It’s been six months since Pakistan instituted its 20-point National Action Plan. Has Pakistan achieved any of the goals set forth in the Plan?
Pakistan instituted the twenty-point National Action Plan (NAP) on Dec. 24, 2014, as a comprehensive, consolidated list of steps needed to be taken by the state and law enforcement institutions to curb terrorism and extremism in the country. For Pakistan to finally take this step, it took a horrendous attack on schoolchildren at the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 141 dead, including 132 children.
The first of the 20 points in the NAP was the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty in Pakistan, which had been in effect since 2009. As of June 23, a total of 176 people — including two who may have been convicted as minors — have been executed in Pakistan since this decision, putting Pakistan on course to match the country with the most number of executions, Iran, which had 289 executions in 2014. (Experts believe thousands are executed in China every year, but since executions are considered a state-secret, no reliable data is available.) For comparison, the United States, which voted against the United Nations’ resolution for a global moratorium on death penalty, executed 17 people within the first six months of 2015.
Pakistan’s moratorium is back in effect during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which will run mid-June through mid-July, but the executions are likely resume after this point.
The military courts (#2) were formed within two weeks of the NAP going into effect. On Jan. 5, 2015, the 21st Constitutional Amendment and the Army Act Amendment were unanimously passed, providing the legal and constitutional cover for military courts to prosecute civilians. The intention was to provide speedy prosecution for “jet black” terror suspects — those who have committed violent crimes. The military courts have come under significant criticism for establishing a parallel judiciary system, thereby implying that the justice system in Pakistan has failed. So far, six individuals have been sentences by military courts, but the Supreme Court of Pakistan has demanded the case records of the six convicts.
Several points in the NAP deal with banned outfits (#3), their operations (#7), communication networks (#13, #14), and funding sources (#6). Progress on this front is minimal, as nearly 60 banned outfits still operate openly, and have contested local body elections under different names. One concrete step the government has taken is to try and register all mobile phone SIM cards in circulation and tally them against the user’s National Identity Card number, thereby digitally tracking SIM usage. As of March 10, 2015, 57,335,550 SIM cards have been registered. However, by one estimate, Pakistan has 132 million phone users, more than double the number registered so far.
The NAP also contains other counterterrorism steps including strengthening the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) (#4), establishing a dedicated counterterrorism force (#8), as well as generic goals (#15) for eliminating terrorism like Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, though it was launched on June 15, 2014. A year later, the Inter-Services Public Relations Director General Major General Asim Bajwa shared some impressive numbers. In the one year since the start of the operation, 2,763 terrorists had been killed, 837 hideouts destroyed, and 253 tonnes of explosive recovered. He also shared that 347 military officials and soldiers had died. Bear in mind that due to the restricted access for the media and civil society in the area, the military’s numbers are the only official figures available.
A report presented to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on March 10, 2015 states that 303 actionable calls were received on the terror hotline and 2,237 intelligence-based operations were conducted across the country. Law enforcement agencies arrested 25,896 people across Pakistan on various charges, while security agencies conducted 24,844 “combing” operations across the country. The military hails this as a resounding success, and media coverage has been overwhelmingly positive. It must also be said that the intensity and momentum of terror attacks has subsided significantly, though by no means has it been eliminated. NACTA, however, sits dead in the water and even the budget for the new fiscal year made no allocation of funds to develop and strengthen this body.
Some of militants’ biggest attacks since Operation Zarb-e-Azb include a failed attempt by 10 attackers on two airbases in Quetta, another foiled attempt to hijack a naval ship in Karachi, a suicide bombing at Wagah border closing ceremony that claimed 60 lives, attacks on churches and Shia imambargahs in Lahore, and bombings and attacks in Peshawar, Karachi,Rawalpindi, and Shikarpur. While this may seem like a lot, a 2014 U.S. State Department report puts Pakistan at the top of the list of countries that observed a decrease in terror attacks, and acknowledge the military operation as a major factor in that drop.
