Five years on, The News on Sunday talks to Senator Raza Rabbani, who was part of the parliamentary committee which drafted the National Action Plan (NAP) after the Army Public School (APS) attack, on lessons learnt and missed
The News on Sunday (TNS): How do you see the role of parliamentarians in terms of legislation that followed the APS attack?
Raza Rabbani (RR): The role of the parliament was largely positive and productive. Parliamentarians worked together and disregarded party lines in voting for the NAP. They came up with a 20-point plan to deal with the security situation. They made laws to deal with terrorism. Military courts were permitted to try civilians for two years. Later, they were given an extension. I still have my reservations on this issue.
Having said that, the parliament could not revamp the criminal justice system. It tried to keep an eye on how the NAP was implemented.
As far as the issue of parallel judicial systems is concerned, I still stand by my contentions. I’m against military oversight in civilian affairs. I believe that it was not necessary to have military courts that have no legitimacy in the Constitution. As a legislator, I was bound by party discipline so I voted in favour of the military courts. I am still opposed to this system of military courts.
Anyway, the matter is in the past. We have to move on. There was a great sense of urgency at that time. Now the situation has changed. Back then, we were given a briefing by law enforcement agencies and were told that the civil forces — police and levies — would take over the operations. We have not seen that happening yet — even though things are pretty normal now. The executive can answer for themselves. As I said earlier, we made a number of attempts to ensure transparency. For years now, we have received no updates. The parliament has been kept in the dark.
TNS: Do you believe the state has been able to tackle radicalisation and curb hate speech? Also, where do you see most room for improvement?
RR: I think the situation on the ground has changed significantly. The improvement is beyond doubt. There has been visible success in terms of curbing violence and action against sleeper cells of terrorist organisations. Radicalisation and extremism, however, are problems that we have not been able to perhaps tackle as effectively. Religious motivation has been used in the past in pursuit of certain agenda. There was a need to rehabilitate people involved in that exercise, and to re-educate them. The parliament must be taken into confidence in this regard. De-radicalising the society is the only solution to our problems and once we commit ourselves to it, we can do it.
TNS: Do you think the country is safer now than it was in 2014?
RR: Yes, it is certainly safer now, as far as terrorism is concerned. I am saying categorically that the country is much safer as we have succeeded in getting rid of terrorism. I would go further and say that we have done far better than India in terms of tackling this challenge. We have made the necessary sacrifices and achieved peace. But the radicalisation problem is not entirely over. There are outstanding political issues, ethnic divides, minorities’ issues and serious issues like provincial struggle for autonomy. All these issues need serious engagement.
De-radicalising the society is the only solution to our problems and once we commit ourselves to it, we can do it.
TNS: What are your thoughts on the media’s treatment of the APS attack?
RR: The media behaved responsibly. It was heartening to see that it did not glorify the terrorists’ narrative. Subsequently, increased curbs on the media made it irrelevant as follow-up stories/efforts began to fade away. I hope that the media will recover its momentum and highlight among other things the plight of the families of the martyrs. I would also like the media to inform us whether the compensation promised to them did materialise.
TNS: When the National Action Plan was being formulated, there were apprehensions that it would infringe upon civil rights. How do you see the matter today?
RR: The fears have proved justified. There have been instances of political workers and mediapersons being stopped from highlighting certain issues using the NAP. At some of the meetings in the parliament, questions have been raised on how intelligence agencies were using the emergency laws to curb the liberties and violate the privacy of many people. A number of MPs came across cases where these laws were used as a tool against political opponents or other rivals.
TNS: Going forward, what are some of the key lessons from the APS tragedy that we need to remain cognizant of?
RR: There is a need for the revival of the parliamentary committee on national security. The committee of both houses must be powerful enough to oversee and supervise implementation of the NAP. Pakistan must learn from history and not be tempted to interfere in other countries. We should not have joined the US in playing the role that we played in Afghanistan in the past. Intelligence agencies must keep an eye on sleeper cells and hostile agencies’ interference in our affairs. Curriculum of schools and madaris must be reviewed. Distortion of historical facts should be removed from our curricula to pave way for a progressive, liberal and democratic Pakistan. Madaris’ reforms are inevitable although a sensitive issue. All schools of thought must be taken into confidence on this.
We have, so far, only provided lip service in this area. Balochistan is an area of particular concern for me. Indian interferences there must be curbed. There are also political issues of Baloch people, the question of control over resources and missing persons. The Council of Common Interest has not been convened for a long time. The constitution requires a meeting of this council every three months. The provinces need to be given equal rights.
The writer is a special investigative correspondent currently associated with Geo tv in Islamabad