Translating the plan

Courtesy:- Malik Muhammad Ashraf

The twenty-point National Action Plan against terrorism devised through intensive week-long deliberations between the civilian and military leadership and consultation among the entire political leadership unanimously is undoubtedly the strongest ever statement of intent to deal with and eliminate terrorism in all its manifestations. 

It is for the first time in the history of the country that all the political and religious outfits have acknowledged the fight against terrorism as our own war; the military and political leadership have complimented each other for the sagacity and acumen to rise to the occasion; the entire political leadership is on one page regarding the objectives of the war on terror and there is an unqualified support for Operation Zarb-e-Azb against the terrorists.

What remains to be seen is whether this plan can be implemented in letter and spirit without any hiccups and will the government and the military establishment continue to enjoy the same support for the plan when it comes to firming up administrative, legal and constitutional measures to back the actions necessary for implementing it. There are already signs of some parties, after having supported the establishment of the military courts, expressing some reservations on the issue. There is also the possibility of military courts being challenged in the superior courts. Someone has probably already filed a petition with the superior court challenging the constitutionality of the proposal – even before the actual draft of the amendment has been finalised by the committee. 

It is pertinent to mention that the SC in its judgement in 1999 had rejected the idea of setting up of military courts to try terrorists for reasons of unconstitutionality. The SC might also, through a suo motu notice, take up the issue for adjudication, which might lead to abandoning the idea of setting up of the military courts unless the legal experts charged with the responsibility of framing the constitutional amendment can come up with a plausible solution acceptable to the judiciary or convince it about the inevitability of military courts in the backdrop of the Peshawar incident. 

One thing seems sure: the government will probably not have smooth sailing in this particular proposal. Whatever the outcome of the legal proceedings in this regard, it is regrettable on the part of the political parties to express reservations on the issue at this stage. They are better advised to remain steadfast for the sake of national unity which is pivotal to taking the fight against terrorism to its logical conclusion. 

The idea of setting up military courts obviously stems from the fact that the existing system of dispensing justice is not capable of dealing with the situation created by the burgeoning incidents of terrorism and acting as a deterrent against terrorism, which requires speedy process of punishing the culprits. The national consensus on the inability of the present judicial system to provide timely justice to the people, coming in the wake of the Peshawar incident, is all the more reason for initiating drastic reforms in the justice system and making it capable of dealing with all situations. Now is probably the right moment to go for the complete overhaul of the system to ensure cheap, fair and speedy justice to the citizens, which is their fundamental right irrespective of the fact whether the military courts are finally set up or not.

Another area where the government could face problems in pursuing the objectives of the national plan is likely to be defining the role of the media during the phase of its implementation. It would perhaps be advisable for the government to involve the media in drawing up the necessary proposals and guidelines for the media instead of promulgating laws or regulatory measures on its own because it would certainly try to safeguard its new-found independence and the step might also be opposed and criticised by international media bodies besides invoking criticism from human rights organisations. It is hoped the media understands the gravity of the situation and will be more than willing to cooperate with the government in promoting the national cause and owning it as well.

Dealing with issues related to the registration of unregistered madressahs and devising a mechanism to monitor their activities, which is absolutely essential to fight terrorism on the ideological front, and redefining their role under the changed circumstances are also sensitive areas of the proposed plan. Voices are already being heard opposing an intrusive and coercive course of action against them. The involvement of the religious scholars, ulemas and other stakeholders in devising a strategy to check terrorism philosophies in their tracks, should be a preferable course to adopt to avoid an ambience of confrontation and resistance by madressahs and their supporters who undoubtedly are in millions around the country. 

The Nation Action Plan mostly pertains to the internal dimensions that are at play in tackling terrorism and religious extremism. It would perhaps be fair to the present government to mention that, with the backing and support of the military leadership, through its initiatives to build a national consensus on tackling terrorism it has shown greater commitment and sincerity of purpose than the previous regimes. It can rightly boast of formulating the National Internal Security Policy for the first time, initiating dialogue with TTP with the blessings of the military and political leadership – which regrettably failed to succeed – initiating Operation Zarb-e-Azb against the terrorists and launching a decisive action against terrorists after mayhem at Peshawar. 

The current government has also devised an effective strategy to deal with the external dimensions of the problem by forging a cooperative relationship with the Afghan government for fighting terrorism. There are visible signs of this cooperation and coordination making its impact. There is a need for persistent efforts to strengthen that cooperation through coordinated efforts to make sure that terrorists can neither carry out operations in Pakistan nor in Afghanistan. For this both the countries will have to collectively monitor the border between the two countries.

The military authorities of the two countries and Isaf commander are already engaged in a continuous process of consultations to pursue this objective. Elimination of terrorism in Pakistan is inextricably linked to peace in Afghanistan. Therefore Pakistan not only needs to deal with the problem militarily in cooperation with the Afghan government but also to strengthen the hands of the latter in promoting process of reconciliation with Taliban. As is evident the elimination of terrorism requires persistent and determined efforts in dealing with the internal and external aspects of the phenomenon with the unstinted support of the entire nation for the efforts of the government and the military establishment. The challenge is arduous and difficult but not insurmountable.


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