism issue that has confronted Pakistan so acutely over the years. For a change, instead of just leaving everything to the armed forces and their military operation in North Waziristan, they demonstrated their willingness to sit together and tackle the problem head-on themselves. It was also commendable that the other political parties also cooperated. Imran Khan called off his Islamabad sit-in and the MQM and PPP, despite having reservations about the ‘special courts,’ supported the government’s new strategy.
The National Action Plan looks like a menu for improved governance, considering that it touches some very basic and significant issues and professes to strike those issues at the very roots. It takes into account all those factors that impact the spread of terrorism in the country and it intends to have mechanisms in place that would weed out the evil for good. The plan covers everything - armed militias, hate speeches, extremist material, finances of terrorist organizations, re-emergence of banned organizations, setting up of a counter-terrorism force, religious persecution, madrassah regulation, terrorist glorification by media, reforms in FATA, dismantling of terrorist communication networks, the worsening situation in Karachi and the Punjab, sectarian terrorism, the question of Afghan refugees and appropriate formulation of criminal justice reforms.
It is being said by some quarters that formation of so many committees would, in the end, lead to nowhere and the issues would entangle the running of the committees. The very fact that the interior minister is heading some 11 of the committees could prove to be a self-defeating act. But it is also true that the terrorist threat is an existential one and needs to be tackled from all possible angles instead of being given a surface-deep, one-dimensional treatment. In the past, one serious mistake on the part of succeeding governments was that no effort was made to look more deeply and more comprehensively into the matter. While the present government made all efforts to talk to the Taliban, the latter continued with their nefarious acts of terrorism. Then the armed forces launched the Operation Zarb-e-Azb which served to scatter the terrorists – but only for a while – because they regrouped and rendered even more bloody strikes on the civilian population, in some cases from across the border regions of Afghanistan.
Following the Peshawar tragedy, it is obvious that the people of Pakistan are in no mood to see further incidents of terrorism. For once, they are encouraged by the fact that Nawaz Sharif and his government are committed to their word and that the PM has, over the days since the massacre, demonstrated more by deed than by word, that he means business. In this he is fully supported by the Army which has also speeded up its operations and has brought the Afghan government as well as ISAF forces to cooperate in the elimination of terrorist groups. The setting up of special courts (read military courts) and their being headed by serving military officers had kicked up controversy and the view was bandied about that this was akin to imposing of martial law. It is good that the misconceptions in this regard have been satisfactorily removed and it has also been made clear to the dissenting political parties that the special courts would only be utilized to try terrorists and that their life would not exceed beyond two years. It is hoped that in the midst of all the action supported by good intentions, the enthusiasm with which the nation has risen to countering the challenge of terrorism would not be lost to bureaucratic plodding and the menace would be obliterated for all times.
Syed Jawaid Iqbal