Thursday, November 29, 2012

Daily Times Editorial Nov 30, 2012

Anti-terrorism body The federal cabinet has finally given its approval to a Bill seeking to give mandatory legal cover to the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) to better conduct the struggle against terrorism. The Bill had been due to be tabled earlier to legally strengthen an existing body set up in 2009, which had proved ineffective. It has taken three long years and many deaths and destruction due to terrorism before the Bill has seen the light of day. The body set up in 2009 was in practice reduced to an ineffective cell within the interior ministry, reportedly because other agencies, particularly the military intelligence arms, had reservations about the command structure of the proposed body. Former Prime Minister (PM) Yousaf Raza Gilani had set up a three-member cabinet committee to look into the matter and make recommendations. One prominent dissident on the committee was Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP, who candidly expressed the view that the body should be headed by none other than the PM and not by the interior minister. Lengthy and perambulatory discussions on the issue failed to yield positive results until now. Reportedly, NACTA would now be headed by the PM and have as its members the chief ministers of all the provinces and heads of intelligence agencies, both civilian and military. Of course, the Bill now has to be passed by both houses of parliament before it becomes law. How long that process will take, and whether it can be completed before the next elections, is uncertain. Even now, there were reportedly dissenting voices amongst the federal cabinet ministers who argued that the need was to strengthen the existing intelligence and security agencies rather than creating a new supra-body. The point they seem to have missed is that the existing structure has spectacularly failed to combat growing terrorism because precisely of the lack of coordination amongst federal and provincial agencies on the one hand, and military and civilian agencies on the other. The most potent demonstration of the efficacy of such a coordination was provided by the massive mobilization and cooperation amongst all agencies to keep the peace during Muharram 9th and 10th, which arguably minimized terrorist attacks and for which the Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik for a change received appreciation by his cabinet colleagues rather than the usual brickbats. During the media briefing after the cabinet meeting, Federal Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira outlined the scope and thrust envisaged for NACTA. It would be a body conducting research, policymaking, coordination amongst all agencies, and develop long-term policies for combating the terrorist mindset. To achieve the last objective, it could look into curricula, drama, films, and introduce modern education in madrassas, this objective having come to grief despite half-hearted efforts during General Musharraf’s regime. While these aspects are long overdue, the government may also look into the treatment terrorists and their ideas receive on the media and set up guidelines to starve the terrorists of the oxygen of publicity, while framing their ideas in the correct perspective and not sympathetically, as often happens consciously or inadvertently in the media at present. The NACTA Bill should also, if it has not already, look into the legal lacunae that allow terrorists of all hues and shades to wriggle free because of the inadequacy of our laws, prosecution regime, and lack of witness protection against threats and intimidation by the terrorists. We have consistently argued in this space for the need to set up a body like NACTA. The lack of coordination, sharing information and data bases on the terrorists amongst federal and provincial agencies and military and civilian ones has given so many gaps for the terrorists to exploit. The nature of the terrorist threat that afflicts the country is that of decentralized small groups operating underground. There is therefore hardly anything resembling a centralized command for the terrorist movement as a whole, which may be more amenable to decapitation. Given the nature of the beast, small victories accumulated by pre-empting and taking out these small groups one by one will eventually translate into a critical mass of degradation of their capacity to wreak havoc. This depends crucially on excellent and in time intelligence. With the PM heading the proposed NACTA, there is room for greater confidence that all agencies and authorities, federal, provincial and military, will finally be on the same page and without rancour or rivalries eroding its effectiveness. Even if NACTA arrives too close to or after the impending elections, the nature of the struggle against terrorism being of a protracted nature, it is an enterprise worth pursuing irrespective of the timeline involved if Pakistan is to be freed of the clutches of debilitating terrorism.

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