Throughout the past fortnight or so, people have been plied with reports, surveys and much rhetoric about the progress of the National Action Plan (NAP) but little has been offered to enable them to share the mood of complacency evident in government chambers.
On the anniversary of the massacre at Peshawar’s Army Public School, the government was heavily criticised for its lack of progress on NAP in both houses of parliament. The points made during the debates in the two houses were: NAP had lost direction; the government was not serious about honouring the all-party mandate to fight terror; contrary to the pledge to hang terrorists only ordinary criminals were being executed; and nothing had been done to build a counter-narrative to blunt the terrorists’ appeal to the people.
A demand that was largely supported in both the houses related to the need for holding a proper probe in the APS event and there were also calls for exposing all those responsible for the country’s disintegration in 1971, the Kargil misadventure of 1999 and the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad.
Two days later, while winding up the National Assembly debate on his ministry’s performance, a debate that was welcome in any case, the interior minister declared that both civil and military elites that had enjoyed power in the past were responsible for creating a huge mess which the existing government was heroically striving to clean up.
The people are perhaps more aware than Chaudhry Nisar Ali of the mess that governments have been making and, therefore, they will be more interested in knowing about the present authority’s steps to remedy the situation. Many past mistakes will be forgiven if they are not repeated over and over again.
The minister did not receive any bouquets when he presented in the National Assembly a report on the implementation of NAP. There was a widely shared feeling of relief that terrorist attacks had shown a marked decrease over the past 12 months. At the same time, it was difficult to conceal disappointment and frustration at the fact that some of the key objectives of NAP, such as madressah reform, development of a narrative to counter the militants’ justification for their terrorist acts, and the creation of a joint intelligence directorate, had yet to be realised.
The interior minister declared that all these issues were being aggressively pursued. However, one did not know how to react to the disclosure that the joint intelligence directorate could not be set up till its own premises had been built!
The attacks on the government’s performance by the opposition obviously need to be taken with a pinch of salt. We may thus look towards independent parties for a non-partisan assessment of NAP’s implementation. Fortunately, one such assessment is available in a ‘Comprehensive Review of the National Action Plan’ issued by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, a civil society organisation that carries considerable weight in knowledgeable circles.
Quite a few points made in this review merit special attention: a decline in the number of terrorist attacks this year is confirmed by statistics; that there is no direct relation between the decline in the terrorist attacks and the end of the moratorium on carrying out death sentences; there is lack of clarity on dealing with certain armed groups; the sectarian mindset and discriminatory laws keep religious minorities’ fear of persecution alive; and the prime minister’s pledge to end sources of militancy in Punjab remains unrealised.
Perhaps the most significant finding is that military action alone cannot rid the country of the threat posed by the militants. Local observers and foreign analysts (who often have better sources of information than Pakistanis themselves) both agree on the urgency of challenging the militants’ ideology and blunting its appeal to the common Pakistani.
We have been hearing of the state’s counter-narrative for quite sometime without getting any wiser about its contents. Obviously, the government lacks the will to reject the militants’ claim to be fighting for the enforcement of Sharia in the country in accordance with constitutional provisions. The army leadership’s decision to fight extremism in addition to the campaign against terrorism underscores the gravity of the situation. One hopes the message evokes an appropriate response from the government.
It is easy to realise the need for a two-pronged challenge to the militants’ theoretical stand. On the one hand, the state must ensure that no educational institution produces fresh militants. At present, public institutions of education and religious seminaries both are turning out extremists in hordes. The half-hearted attempts to purge the textbooks of matter that sows seeds of militancy and intolerance in the minds of young ones have been foiled by the conservative lobby. If the government cannot ensure a thorough revision of the curricula its rhetoric about fighting extremists will lose all meaning.
On the other hand, there is need to convince the pro-militancy population that the terrorists are raising the standard of Sharia enforcement as a means to gain political ends and that in the process they are distorting the message of Islam. This approach will demand sustained efforts to end the monopoly of conservative clerics on Islam’s interpretation.
Unfortunately the government has failed to use its own institutions — from the Council of Islamic Ideology to the judicial academy and departments of Islamiat in colleges and universities — to counter the extremists’ version of religion. A full-blooded programme to rid Islamic thought of the stamp of a certain imperialism, to borrow a phrase from Iqbal, is the minimum requirement of a narrative that could dismantle the militants’ case and secure Pakistan against threats that are becoming more and more ominous.
Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2015