The attack on police training center in Quetta on the night of October 24, which has left more than 60 dead and almost 200 injured, has once again put Pakistan’s anti-terror strategy, the hallmark of which is National Action Plan (NAP), in the spotlight.
Is this attack, and the one that had occurred in August in the same city which left 70 people dead, a failure of this strategy to dismantle and destroy terror networks?
People in Pakistan seem to be gradually waking up to the hollowness of various claims of “success” against terrorism.
While Pakistan’s civil and military top brass still continues to brag about some “phenomenal success” against terrorism, this success is largely confined to military operations in FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) and Karachi. However, frequent attacks of such high intensity speak volumes about the still-deep enough existence of terror networks, and Pakistan’s inability—and perhaps unwillingness—to effectively control their activities.
Even 20 months after NAP’s supposed implementation, very little progress has been made. Whether it is about reconciling Balochistan’s separatists or about introducing reforms in FATA, which is generally believed to be ‘the heart’ of terror networks in Pakistan and which is yet to become a full part of the territory of Pakistan, NAP’s lethargic performance is more than visible.
This lethargy owes its existence, first and foremost, to the prevailing disagreement in Pakistan about who should be designated a ‘terrorist.’ This disagreement has left a dampening impact on NAP, which is evident from the fact that Prime Minister Sharif convened a meeting of the civil and military top brass 19 months after NAP was announced to review the matter and that too only after the Quetta bombing in August that left almost 50 lawyers dead and caused public outcry and anger.
Needless to say, most of the committees established under NAP have shown little to no progress. For instance, of core importance is the issue of choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organisations. The related committee, being headed by Pakistan’s finance minister, Ishaq Dar, which also includes heads of Pakistan’s various security agencies, has failed to produce any tangible results. More than anything else, it lacks legal and constitutional framework to stop illegal currency trade, which is by and large the securest way of channelizing funds to terror networks, has so far been introduced.
In the absence of legal and constitutional mechanisms, effective steps cannot be taken. This absence directly benefits terror organizations and enables their facilitators to move around rather freely.
Again, it is this very absence of legal and constitutional rules that led to the re-opening of illegal currency trade market in Peshawar that had been previously shut down. Little wonder then that the demand for the US dollar in Peshawar is higher than anywhere else in the country, pushing the rate of the dollar up in the provincial capital much above than elsewhere in Pakistan.
What adds to this problem is the near non-functional existence of relevant agencies and units. As a matter of fact, in the entire country, FIA (Federal Investigation Agency) is the only organisation with a dedicated Terrorist Finance Investigation Unit. The level of seriousness of the government can be judged from the fact that the TFIU has been without a professional head, and working with a skeleton staff, for the last many years.
The same appears to be the case when it comes to the issue of repatriating Afghan refugees and cross border movement of terrorists, disguised as common Afghans. According to the Fata Ana¬lysis and Strategy Team (Fast), an intelligence and information collation and analysis wing under the Fata Secretariat Law & Order Department, between 2010 and mid-August, 2016, 16.49 million undocumented Afghans entered Pakistan via Torkham border crossing alone — that is 51.6pc of Afghanistan’s current approximate 32 million population. Pakistan has 8 border crossings points Afghanistan. Torkham is only one of them.
“This is a security nightmare,” said one official on the condition of anonymity. “If this is the figure for just one border crossing, who knows how many entered Pakistan from the other border crossings?”
While repatriation of refugees and control over inflow and outflow of the Afghans is a part of NAP, it may take more time than envisaged, officials say, partly due to concerns that forced repatriation or alleged harassment of the Afghans in Pakistan may further strain the already strained relations between Kabul and Islamabad, and partly due to non-availability or non-provision of required funding to speed up the process.
While repatriation and border control remains a goal until today, Pakistan has not devised effective ways and means of achieving it. The prevailing absence of real progress on this and almost all other aspects of NAP is largely due to what many have called the illogic of the entire plan.
More than a real plan with integrated goals, objectives and means of achieving those objectives, “NAP appears to be a hodgepodge of hastily prepared statements to pacify the public anger,” says one Pakistan analyst based in Washington.
It is basically a list of what needs to be done to curb the menace of terrorism. It does not enlist how these objectives will be achieved. The result is that since no well-thought-out benchmarks exist, and there’s no sense of how individual actions should add up, the focus tends to shift to what the government did, not how it helped or how much of it is to be done. Hence, calls for reviewing NAP, and related emphasis on devising a clear-cut anti-terror policy that targets all terror outfits indiscriminately.