A strong consensus emerged on the necessity for a national effort to combat terrorism, after the attack on Army Public School on 16 December 2014. An Action Plan with specified, quantitative, and time-bound objectives was required to address the wave of terrorism that caused the unfortunate killing of several innocent school-aged children. The parliament approved a 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) drafted by National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and the Interior Ministry on 24 December 2014. It was the second consensus policy document after the 2014 National Internal Security Policy (NISP), the country’s first counter-terrorism policy. The NAP’s conceptualization has evolved to reflect changing internal and external threat dynamics. The authorities’ appraisal of the NAP’s implementation helped create the updated draft of NAP 2021 with only 14 points. It shows the insertion of new and deletion of old goals to support the idea of re-evaluating efforts.
Before discussing the new drafted NAP 2021, it is pertinent to go through the old one, keeping in view the progress on it. The initial objectives in the NAP 2014 i.e. the establishment of military courts and the imposition of capital sentence were operationally important to go after the terrorists collectively. The Karachi operation, which involved strangling and deconstructing terrorist communication by registering SIM cards and implementing biometric verification, was tactically significant. So, it can be said that depending on the need of the time and the nature of solution presented to the problems, one can assess the NAP’s performance. Thus, the 20 points of NAP can be separated into two categories based on the nature of the target and its urgency in terms of time.
Besides, in response to the NAP’s performance, under the 21st amendment to the constitution, special trial courts were established under the supervision of the Army. Since the inception of the NAP, 415 cases have been processed expeditiously, according to the NACTA.
The parliament approved a 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) drafted by National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and the Interior Ministry on 24 December 2014. It was the second consensus policy document after the 2014 National Internal Security Policy (NISP), the country’s first counter-terrorism policy.
One of NAP’s stated objectives was to revitalize NACTA. In 2020 NACTA was placed at the disposal of the Ministry of Interior as the autonomous and independent department through the amendment in the NACTA act. In 2019/20, a budget of Rs.248 million was allocated to meet NACTA’s human resource requirements. Considering the impact of social media on people’s lives, NACTA has launched applications such as Tatheer and Chaukas through which any Pakistani citizen can report any terrorist activity on social media to the appropriate authorities. Similarly, concluding the Karachi operation is a success of the National Action Plan. Following the Karachi operation, terrorist activities decreased by 98% by 2019. The number of terrorism-related incidents in Pakistan has decreased to 319 in 2020 from 482 terrorist attacks in 2019.
The following have been accomplished as a result of NACTA’s initiatives to monitor prohibited persons on a nationwide level:
- Individuals on the 4th Schedule of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), 1997, have been rationalized by relevant provincial administrations.
- Application of international and local legal responsibilities relating to the freezing of the assets of sanctioned organizations and individuals
- Establishment of a framework for taking legal/financial action against individuals under the Fourth Schedule.
The Ministry of Interior has designated 79 organisations/splinter outfits as prohibited under section 11-B-(1) r/w Schedule-I of the ATA, 1997.
The country is projected to have 35,000 seminaries. The Directorate General of Religious Education (DGRE), which was founded in September 2019 by the Ministry of Federal Education, has registered over 5,000 seminaries around the country. To control them, NACTA has collaborated with Ittehad-e-Tanzeem-ul-Madaris Pakistan (ITMP) to establish two distinct Madaris data and Madaris registration forms. In Punjab and Sindh, 90% and 80% of Madrasas respectively have been documented through geo-tagging, whereas only 75% of work has been completed in KPK and 60% in Balochistan. The NAP also succeeded in dismantling terrorists’ communication networks. Prior to 2015, there was no restriction on the number of mobile SIM cards that individuals could register in their name. The majority of the SIMs were unregistered and were exploited by terrorists. As a result, a massive exercise was conducted in which 732K million SIMs were blocked and a proper biometric method for SIM issuance was implemented to address this issue. Currently, biometric verification enables the registration of SIM cards, and only those Pakistani individuals with certified identity documents are validated.
Likewise, the aspect of funding terrorist organisations was crucial in controlling terrorist hands. Terrorists and terrorist organizations can raise cash from a variety of sources in the absence of proper implementation procedures. In the light of the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) decision to place Pakistan on the grey list, Pakistan has taken some significant initiatives under the NAP. Pakistan has made concrete initiatives to combat terrorism financing, including the following:
- Establishment of a National Task Force on Suffocating Terrorism Financing – a coordination body comprised of over 20 federal and provincial institutions charged with combating terrorism financing.
- Effective branchless/internet banking regulation.
- Establishment of Counter-Terrorism Financing Units (CFT) in all provincial Counter-Terrorism Departments.
- CFT is now a mandatory component of provincial investigations.
- Surveillance of persons and money under the Fourth Schedule of the ATA of 1997, to effectively combat money laundering/terrorist financing.
- As for Hawala/Hundi cases; 1209 persons were detained in connection with such cases; and Rs. 1489.918 million has been recovered since 2015.
While progress on the objectives of the NAP is commendable, given Pakistan’s evolving internal and external security threats, the state cannot always adhere to those twenty principles. The proposed draft of NAP 2021 addresses the following domains: Countering growing trends in the illegal spectrum (narcotics, weapons, and human trafficking), legislative/legal oversight for espionage/subversion, merging areas of FATA Reforms (NFC, capacity building of LEAs, LG elections, and land reforms), the reconciliation process, and following up on counter-terrorism cases in courts to a successful conclusion. To execute the new proposed NAP, new secretariat will take the lead, to fully meet the scope of counter-terrorism activities through the appointment of a serving brigadier. This apparent, parallel institutions approach requires some revision because, as previously stated, NACTA is already fully responsible and active for the execution of NAP with a budget of Rs.248 million.
The revision of NAP 2014 makes sense as, after more than six years, some points need to be taken out, for example, the matter of military courts. But making a new and separate secretariat without opting for a democratic process of consultation may not strengthen the cooperative environment in the country. Rather, it may promote a sense of confusion. The function and work of NACTA can become controversial, though officials said that a coordinating mechanism will be set up between the NAP Secretariat and NACTA. But, as NAP 2014 remained under the auspices of NACTA for monitoring and evaluation, NACTA seems more experienced and skilled to go with the proposed NAP 2021 if adopted officially. An existing body that is already functional with manpower, budget, and distinct departments for the execution of soft and hard objectives.
Currently, the NAP will remain the guiding framework and carry out necessary actions in the domain of countering security threats, particularly internal ones. We cannot argue that the relevant authorities failed, but we must recognise that the tasks they were assigned were diverse and complex in nature, such as combating extremism. Multilevel strategy in a society where the participation of all stakeholders, including civil society, is a hard and excruciating effort. To overhaul the progress, the expected inclusion and amendment to the NAP is appreciated. But a separate secretariat for NAP does not seem to serve the purpose because a parallel institution to achieve the same goal will create a burden on the public taxpayer. Moreover, it will create a professional debacle over the limits of NACTA and a nascent secretariat over counter-terrorism actions that will affect the overall approach for making the country stable and peaceful.