Counter-extremism in Pakistan: success or falling short?

By Zahid Shahab Ahmed

16 February 2017: Two years on from the development of the Pakistani government’s flagship plan to tackle terrorism, has it had any success? Zahid Ahmed discusses developments in the light of recent attacks.

Pakistani capital Islamabad. The government in Pakistan has been accused of not taking its own National Action Plan to counter violent extremism seriously enough. Image credit: kami rao

The Quetta report is a timely suggestion for an evaluation of the government's counter-terror plans
In October 2016, a terrorist attack aiming to kill an entire generation of Quetta’s lawyers took place in Pakistan. The suicide bomber attack killed 72, including 53 lawyers, and injured another 122 people.

In response, Pakistan’s judicial commission has released the Quetta Commission Report. This largely criticises the government’s inaction in regards to the attack. This critique is a welcome and timely suggestion for an evaluation of the National Action Plan (NAP) which was implemented approximately two years ago.

The NAP was created following a previous attack, on the Army Public School in Peshawar, that killed 133 children. It is a 20-point counter-terrorism and counter-extremism plan, formulated through a consensus of civil and military leadership. It covers – if vaguely – a range of issues, including the government’s actions on madrassa registration, the repatriation of Afghan refugees, the jurisdiction of military courts, and action against terrorist funding.

The new Quetta Commission Report is unique because of the unprecedented effort and research that went into it. It is easy to blame outside actors or influences, such as India, for terrorist attacks that take place in Pakistan, which is what the government often tries to do. In this report, the Commission clearly stated that there was no outside hand in the attack.

While international reports point to a decreasing trend in terrorism in Pakistan, the Quetta Commission Report has raised fresh concerns about the ineffectiveness of the NAP and whether it is truly working to prevent violent extremism.

The government has not prepared and presented a detailed rationale for the 20-point National Action Plan

Since its inception, criticisms of the NAP have included its deficiency in particular targets regarding the curbing of violent extremism. This includes, for example, action against material promoting hatred, extremism, sectarianism and intolerance, as well as its non-existent timeline. Scholars have also criticised the plan for reasons that go beyond inadequate targets for preventing violent extremism.

Moeed Yusuf questions the relevance of issues such as political reconciliation in Balochistan and the repatriation of Afghan refugees. Bringing the issue of Balochistan under a plan focused on counter-terrorism and countering extremism itself creates an obstacle to reconciliation with militants in Balochistan. The government has not prepared and presented a detailed rationale for the 20-point plan.

The Commission has specifically highlighted the NAP’s weaknesses in multiple areas, including the negative role of the media, a lack of counter narratives, insufficient protection for religious minorities, and the limited role of the National Security Advisor (NSA), Lieutenant General (retired) Janjua. One of the findings of the report is that Janjua, does not have access to data on terrorist attacks. It has also called out the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony for not doing any interfaith related work.

The government should seriously address the much-needed recommendations from the Quetta report
Instead of taking the recommendations of the Quetta Commission seriously, the government has responded aggressively. The Interior Minister, Nisar Ali, has taken criticism personally. “I will challenge the commission’s report at every forum and I request the Supreme Court to fix the case for hearing it as early as possible,” he said. This is not surprising, given that the government is dominated by a stubborn mindset. The government took a defensive position soon after whistle-blowers like Sherry Rehman started talking about the report.

For a change, the government should show some respect and flexibility by seriously addressing a range of much-needed recommendations from the Quetta Commission Report. If they did, the Quetta Commission report could act as a timely opportunity to conduct a much needed appraisal of the NAP.

The role of peacebuilders is crucial in this context, to assist relevant governmental bodies, especially the Ministry of Interior, to ensure that the NAP addresses the root causes and symptoms of terrorism and violent extremism. In this regard, many local and international NGOs have experience of peacebuilding work at grassroots level that could really be helpful for the government. Ideally, such government and civil society interactions should lead to a consortium of NGOs providing direct input to the government. Such a forum would be highly useful in ensuring timely reporting of hate crimes from across the country, as most NGOs work at community levels.

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Comments

Noreen Khalid on Feb. 17, 2017, 3:53 a.m.

