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Counter-terror response: a mixed bag





By Imtiaz Gul

Express Tribune, September 15, 2015


Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar appears to be working overtime to get a handle on what certainly is a complicated task, implementation of theNational Action Plan (NAP). Many ambiguities and confusions that had, for long, surrounded Chaudry Nisar’s narrative on radicalisation, militancy and terrorism are also giving way to greater clarity and stronger resolve to take things head on. This probably results from the intensive brainstorming that is currently taking place before, during and after the Apex Committee meetings as well as his frequent interactions with foreign dignitaries.

The minister, for instance, has now publicly promised stringent laws to deal with those calling others infidels. According to Chaudhry Nisar, cameras will be installed in some madrassas and mosques under watch. He also spoke of “a very thin line between sectarianism and terrorism” when announcing plans to deal with all those threatening the writ of the state. As a whole, the bigger picture emerging from within the civilian government is positive and the official line of arguments is increasingly anchored in the rule of law paradigm and the sanctity of the Constitution, which guarantees protection of and freedom to every citizen.

As for the security establishment, it continues its awe-and-strike strategy through Operation Zarb-e-Azb, which has invariably become an extension of the NAP as well. In fact, the military’s offensive in Waziristan has won it unusual appreciation from people such as Jonathan Carpenter, special representative of the US for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who told a US broadcasting agency on September 13 that “because of the Zarb-e-Azb Operation, Waziristan and Khyber Agency have become safer”.

But challenges that both the government and the military face at the administrative level are multiple and daunting. It took months of perusal and insistence by the military before the government decided on September 14 to establish a National Terrorists Financing Investigation Cell to curb terror funding. It is a good step, but in a country where traders refuse to submit their income tax returns and oppose a minor tax on their daily transactions worth tens of millions, how can such a cell be effective? Why would funds intended for terrorist or radical organisations be routed through banking channels?

Similarly, civilians have failed to devise a mechanism for the registration of madrassas across the country. Neither has a consensus survey form on madrassas been developed, a complaint that kept recurring during the meeting between heads of madrassas, the army chief and the interior minister. Ironically, there is no consensus figure on the numbers of seminaries yet. Some quote the staggering figure of 50,000 (mentioned at a conference in Islamabad); others speak of there being around 25,000 seminaries. Secondly, the government has also failed in banning the arbitrary establishment of mosques and madrassas, with the result that these continue to emerge. Thirdly, illegally-constructed mosques continue to operate undeterred, with imams saying what they want, even running down the Constitution and condemning the state. Fourthly, a policy to regulate the content of the education imparted in madrassas is nowhere in sight.

It took the government over nine months to say that special courts are being reinforced and expanded; although the Pakistan Protection Act (PPA) was passed with great fanfare late last year, only one PPA court has been set up so far in Punjab. Why shouldn’t the army press for military courts if the civilian response to issues of terrorism and religious extremism is so lacklustre?

Currently, some 52 anti-terrorism courts are operating across the country, 14 of them in Punjab alone. One wonders why the civilian government increase the number of these courts and also expand their scope.

The much-demanded comprehensive review of the Criminal Procedures Code of Pakistan — the mother of all ills — remains elusive. One wonders whether that will happen within the next two years at all because counter-extremism, in particular, is a long-term intellectual challenge that requires courage, proactive initiative and well-thought-through policies.

Imtiaz Gul is the executive director of the independent Centre for Research and Security Studies

Email: imtiaz@crss.pk