A state’s national action plan formulates policy direction, impacting national, regional and international politics. This is true for Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) for countering terrorism. Events determine the course of action, and provide an opportunity for focused effort. The event which proved to be a turning point and shaped this 20-point plan was the attack on Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16, 2014. PM Nawaz Sharif described the attack as a “defining moment”. Although the national action plan focuses on countering terrorism, it directly and indirectly affects Pakistan and the region’s economy, politics, and security.
Internal and external benefits
On the external front, the national action plan may help in the following ways:
1. Economic Revivalism in Pakistan: Efforts taken by the government since 2013 have led the international community to recognize Pakistan’s economic turnaround. While a 2013 survey done by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in 2013 ranked Pakistan second in business growth, Goldman Sachs estimates that Pakistan will be the 18th largest economy in the world by 2050. As for Moody’s, it has stated that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is a “credit positive” for the country since “it will spur investment activity, boost bilateral trade flows and help ease the country’s growing energy shortages.” The state’s fight against terrorism, after launching its national action plan, would take this momentum forward by providing a conducive environment in which economic activities can flourish without fearing threats.
2. Counter-Terrorism Border Operations between Afghanistan and Pakistan: Pointing to problems at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby has said: “There have been and there will continue to be tensions across that border because it’s such a safe haven for extremists.” Thus, Pakistan and Afghanistan should make efforts for operationalizing border management. The length of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border dictates that proper border management mechanisms be adopted, or infiltration and cross-border terrorist attacks would continue to weaken both countries, and affect their political and diplomatic relations. There are discussions for such a mechanism, but no specific agreement has been signed. Border patrolling forces on both sides should focus specifically on monitoring the movement of people, illegal smuggling of weapons and cleansing of base areas near the border from where the attack occurs.
3. Regional Cooperation: If peace in the region is to be achieved, regional counterterrorism efforts need to be reinforced and strengthened. As Sartaj Aziz, the National Security Advisor on foreign affairs, has said, “Transforming Afghanistan into an ‘Asian roundabout’ would not only require internal initiatives but also concrete and substantive cooperation of other regional countries.” Hindrances to this may come from Afghanistan and India. Intelligence cooperation has been difficult because of the alleged connection between India’s intelligence arm Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) with Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security. Progress on counterterrorism cooperation between Pakistan and Afghanistan has stalled. The historic trust deficit between Pakistan and India, and currently between Pakistan and Afghanistan, seems to be growing. However, it can be neutralized if a counterterrorism mechanism featuring China, Russia, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan can be formulated, so as to stabilize the element of hostility and counteract actions of non-state actors.
Internally, the NAP would achieve the following:
1. Strengthening of Civilian Institutions: After a long period of intermittent military rule, Pakistan has seen incremental democratization over the past few years. The country has witnessed an expansion of civilian space during this period of democratic transition. Whether this alters or is permanent, considering the traditional military rule in the country, is yet to be seen. The two elections of 2008 and 2013 have observed significance of electoral politics and a revisit of civilian institutions.
2. Coordinated Efforts for State-Building: The NAP highlighted the need for civilian-military cooperation. This cooperation can also help in capacity building of police.
3. Achieving Good, Inclusive Governance: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Post-conflict societies must prioritize social, economic and political inclusion if they are to have any hope of rebuilding trust between communities.” This statement also holds true for including society in counterterrorism efforts. According to a UN panel consultation, fighting terror only through military, police and intelligence may endanger good governance and human rights. Thus, the government needs to concentrate more on an institutional, civilian governance mechanism. This approach would be important for states, from where terrorists start off. Political parties in Pakistan, in this regard, can play an important role in bringing grassroots reforms, in their respective constituencies. They can strengthen local, institutional platforms through which civilians can participate, and respond while being inclusive and transparent in their dealings with the public.
Criticism and Hindrances
Some believe that the plan looks good on paper, but the situation on the ground remains unchanged. This is attributed to the following reasons:
- Non-Cohesive Implementation: NAP being a national agenda requires coordination from all of the provincial governments, and efforts need to be made collectively.
- Not All Political Players on Board: There are still some political parties which continue to disagree with the NAP. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the leader of Pakistan’s People Party (PPP) and Syed Qaim, chief minister for the province of Sindh have objected to the NAP citing federal investigation agencies and Rangers’ interference in provincial matters.
- Religious Institutions: Although representatives of madrassas and the ulema have backed the NAP, the greater need is to utilize their stature and positive role to weed out terrorism from society. In this regard, Allama Iqbal’s appeal issued in 1932 may be applicable: “I would recommend that an assembly of religious scholars (ulema) be constituted, in which those Muslim lawyers be included who have studied the modern principle of law, so that in light of the current situation, the Islamic Law( shariah) is protected and further expanded.” This exercise can help in formulating laws to deter vulnerable societal elements from turning to terrorism, and provide a single, legal authority to rule on religious matters.
“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit,” said Conrad Hilton. The national action plan is the first step towards success. There exist loopholes, but fixating on certain points will not help. It can evolve to transform the political mindset, and include broader plans for regional cooperation.