Terrorists – with cross-border assistance – have killed some 55,000 Pakistani citizens, including women and innocent school and university going children, thus far. According to the Economic Survey of Pakistan for the fiscal year of 2015, the total economic loss sustained by Pakistan due to the fight against terrorists since 9/11 has risen to $107 billion. Both these losses are many times more than the losses we have suffered in our wars with India, or what has been suffered by the US, Nato and Isaf in Afghanistan.
However, sustained counterterrorism operations, as part of the National Action Plan (NAP), have substantially improved the overall security situation in the country. Continuous intelligence based operations by the law enforcement agencies, the establishment of military courts, the re-institution of the death penalty, new cybercrime laws, the renewal of the Afghan Refugee Registration by Nadra in collaboration with the UNHCR refugee agency, the revival of the Pakistan Automated Fingerprint Identification System (PAFIS), the establishment of the Integrated Border Management System (IBMS) and its integration with Nadra and police and intelligence databases are major steps in the right direction to implement NAP.
Due to these measures and the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the terrorist’s capabilities have been severely degraded and they have lost what little public support they enjoyed in the past. According to the Ministry of Interior’s press releases, terror incidents and casualties are the lowest in nine years, and terror-related incidents in the country have been reduced by 30 to 80 percent.
While these are no mean achievements, the implementation of NAP is influenced by external dynamics and internal inadequacies. The exterior factors include Afghanistan’s refusal to formally recognise the porous Pak-Afghan border and India’s involvement in fomenting terror and instability in Pakistan, particularly in the provinces of Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, through various proxies. In this context, the chief of army staff (COAS) stated on February 2 that “terrorists [in Pakistan] are externally funded and internally facilitated… that foreign adversaries are eager to exploit any opportunity to destabilize Pakistan and that they are harboring, training and funding dissidents and militants… that Balochistan had become a hotbed of proxy wars for external powers.”
So what more can Pakistan do in the current environment? There are at least twenty areas (as many as the twenty points of the NAP), that need more attention to effectively curb violent extremism and terrorism in the country – some are part of NAP while others are not:
• Elicit full support of all segments of society for NAP, through engagements with leaders of religious organisations, women’s groups, youth clusters and through arts, music and sports.
• Ensure across the board, political ownership and endorsement of NAP through parliament.
• Improve management and control at Torkham, Chaman and other porous regions of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.
• Enhance vigilance and control of the movement of Afghan refugees inside Pakistan.
• Depoliticise and strengthen the police and the civil bureaucracy.
• Direct private media through the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulation Authority (Pemra), to defeat extremist narratives.
• Involve the private and the corporate sectors to fund selected counterterrorism efforts.
• Expedite the regulation and monitoring of unregistered seminaries and the propagation of extremist ideologies and hate speeches.
• Invest in education programs and other efforts that foster pluralism.
• Law-enforcement agencies (LEAs) and the courts must not show leniency to proscribed terrorist organisations.
• LEAs must guard against mixing anti-corruption measures with actions against terrorists.
• The government needs to spend more on mainstream education to curb the tendency of parents to send their children to unregulated seminaries.
• The National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) needs to be funded appropriately and urgently to enable it to perform its functions.
• While the Ministry of Interior is presently the lead agency for the implementation of NAP, other ministries and state institutions must fully support it.
• The capacity of the civil administration in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and other disturbed areas must be enhanced to maintain and foster security, following successful military operations in the tribal and settled areas.
• Through the Heart of Asia Process and other channels, Afghanistan must be asked to recognise the Pak-Afghan border, without which, the ongoing Operation Zarb-e-Azb, cannot be wrapped up successfully.
• The entry of Afghan citizens into Pakistan at Torkham and Chaman should be meticulously checked and documented.
• The government must expedite the process of the Afghan refugee repatriation.
• Articles 148 (3) and 149 (4) of the constitution must be assertively used by the government to give directions to the provinces in case of any threats to internal security and to ensure that the business of the provinces is carried on in accordance with the provisions of the constitution.
NAP needs to flow out logically from the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2014-18.Until then, the following major recommendations of the NISP, which have a direct influence NAP, must be implemented. First, design and implement a national de-radicalisation programme for people vulnerable to extremism. Second, integrate the mosques and the madressahs in the national and provincial educational establishments. And third, the capacity building and modernisation of all the pillars of the criminal justice system, including the judiciary, police, prosecution and high security prisons.
As responsible and concerned citizens of Pakistan, we are obligated to support all efforts of the government and the LEA’s to eliminate violent extremism from our society and to defeat the terrorists and their ideologies. By doing so, we can protect Pakistan and make it a better place to live for posterity.
The writer is a former president of the National Defence University.