Panama Papers dominated the airwaves this week. It seems that nearly no other piece of news has been discussed, dissected and discoursed. It has become a part of our national vocabulary, an interminable point of friction between the government and the opposition, and an undeniably impactful event in Pakistan’s history. However, the tenacity of the Panama Papers cannot and should not overshadow the prime minister’s National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism. It is an omnipresent idea, a consistent, unwavering, unflinching response to the wave of terror and militancy facing the country.
The agenda items on the National Action Plan (NAP) are neither new nor novel. Multiple versions of these ideas had existed for quite some time but NAP, for the first time, consolidated them all into a comprehensive document. The main difference this time is the strong across the board political will that drove this change, undoubtedly fueled and reinforced by a strong military push. However, should this political will fail, falter or fade, as it seems to be in the wake of the Panama Papers, Pakistan can slip back into the stark violence of the past fifteen years.
Second, there seemed to be a concerted effort by the government to bring all parties on-board, and especially to appease the religious hardliners with political muscle. While these are good measures for building confidence and presenting a united front in the face of an unrelenting enemy, the counterterrorism narrative necessitates relentless focus and complete state ownership. The ruling party PML-N, for better or for worse, is the executive branch, with all the powers and privileges that come with that territory, and it needs to take commend of the counterterror campaign and the development of the alternate narrative rooted in the constitution of Pakistan.
Pakistan can slip back into stark violence
The military is a stable, well-oiled institution with a long-standing history of friction with civilian counterparts. It has, and continues, to render invaluable sacrifices for peace and eradication of terrorism. However, military operations are a surgical, short-term solution to eliminate the physical presence of the enemy and a manifestation of the hard power of the state. The military is not a long-term peacekeeping force that can be deployed in population centers in perpetuity. Terrorism has to be fought by the government directly, and the next steps need to revolve around strengthening and capacitating civilian law enforcement agencies, units and departments, as well as legislative reforms to close loopholes in the legal system. We still discern huge deficit as far as the soft power of the state – commitment to rule of law, education and skills’ development, as well as conscious law-based efforts against radical and criminal non-state actors – are concerned.
A full thirteen months in to the implementation of NAP, the coordinated operation against the banned outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) in January (following the outfit’s alleged involvement in the attack on the Pathankot Air Base in India) shows the highly selective nature of actions taken against proscribed organizations. Adding an organization’s name to a list of banned outfits accomplishes little other than to simply make a catchy headline for one 24-hour news cycle. The government needs to be unrelenting, uncompromising and unbiased in its implementation of all stipulations within the NAP.
The government also needs to immediately and urgently conduct a detailed census in the country. We have been extrapolating on data from the last census carried out nearly two decades ago. An entire generation has grown up in the meanwhile, and the country urgently needs a fresh database for future planning.
This planning is essential because symptomatic treatment of issues is counter-productive. Blocking websites, shutting down mobile services, rounding up Afghan refugees en masse, blocking millions of SIMs inter alia, arguably provides temporary relief. The state needs to somberly consider long-term solutions for ridding the society of intolerance, extremism and radicalization. This will take concerted efforts to target and eliminate the ideological presence of the extremist narrative, not just the physical hideouts and fighting militants.
In any counterinsurgency effort, one of the most important tool at the state’s disposal is foot intelligence down to individual streets and neighborhoods. Foot intelligence forms the cornerstone of counter-terrorism operations and efforts, and cannot be implemented without empowering and instating local government mechanisms.
All of this is pointless if the political will is occupied with battling the opposition, or worse, covering up wrongdoings of the ruling elite. The NAP is the number one national priority, and it needs to stay the course, irrespective of any political turmoil or instability in the country. Our collective future depends on it.