After two months of the Peshawar tragedy that hit us on December 16 last year, it is good to see some action being taken by the state to counter terrorism, militancy and to some extent radicalisation as well. However, scratching a bit of the surface of this spanking ‘state commitment’ to eliminate supposedly all forms of terrorist groups, the emerging picture raises many questions that the country’s diverse civil society would be keen to get answers to.
The forced consensus among the political parties brought a twenty-point National Action Plan (NAP) within three weeks of the Peshawar attack. Being too general and hugely overlapping, these twenty points escalated citizens’ expectations with too much promise and too little action and transparency.
These points included: 1. execution of convicted terrorists; 2. establishment of special trial courts; 3. containing armed militias; 4. strengthening and activating National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA); 5. countering hate speech; 6. choking terror financing; 7. ensuring that the proscribed organizations do not re-emerge; 8. establishing a dedicated Counter Terrorism Force; 9. effective steps against religious persecution; 10. madrassas regulation; 11. ban on glorification of terrorists; 12. FATA reforms; 13. dismantling communication networks of terrorist organizations; 14. stopping abuse of internet and social media for terrorism; 15. eliminating militancy in Punjab; 16. logical conclusion of Karachi operation; 17. Balochistan reconciliation; 18. dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists; 19. developing a policy on Afghan refugees; and 20. revamping and reforming criminal justice system.
So far, little progress has been made only in having knee-jerk responses to terrorist attacks by pretending that terrorism could be contained if there was no moratorium on the death penalty. Another hurriedly implemented area was establishment of special trial courts, a term conveniently translated into military-led courts. If there is any mechanism and framework prepared for transferring terrorism related cases to the newly formed military courts, citizens have not been taken into confidence about it. Watching the debate in both the Houses of the Parliament, it was disappointing to note that no substantive debate was held on the issue.
As per Prime Minister’s address to the nation in the last week of last year, the government had made sixteen special committees comprising technocrats, officials, politicians etc to undertake brainstorming and agenda setting on different aspects of NAP. After the first couple of meetings, actually one meeting each, there is no news about what the committees are doing. Even thicker cloud on what they have produced so far and what were their Terms of Reference. A transparent process with discretion to secrecy on operational details would have made the committees accountable to the citizens who are primary stakeholders of NAP.
Coming to the next point, the promise to activate slumbering NACTA was an encouraging sign. With complex civil-military relations issue sitting in the roots of ineffective NACTA, it seems far-fetched that any side would have left its entrenched position on leading the NACTA process. Except appointing the head of the body, nothing substantial has so far come out to public knowledge. We know no indicators on how to measure the outputs of NACTA. If there is a plan, it was most probably made without any stakeholders’ consultation. Citizens have no way of knowing if there are any coordination mechanisms in place for consolidating information and action of various intelligence and law enforcing agencies. All we know is, a senior officer of the Interior Ministry went to NACTA secretariat and slapped (yes, physically slapped) one of the NACTA officials for putting the information about proscribed terrorist organizations on Authority’s website. How dare he put up an official secret for public consumption? That’s how NAP is going precisely!
Next point is about countering the hate speech. One wonders what exactly the hate speech is, if not the anti-Hindu, anti-Ahmadi and anti-any-one-other-than-noisy-majority content of Pakistani textbooks? Or the weekly sermons by the almost-mentally-challenged clerics who routinely spew venom against Ahmadi and Shia communities. One certain cleric in-charge of a Jamia Masjid in Shadman area of Lahore was recently heard declaring Barelvi sect as kaafirs and thus liable to be killed. During his Friday sermon, he went on to describing anyone a kaafir who commemorates Eid-e-Milad-un-Nabi – Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) birthday – and should be ostracized if not killed. I heard it as I was at that time in a nearby building. I complained about it on a number that Punjab Government had been circulating to report hate speech. The action is still awaited.
But this was just one mosque out of thousands if not lakhs. So far, the hate speech clause of NAP is being implemented using the Law that prohibits using the Loud Speaker. Even the recently lodged FIR on the chief of proscribed terrorist organization Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) made use of the loudspeaker act. If there is not enough legislation on hate speech, what is stopping federal and provincial Law Ministries to bring one?
Point number 7 of NAP promises to ensure that no proscribed organization would be allowed to operate, nor would its re-emergence with new names be tolerated. Lesser said on this the better. When a proscribed organization (ASWJ as case in point) is not only allowed to rally on the roads of the economic hub of the country, but also is given state security, one better throw these twenty points in the gutter and carry on with the business of waiting for the turn to be taken care of by the next terrorist attack. Not only this, when a group of unarmed, peaceful citizens protested against this freedom and support given to a proscribed organization, they were detained.
In another recent incident, when this banned organization got hit by two of their high profile leaders killed, it came out on the streets in the federal capital. The ASWJ rally comfortably emerged in the Red Zone, in front of the Parliament House with the dead body of their slain leader. While the murderous attacks on and extra-judicial killings of anyone are a matter of concern for civil rights campaigners and are condemnable in strongest terms, it is still un-understandable how a proscribed organization could flout all procedures of law and appear in an area declared exclusive for security purposes. Here one must remind oneself of the rallies led by Dr. Tahir-ul-Qadri and Imran Khan, who had to force their way in the Red Zone and while defying the police they had to bear losses in terms of human injury.
In case of ASWJ, one saw little resistance by the state to protect the Red Zone. It reminds me of our demonstration to mark one month of Peshawar Attack on January 16 that we thought we should hold in front of the Parliament House. We had to make serious efforts to get the No-Object-Certificate to hold our little demonstration. It was despite the verbal approval by at least two high profile members of federal cabinet. We could not bring the sound system for that was not allowed in the Red Zone. Not only that, but ASWJ rally included those under the Fourth Schedule (Section 11EE) of the Anti Terrorist Act 1997. As per the law, they cannot appear in public places without prior written permission from the relevant authorities. NAP much?
The writer is an Islamabad based freelance columnist.