A new wave of violence seems to be on the rise. In the last six months, the TTP-linked attack in Lahore, sectarian-motivated violence in Quetta and BLA-linked attacks in Karachi, Ormara and Gwadar have demonstrated that terrorists continue to retain the ability to strike at will.
While the establishment of the National Internal Security Committee, led by the prime minister, and appointment of a full time federal interior minister are positive steps, the government continues to rely on the National Action Plan (NAP) as a framework for countering terrorism. It is therefore important to dispassionately review the progress made under NAP and chart out a way forward.
NAP was the state’s response to Pakistan’s 9/11, the APS Peshawar attack in 2014 where terrorists heartlessly targeted schoolchildren. This was an emergency measure put together under extreme pressure of responding rapidly to an exogenous shock.
NAP did well to reassure citizens enraged by the event, forge political consensus in a typically divided polity and give strategic direction to subsequent government action against terrorism. Various measures taken as a result helped stabilize Karachi, dismantle terror infrastructure across the country, establish the writ of the state in weakly governed areas, bring perpetrators of violence to justice and consequently reduce significantly the number of terrorist incidents.
All of this was not possible without the unflinching resolve of the nation and the sacrifices rendered selflessly by the security forces. Yet, it is important to realize that, while these efforts have led to curtailing violence to some extent, they have done little to remove the structural sources that provide the breeding grounds for terrorism’s emergence. In other words, NAP, as a prescription has been successful in tackling symptoms to an extent, but not the disease itself.
While most of the debate centres around how NAP is being implemented, the design of the framework itself is often ignored. One has to therefore start with identifying some of the structural gaps that render NAP only partially effective even if fully implemented.
First, NAP merely listed a number of strategic and tactical objectives without specifying a concrete set of actions to achieve these. It provided a sense of ‘what needs to be done’ but no direction on ‘how will this be done?’ By implication, therefore, the ‘plan’ included no implementation strategy. It wasn’t possible to assign responsibilities, set milestones with a defined timeline, devise indicators to measure progress and make budgetary estimates, let alone allocations.
While ministerial committees were later formed at the federal level to oversee implementation, their performance remained unsatisfactory. Apex committees did a better job at the provincial level due to the involvement of respective corp commanders; however, action on the ground remained kinetic heavy and little progress was made on soft measures that civilian institutions were required to take a lead on.
Second, while a lot of steps were taken during the last five years to achieve the objectives set forth in NAP, these were mostly disjointed, conceptualized and implemented in silos with little strategic coordination. Only in the last couple of years did Nacta begin creating synergies through joint action. The task force on countering terror financing, comprising around 20 state institutions, is a case in point.
Finally, the whole exercise of putting NAP together was devoid of a broader vision or holistic framework for ensuring security in the country. As a result, the ‘plan’ remained primarily a set of administrative measures rather than a comprehensive strategy premised on a ‘whole of the nation’ approach. Key dimensions that were left out as a result include the need to work towards a regional solution for peace in order to neutralize transnational terrorism, formulate an effective strategy to incentivize militants to shun violence, curriculum and wider educational reforms and most importantly identification of political, economic and social factors that remain the root causes of violence in society.
International and local research now shows that the challenges of terrorism and extremism cannot be tackled through military or administrative action alone. Rather, concerted interventions by a range of state and civil society actors are required within the ideological and socio-economic domains to (re)shape undesired social practices.
For example, when the state attempts to curtail ‘hate speech’ solely by enforcing an administrative ban, it is more likely to end up banning ‘speech’ rather than reducing ‘hate’ in a society. Tackling hatred between (and among) various social groups requires two key components to complement administrative action. First, engagement with how people frame (and understand) their identities as well as their problems and grievances. And second, helping reduce the resource and power differentials that often underscore conflict within and among communities in a diverse country like Pakistan.
Therefore, the rampant social, political and economic alienation concentrated geographically or along class lines, coupled with an exclusionary ideology (framed in terms of ethnic, sectarian, religious or other identities), provides the breeding ground for violent conflict. This can take various shapes, ranging from the seemingly religiously motivated TTP to the secessionist BLA.
Excessive use of force in situations where such deep-rooted fault lines exist among communities can further exacerbate the problem. Given that despite sporadic violent incidents relative stability has been achieved, it is now time to supplement the administrative actions being taken under NAP with a comprehensive set of soft measures aimed at healing the wounds of the nation.
The newly formulated National Internal Security Policy (2018-2023) offers a way forward in this regard. Under its 6Rs framework, the policy provides a roadmap to implement institutional reforms, particularly in the criminal justice system, uplift of underdeveloped areas, reduction of socio-economic inequality and reiteration of the core values of tolerance, acceptance of diversity and peaceful coexistence to achieve a prosperous and progressive Pakistan.
The writer was lead author and head of the technical team responsible for formulating the National Internal Security Policy (2018-2023).