Thursday, January 15, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 16, 2015

NAP implementation The implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism seems to be crawling along. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif chaired yet another meeting at the PM’s House on Wednesday to review progress in the implementation of the NAP. While the ritual expressions of resolve to eradicate the menace of terrorism were trotted out as usual, the PM’s ‘direction’ to all the provincial governments to take proactive measures for ensuring speedy and effective implementation of the NAP cut closer to the bone of the truth of the country’s situation. Gone are the days when Pakistan had a strong Central government and weak provinces. Over time, and especially after the 18th Amendment, the Centre is weaker and the provinces, despite devolution of powers, are weaker still in terms of taking up the new tasks and challenges thrown up by changed circumstances. Law and order is a provincial subject, in which terrorism is both enfolded and also outside ‘normal’ law enforcement. The danger is that a country seemingly united and mobilised after the Peshawar tragedy of December 16 last year still lacks the wherewithal to counter what has emerged as an existential threat. On the evidence of practical steps and measures taken since December 16, the apprehension has arisen that the counterterrorism drive may fall into the cracks between the Centre’s limited powers and the provinces’ limited capacity to handle the task. The argument therefore for a strong centralised platform from which to direct the NAP has never appeared stronger than now. Unfortunately, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) that was billed as such a centre in the government’s national security policy remains populated by literally ‘two men and a dog’. NACTA or some equivalent has to plug the gaps between the civilian and military sides of the counterterrorism strategy, organise a centralised data base on the foundations of intelligence sharing and then work towards discovering the strengths, links and operational capabilities of the terrorist organisations in order to pre-empt their plans and smash them. Without bringing the entire resources, human and material, of the state and society together, the enemy will always be one step ahead of us. The change in mindset and traditional modes of working requires nothing less than a revolution if we are going to get anywhere. Take for example the information shared by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar regarding the growth to 95 of terrorist groups in Punjab alone, arguably the most developed and efficient of all the provinces. This exponential increase beyond even the list of proscribed organisations (reportedly 72) indicates a benign neglect and even co-habitation of the Punjab government with the new and old groups. And this at a time when the PML-N is in power at the Centre and the PM’s younger brother in Punjab. The other provinces have different governments and they may or may not be as amenable to the Centre’s directions as Punjab is expected to be. Yet such a large number of terrorist groups has not been reported from any other province, presumably because these groups found it expedient to retain their ‘safe havens’ in Punjab while carrying out their murderous activities in the rest of the country. None of this is new, except perhaps for the alarming increase in the terrorists’ strength. Reportedly their greatest presence is in south Punjab but by now they are said to have influence all over the province. Have the authorities in Punjab been asleep at the wheel while these developments were taking place right under their noses or did they choose like the ostrich to bury their head in the sand, hoping the ‘nightmare’ would go away of its own accord? The figures presented by Chaudhry Nisar in the meeting regarding the drive to net suspects revealed nothing more than the ‘blind, one-eyed’ approach to the anti-terrorist drive. The cast of usual suspects is picked up in the hundreds here and there on suspicion and then the obviously innocent are weeded out while the still to be cleared are detained. This is the classic pattern of law enforcement of the police when under pressure from above to deliver. But it is as far away from what is needed against terrorism as it is possible to imagine. Time, resources and effectiveness are more likely to be frittered away on such ‘red herrings’ while the actual terrorists are probably chuckling into their beards at our misplaced concreteness. The federal and provincial governments have an opportunity to sort out seriously their inadequacies in the meeting with the chief ministers the PM has called for next week. Let us hope they have the guts, gumption, will and wisdom to rise to the occasion.

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