The vast majority of these attacks have targeted minorities in Pakistan, as they are the most vulnerable group, and the state’s response has been traditionally weak. The NAP also covers against spreading hatred, sectarianism, and intolerance (#5, #9, #18). In Pakistan, the loudspeaker is used at mosques to deliver sermons and sometimes to incite violence and hatred against other groups. Some laws exist to limit the use of the loudspeaker, such as the Punjab Sound System (Regulation) Ordinance 2015, which allows only one speaker for Azan and restricts Arabic sermons to Friday. For violating the loudspeaker law, the police have arrested a total of 3,906 people, including 2,874 in Punjab, 169 in Sindh, 322 in Khyber Pukhtunkhwa, three in Balochistan, and 90 in the federal capital. In a landmark decision, an Anti-Terrorism Court sentenced a prayer leader in the city of Kasur to five years in prison for delivering a hate speech at a public gathering. While these are good steps and solid metrics, the assault on minorities has not let up, when compared to the overall decline of terror attacks.
The NAP also attempts to address local conflicts in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) (#12), Karachi (#16), and Balochistan (#17). The FATA conflict is being addressed partially by driving out the militants under Operation Zarb-e-Azb. However, to date there has been limited conversation about FATA reforms. Karachi, Pakistan’s largest, most complex city is also its most violent. Even with Operation Zarb-e-Azb, Karachi showed the most number of fatalities from violence in all of Pakistan in 2014. The security of the city is jointly managed by the local police and the Rangers, a paramilitary unit. In recent months, the Rangers have targeted the headquarters of political and religious parties allegedly involved in urban terrorism, extortion, kidnappings, and turf warfare.
Balochistan — a largely neglected and disenfranchised region since Pakistan’s inception — has seen a number of tribal uprisings against the government over the last several decades. While the NAP stresses the need to reconcile with relevant stakeholders, progress on this front has been lackadaisical at best, and limited to raids in which suspected terrorists and criminals have been killed — 40 at last count.
Sections of the NAP also call for a stop to the glorification of the jihadist elements, and promises strict action against media that promotes sectarianism, hatred, or incites violence. Action against hate literature especially is a daunting task, as there is no mechanism to monitor or control its dissemination. As an example, the government imposed a ban on 22 magazines after the 9/11 attacks. But many of these publications were back at newsstands a few weeks later, either under a different name, or in some cases, even the same name. Another example is Masood, a leader from the militant group Jaish-e-Muhammad, wanted by authorities and in hiding since 2009, yet he somehow manages to publish with alarming frequency under the pen name “Saadi.” Lacking a central command, control, tracking, and identification mechanism, this is one of the toughest points in the NAP to implement.
In addition, members of proscribed outfits continue to enjoy airtime, and their interviews are televised without repercussions. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regularity Authority (PEMRA) may invoke section 37 of the PEMRA Amendment Act of 2007, banning the airing of material that may be deemed against national interest. But so far, it has been used as a political tool, and not as a counterterrorism instrument.
One of the most controversial points in the NAP is the crackdown on seminaries (#10), which faces fierce opposition to government oversight from right wing religious parties and banned outfits. It is estimated that there are 22,052 registered seminaries in Pakistan, and the unregistered number could be much greater; just in the federal capital of Islamabad, there are 187 registered seminaries, but 446 unregistered ones. The federal government is currently in the process of formulating anIslamic Education Commission to regulate religious seminaries across the country, which it claims will be implemented soon. A positive development, however, is Saudi Arabia’s recent decision to stop funding religious seminaries in Pakistan, and to provide transparent development aid to Pakistan.
The NAP also calls for a comprehensive policy for registering Afghan refugees and rehabilitating the Pakistani population displaced due to internal conflicts or military operations (#12, #19). According to the report presented to Sharif on March 10, around 6,408 Afghan refugees have been deported, whereas 328,034 have been registered. The military also plans to repatriate the displaced population in the operational theaters by December 2016, though that is subject to the security situation.
The last point in the NAP list pertains to reforming and drastically improving the criminal justice system in Pakistan (#20). Reforming the Code of Criminal Procedure, experts believe, is one of the most crucial steps needed to improve the law and order situation in the country. To date, little-to-no progress has been made on this front. Like several other points in the NAP, the political will seems to be there, but the operational mechanisms remain elusive.