By Ahmed Bilal Mehboob
Pakistan’s National Action Plan, the government’s detailed plan established in 2015 to counter terrorist activities is in the news with renewed force after Pakistan was grey-listed by the Paris based Financial Action Task Force (FATF). The task force alleges weaknesses in Pakistan’s legal and financial systems, deficiencies that effectively curb financing for organizations indulging in terrorist activities. As part of a wider policy crack-down, Pakistan’s government has taken new measures against Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) and Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD) by taking over mosques, seminaries and facilities run by them and by arresting a number of their affiliates.
As for the state’s principle response to terrorism, whenever questions are raised about Pakistan’s effectiveness in throttling the means of financing extremist organizations, the NAP comes under scrutiny. It is a 20 point plan adopted by an All Parties Conference convened by the Prime Minister in December 2014 following a terrorist attack on Army Public School Peshawar which claimed 141 lives of mostly children. It was a landmark plan that not only brought rare consensus among bitterly opposed political parties, but also brought both civil and military leaderships on the same page.
Since the adoption of NAP, it is impossible to discredit its successes. Through its various measures, it has brought quantifiable relief to ordinary Pakistanis living under the shadow of violence and bloodshed since the beginning of the Afghan war. In 2014, the number of terror-related fatalities were recorded at a whopping 1,816, but decreased to 489 in 2017. Currently, terror related deaths stand 64% lower than at their peak year of 2013, according to the Sydney-based Global Terrorism Index 2018.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of the action plan has been the deployment of a well-trained counter-terrorism force in every province. Pakistan’s southern megacity of Karachi, notorious for the highest urban crime rates in the country, has had a drastic turn-around with terror attacks, target killings and murders on the decline.
But despite landmark achievements, key challenges still remain to ensure the impact is not reversed in the years to come. Despite several steps including the promulgation of anti-money laundering and counter-terror financing laws, and the establishment of a Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU), the international community, especially the FATF, remains unsatisfied with results and there is a risk that Pakistan might be moved from the grey to the blacklist.
One of NAP’s main
points called for the revamping of the criminal justice system and this is a
stark failure. After more than four years, no tangible, quantifiable progress
is yet visible on that front. More than 1.8 million cases are pending at
various levels of courts and the number has been increasing every year. For two
years, special military courts were established to deal with suspected
terrorists, because judges, lawyers and witnesses in civil courts were
threatened with violence or worse. Military courts were extended for another
four years, with yet another extension on the cards now. If the justice system
is not reformed in time, all efforts to eradicate terrorism may fail or
eventually be reversed.
Another point on the NAP agenda called for strengthening the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), the focal body for coordinating counter-terrorism efforts of the provinces and federation. The NACTA board of governors which is required to meet every quarter did not meet once in five years until Prime minister Imran Khan chaired its first meeting in September 2018 after being elected to office, and formed a committee to review its role. The committee has yet to submit its report, but the air of uncertainty that hangs over NACTA continues to persist.
The action plan requires a check on the re-emergence of proscribed organizations like JeM and JuD under new names, and after the government crackdown earlier this month, it is a point that Pakistan must follow. More than anything, Pakistan needs to become systemic and persistent about its counter-terror plan with progress continuously monitored by the government and civil society, instead of the rude shock of a crisis shaking the country from a slumber it can no longer afford.
(Ahmed Bilal Mehboob is President of PILDAT-Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency. Twitter: @AMBPildat)