Monday, August 15, 2016

Business Recorder Column Aug 15, 2016

NAP in the doldrums Rashed Rahman Another Independence Day came and went with little beyond the ritualistic commemorative events and statements. Although there were references galore to the Quetta carnage on August 8 that left over 70 dead and many others wounded (the toll including a preponderant weight of lawyers), what was missing perhaps was an announcement by the government/s to hold a national level one minute’s silence as a mark of respect to the victims. Instead, from the day of the blast at Quetta’s Civil Hospital, we have been inundated with the narrative that such incidents are the product of outside powers’ malign and inimical intent towards Pakistan. India and its intelligence agency RAW have in particular been singled out for blame. All this means that the ubiquitous ‘foreign hand’ thesis has been granted a fresh lease of life. Is the ‘foreign hand’ narrative completely without basis? It is difficult to say since there is a long history of the intelligence agencies of Pakistan and India conducting covert activities against each other. The narrative cannot therefore be dismissed out of hand. However, what is disconcerting about the repeated accusations by the two countries (and Afghanistan for good measure) is the lack of supporting evidence to back up these claims. In Pakistan, the media has not only failed to critically interrogate these claims of both civilian and military leaders, it has joined the chorus without a second thought or any attempt to present some clinching evidence. Pakistan says it has presented a dossier to back up its accusations against India as being behind the terrorism in Pakistan to the UN. Fine, but no details are available to date about what the dossier contains. Scepticism about the belated initiative is deepened by the lack of response to the dossier by the UN or the global powers-that-be. Why is this demand for persuasive evidence to substantiate the allegations of the ‘foreign hand’ being responsible for terrorism in Pakistan important? First, as Pakistan’s feeble diplomatic efforts at the UN and bilaterally with the global powers shows, dossiers and statements seem so far to have failed to persuade anyone of Pakistan’s ‘case’. No effective support for Pakistan therefore can be expected in the near future. Meanwhile such repeated accusations raise the temperature of hostility and confrontation between neighbours in our part of the world, with two at least of the countries concerned being nuclear-armed (Pakistan and India). Second, the knee-jerk fashion in which every terrorist incident is immediately blamed on the ‘foreign hand’ serves to distract from the critically needed focus on domestic non-state actors directly responsible for terrorist atrocities. This is the major failure of the National Action Plan (NAP) agreed with consensus by the political class and unreservedly backed by the military. Let us examine the reasons for this failure. First, some context. It may be recalled that soon after the May 2013 elections that brought the PML-N to power, the government gathered all the political parties to discuss the issue of terrorism afflicting the country. After long deliberations, the political class arrived at the consensus conclusion to give peace a chance by conducting talks with the terrorist outfits, particularly the homegrown Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). That initiative soon came a cropper because of the terrorist attack on Karachi airport in June 2013. The military’s response was to mount Operation Zarb-e-Azb in FATA to root out the terrorists from their safe havens and main operating base inside the country. The operation achieved great success in uprooting the terrorists from the area. But the adjunct NAP agreed to, again by consensus, by the political class that was meant to deal with the expected ‘blowback’ from the military operation in FATA, fell short of effective implementation. Six of the 20 points agreed to in NAP were never implemented because of a lack of government focus, perhaps contributed to further by the expected blowback taking longer to arrive than expected. They were: inaction on madrassa reforms, banned organisations, terrorism financing, FATA reforms, bolstering the operational capacity and efficiency of the civilian law enforcement agencies and updating criminal laws to take account of the new challenges posed by terrorism. It has been reported that during the last two months during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s illness and absence from the country, nothing at all has been done on these continuing lacunae in the implementation of NAP. Now, in the wake of the Quetta tragedy, a two-day consultation amongst the top civilian and military leadership has produced the intent to establish a panel to oversee the execution of NAP. The new body (which could have been created earlier since Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar seemed incapable of taking up this task satisfactorily) will include senior security officials of the federal and provincial governments, although the exact composition is still to be decided. In passing, it should be recalled that this was precisely the mandate of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) according to NAP, but this umbrella coordination and centralised implementation organisation was left to wither on the vine. In the wake of the Quetta carnage aimed at, and to a considerable extent successful in, decapitating an articulate and aware section of Balochistan’s intelligentsia wedded to the struggle against terrorism, i.e. lawyers, the military appears upset with the civilian government for its manifest failure to fully and effectively implement the NAP entire. It has been joined in this criticism by MNA Mahmood Khan Achakzai, an outspoken interrogator of the officially certified truth despite his party, the Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party, being part of and a major beneficiary of the coalition government in Balochistan with the PML-N. However, Achakzai’s blast included the intelligence and security agencies for their demonstrated ineffectiveness and failure in the face of the terrorist challenge. Since speaking truth to power is not without risk in Pakistan, Achakzai has been rounded upon by many rascals posing as ‘super patriots’, accusing him of all sorts of ‘crimes and misdemeanours’, including treason. Lest the impression is gleaned that the failures in the anti-terrorist struggle belong entirely on the civilian side, it should be noted that the military’s triumphalist claims of having crushed the TTP and other terrorist groups in FATA through Operation Zarb-e-Azb were premature, misleading, and liable to (and did) have the unintended consequence of complacency creep. The fact is that the terrorist problem, far from being eliminated by Operation Zarb-e-Azb’s undoubted successes in cleansing and denying the terrorists their longstanding safe havens in FATA, merely succeeded in ‘exporting’ the malady. The TTP (and other terrorist groups) have reportedly found safe havens across the border inside Afghanistan’s eastern provinces, hosted and facilitated by our so-called ‘boys’, the Haqqani network. That development should have immediately changed the triumphalism in the wake of Operation Zarb-e-Azb into alarm and staying on our toes for the expected riposte in the form of terrorism. The fact that this riposte did not arrive immediately, as expected, meant that the TTP and other terrorist groups took time to regroup, reorganise and activate their cells throughout Pakistan, the lull before the storm contributing to complacency and letting our guard down through sheer inertia. Lessons of course need to be learnt by all sides, civilian and military, from the weaknesses and lapses of the past regarding implementation of NAP as the critical counter-terrorism aspect of our strategy. The fact that ‘combing’ operations were ordered in Quetta and elsewhere in the wake of the August 8 suicide bombing at the Civil Hospital indicates a major inertia aspect. Counter-terrorism, just as counter-insurgency, cannot afford to be reactive. Unless the strategy is proactive, the state would surrender the initiative to the other side, which already enjoys the advantage of choosing the time and place for strikes. Without the strategic advantage, the battle against terrorism is all but lost. This implies not reactive actions after each incident but a planned continuous intelligence-driven campaign that attempts to eliminate terrorists before they attack rather than after they have plied their bloody trade.

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