Nice piece and thinking is really our decision makers serious about countering violent extrimism. Very recent decision of IHC to ban public celebrtion of valnetine in the name of Islam, again reminding Zia era by including Quran in text books, are few examples where agenda of the extrimist groups is lagitimated and validated by the state. So why to cry over last nights tragic incidence of Sakhi Shahbaz Qalendar attack, rehtoric of election reforms eccomendations objections by religious parties on 10% women voters quota is a manifestation of the supposdly legitimacy given to such groups. Instead of partnering with larger cinvil society including NGOs/INGOs- are they given space to have open dialogue or the space has been taken from them in the name of security measures. Changing mind set of the larger communities needs different narrative, rather moving back to the original narrative shared by Quaid Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah of a state being secular, participatory, inclusive, ensuring protection of rights of its people especially those of minorities. But the Q is are we inclusive, valuing people, religious freedoms and choices, embracing diversity and having pleuristic view about individuals as well as a society and larger Q are our rulers aware of all these aspects. One can go on and on but loosing hope whenever see so much blood of innocent people and same rehtoric from power holders with zero effect.

Abdul Rauf on Feb. 17, 2017, 4:43 a.m.

Thank you Dr. Zahid, your piece looks more relevant after yesterday's tragic blast in a shrine in Sindh killing more than 70 innocent people. The Government will have to show seriousness in implementing NAP before it is too late.

Hashmi on Feb. 17, 2017, 6:04 a.m.

100% agreed with the writer. The implementation of NAP in true letter and spirirt should be the no 1 point of agenda. I would like to add here some of the apprehensions regarding Point nos. 2,6,15,19 & 20 Pt no. 2: Military courts have stopped working as per NAP, the only point which is implemented. May be due to the fear of the Gov't. Pt no. 6: At almost every shop of our cities & towns there are 'Chanda box' of some welfare organization; some of them are known, some of them unknown. No wonder we are all financing terrorism un-knowingly. Pt no. 15: Punjab is still considered a holy cow in the name of good governance; LEAs like rangers are not allowed for operation to find our terrorists hide-outs and their outfits. Pt no. 19: I was once the part of the team doing Afghan Refugees Registration under auspices of UNHCR; with the closure of projects of the sort, the result is pretty obvious. Pt no. 20: Some criminals through some political parties have in-routes to our assemblies and thus legislature Conclusion: Implementation of NAP is of utmost importance without any prejudice

Wali Bubrai Sulimankhel on Feb. 17, 2017, 6:15 a.m.

The artical is a deep analysis of the current wave of terror in Pakistan.Quetta massacre of lawyer generation took place on August 8,2016,not in October 2016 as written in this piece.It has been written by making Quetta commission report,NAP points and Moeed Yousuf artical.The main point here is missing about the the role of regional powers and foreign policy of Pakistan about Afghansitan and with the lens of Pak India ties.The newly emerge group of ISIS is not discussed here which is the need of the hour to be taken seriously by Pakistan to combat this menace of terrorism.

Wel Tier Marial on Feb. 24, 2017, 6:59 a.m.

The writer has really exhausted everything in the article. Measures seriously need to be taken to counter such violent extremist acts by terrorists. The role to protect civilian's lives is an obligation of the government of Pakistan. Learning that the massacre at Quetta left several dozens including lawyers dead was very unfortunate and Pakistani government must make sure such an incident of violent attack should not repeat itself any more. Let civilians be protected against the rising levels of terror.

Edris on March 7, 2017, 7:15 a.m.

Such peace talking made us aware of overall terrors going on in Nearby countries. I feel no one yet want to try to find out the root of terror, only the governments keep blaming their nearby countries. Suppose of any attackes occurr in Pakistan, the government blames Afghanistan for and vice versa. We need to keep in mind that innocent people and the fundamental pillars of a any country would damaged in such a attacks. So better to sit in a round table and discuss the essentials and solutions instead of blaming each other. Even the recent threats in Tourkham Border, which causes that the border has closed for an unknown period of time, and nearly 15 million USD was loss for Pakistani and Afghani businessmen! Who is responsible for this! And why terrors effects on businesses!