On May 31 – the last day of the PML-N government – the Ministry of Interior introduced a comprehensive and impressive strategy: the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2018-2023. This policy was a follow-up of the previous four-year NISP, which was introduced in 2014.
The new policy aims at multidimensional reforms of an administrative, legal, judicial and executive nature. NISP is based on six ‘Rs’: reorient, reimagine, reconcile, redistribute, recognise, and regional approach.
On closer inspection, the 2018 policy appears to be a carbon copy of the 2014 policy with a few minor changes. But it is still important to understand some underlying features of this stratagem. The policy has set five objectives and four of them are universal fundamental positions. For example, establish the writ of the state; protect rights, life and property; promote democracy/freedom and pluralism; and resist threats in a ‘just manner’.
This plan is full of promises and commitments, such as establishing different forces and forums, and I will not go into these technical and administrative particularities because I don’t hold any expertise in them. Instead, I will review it from a posteriori standpoint.
The fifth objective is a matter of concern. It states that “peacefully resolve and manage disputes with hostile elements without compromising rule of law”. It is important to note here that these objectives were the same in 2014.
To begin with, what hasn’t changed (in both policies) is the view and analysis of threats. The issue with Pakistan has been its selective and narrow assessment of extremism and terrorism. Those who were (overtly) waging war against Pakistan – ie, the TTP – received the state’s attention.
And those who have been equally dangerous and waging a war against the basic fabric of society (radicalising) – the JuD, the Sipah-e -Sahaba and now the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya RasulAllah (TLYR) – haven’t only missed serious attention but have even benefited from patronage.
With reference to the TLYR, it is difficult to know what it really means to resolve issues ‘peacefully’ with hostile elements. Not long ago, this group stormed Islamabad and ignominiously held the city hostage. Instead of making them accountable, some TLYR protesters were even handed dole-outs.
Pakistan is understating and undermining the threats emanating from the TLYR. Khadim Rizvi has a significant following – enough to destabilise cities – and belongs to a sect that is most vulnerable to exploitation in the name of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)’s ‘honour’. And this fear has already started surfacing in the form of an ink attack on Khawaja Asif and an assassination attempt on Ahsan Iqbal. Some may argue that these attacks were politically motivated. But, at the same time, these incidents have also shown the vulnerability of TYLR supporters to be used for attacks.
The purpose isn’t to suggest that the state should use brutal force against the TYLR. I attempt to instead problematise the idea of ‘peacefully’ resolving issues with hostile elements in a given scenario where society is on the verge of becoming extremely intolerant with no sign of accountability. In this scenario, amicable settlements with hardliners can’t be a success, but they may advance their idea of taking down the government through violent means. It is more like a Faustian bargain.
The prerequisite for any counter-terrorism or national security policy is the neutrality of the state. One way of maintaining institutional neutrality is through accountability. While we may deny it, there is a state-militant nexus where this whole political economy of extremism operates. Attempts made by banned outfits to openly collecting donations, seek public support and hold public rallies are some of the examples of this nexus. This is where NISP is lacking. It doesn’t provide a roadmap for institutional accountability and fails to show how it can break this nexus.
NISP outlines the need to construct a ‘robust’ national narrative. In countering extremism (CE) practices, it is observed that focusing only on building forces, departments or forums has proved to be counterproductive. The success to form a strong counter-narrative lies in opening up our society to provide platforms for people to express their opinions freely. The more avenues for discussion we create, the fewer the chances of vulnerability will be among people.
One such avenue is the restoration of student unions at public universities. A healthy dialogue in academic circles is the precondition for a robust narrative. Needless to say, democracy and pluralism are only possible when the state surrenders its authoritarian approach and welcomes diverse opinions.
Factors that contribute to extremism are manifold and the current violent culture is a collective institutional failure. For example, NISP (both in 2014 and 2018) aims to work with Pemra to prevent any misuse. But Pemra has miserably failed to stop some hatemongering anchors who are known for their anti-minority and anti-dissent tendencies.
Implementing NISP is a long and challenging process, and requires honest intentions. But what is more urgent is reimagining and revaluating how the state perceives and analyses security threats. A ‘peaceful’ settlement with hardliners may give us extra seconds, but it is a time bomb that has to explode eventually.
The writer is an activist and researcher.