In a rare occurrence, the civil and military leadership met in a session of the National Security Committee (NSC) to review the National Action Plan (NAP) for countering terrorism. Whereas the NAP was formulated three years ago with the consensus of all political parties and the military top brass in the wake of the APS massacre, the NSC meeting conceded that there was much room for improvement in its implementation. This too was a rare congruence between the civilian and military leadership since for the last three years they have more often traded blame for the patchy progress of the NAP. The problem is that the military’s Operation Zarb-e-Azb in FATA had succeeded in merely exporting the terrorist problem, not crushing it entirely. The subsequent Operation Raddul Fasad was an implicit admission of the existence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) terrorists operating from across the border on Afghan soil, but also the existence of underground cells of the terrorists inside Pakistan. The recent attack on a church in Quetta is the latest manifestation of the continuing terrorist threat. Although the Prime Minister’s Office’s statement after the NSC meeting did not explain the inadequacies in the implementation of the NAP except to say “policy and institutional reform” was needed, to perceptive observers the fault has been visible for long. Despite the 20-point NAP, many things envisaged under it have gone abegging. A central coordinating body, the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), was envisaged in the NAP to bring the plethora of civilian and military intelligence and security forces together in the fight against terrorism. Unfortunately, NACTA was stillborn or orphaned at birth because it was never empowered to overcome the traditional reluctance of intelligence agencies to share information, as well as the mutual suspicion and divide between the civilian and military components of our intelligence community. In the absence of an effective NACTA, each intelligence agency, civilian or military, has been operating autonomously against the terrorists. Hence the ‘patchiness’ of the effort since this slate of discrete operators provided wriggle room for the terrorists to creep through. The Joint Intelligence Directorate envisaged under the NAP too did not make any effective progress, while the counter narrative to weaken the appeal to some sections of society of the terrorists’ message remains conspicuous by its absence. National Security Adviser (NSA) Lt-General (retired) Nasser Khan Janjua was given the responsibility for monitoring the progress of the NAP in August 2016 but there is no word what if any effect that has had. Now once again in the NSC meeting Janjua was asked to finalise the National Security Policy. The fact however is that a draft of the policy has been lying with the National Security Division for the last two years. Is it simply the usual bureaucratic red tape and apathy that is responsible or is there a perception of powerlessness on the part of the NSA in the face of powerful competing institutions? Another example of hardly any or non-implementation of the provisions of the NAP is the yet to be initiated madrassa and FATA reforms. All these issues regularly raise their heads after every terrorist incident. Can we hope that the NSC’s review of the implementation of the NAP after the Quetta church attack will bring better results this time?
The issue of terrorism cannot be divorced from our neighbourhood’s conflicts. Proxy wars in Afghanistan and Indian Held Kashmir (IHK) have earned us the ire of Washington. President Trump’s new foreign policy and the Pentagon’s semi-annual report both underline the tougher line with Pakistan over the allegation that the Afghan Taliban enjoy safe havens on our soil and ‘cross-border terrorism’ in IHK threatens conventional and nuclear war on the subcontinent. The icing on the cake is the US’s once again raising the bogey of the security of our nuclear weapons, although Washington has helped strengthen our control and command systems to a satisfactory level. We are once again put under suspicion of our nuclear weapons, technology and materials falling into terrorists’ hands. Last but not least, while Washington pays lip service to dialogue and cooperation with Pakistan, it has made clear it will undertake unilateral actions where divergence exists. One example of this hardened military versus diplomatic line is the drone attack the other day in Kurram Agency, the fourth strike in the area and perhaps the harbinger of more such strikes to come. Pakistan must carefully recalibrate its counter-terrorism drive in conformity with the NAP and respond to the US with a convincing policy thrust, not simply lip service and expressions of pious intentions.