By Saleem A Sethi, Pulse Magazine August 19th 2013
The government is likely to finally come out with the draft National Security Policy during the current session of the National Assembly after failing to evolve a ‘consensus’ on counter-terrorism measures. The efforts to evolve the so-called national consensus suffered serious setback when Imran Khan first went on foreign tour and then straightforwardly refused to participate in any All Parties’ Conference the government had planned to call for the purpose. Its fate seemed almost sealed when Maulana Fazlur Rahman also declared that there was no need for any more APCs after the one he had called some time back when another government was in power.
To begin with, the idea of building a ‘national consensus’ was and is a non-starter, and the holding of APCs aimed at preparing ground for surrendering before the terrorists in the disguise of ‘negotiations’ was nonsensical. But the seeming failure of successive governments and both the civilian and military security apparatus to meet the terror challenge during the past about 12 years compelled all and sundry to give a try to anything to break the deadly cycle; even something as outlandish as negotiating with those who have wedged a war against the state, if it could guarantee a respite in the unending killing spree.
The long wait finally ended today (August 13) when Minister for Interior, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan addressed a press conference and informed the media that his ministry will finalize a draft national security policy in about two weeks’ time. He also said that a meeting (an APC of sorts) of the political leaders will be held within this month in which four points will be put forward for consideration. These four points would be;
1) Should we continue with the old policy to tackle terrorism?
2) Should we go for the dialogue?
3) Should we use military option? Or,
4) Should we adopt a policy of carrot and stick?
Before starting discussion on anything else, it will be worthwhile to have a look at five+ layered draft National Security Policy some of the details of which have started coming out in the open. The draft policy, which will be called National Counter Terrorism and Extremism Policy, 2013 will be based on five main components or layers, i.e. a) Dismantle, b) Contain, c) Prevent, d)Educate and e) Re-integrate. There is an additional heading with title of ‘Foreign Policy’, but little details are available about it so far.
Though the policy is not yet final, the contents (as reported in The Express Tribune, August 13, 2013) under different heads and its salient features and outline will be something like this:
a) Dismantle: There will be zero-tolerance; the focus of the policy will be to eradicate and eliminate all the terrorist networks. No dialogue will be held with the leadership of terror groups. However, lower cadres will be negotiated with, facilitated and accommodated. Police will be the first line of defense and the first source of information by way of strengthening its role of ‘local intelligence’. Local police station will be its basic unit. An ‘institutionalized’ mechanism will be developed for intelligence-sharing across the provinces and intelligence agencies. The draft policy also aims at integrating military action with civilian follow-up. Moreover, revision of the entire legal system is envisaged in order to improve prosecution in terror related crimes.
b) Contain: It has three main parts; security against attacks, emergency response and victim management. A command and coordination structure will be developed to ensure efficient response in case of a terrorist attack and an institutionalized mechanism will be put in place to cater for the long-term needs of victims and their families.
c) Prevent: The main parts of this component will be; periodic re-assessment of the terror threat by National Counter Terrorism Authority, plugging terrorist financing and reviewing current border security management system (enhancing the capacity of border forces to check terrorists’ movement to and from Pakistan, since ‘deployment of army is not a permanent solution’ for it.
d) Educate: A gigantic task in the proposed policy is a review of the ‘country’s education sector to evaluate its role in the development of an extremist mindset and focus on reversing this trend’. This part is all encompassing as it does not discriminate between religious, public and private educational institutions or their curricula. It aims at reviewing everything from curriculum to textbooks and from teachers to schools. Promotion of district level extracurricular activities has been proposed to remove social cleavages that helps create terrorists’ sympathizers and recruits. It also suggests counter-terrorists propaganda through the media.
e) Re-integrate: As is obvious from the title, this component aims at reforming and re-integrating the ones who want to shun their ideology and be a part of the society once again.
The draft policy also suggests a ‘serious revisit’ of Pakistan’s current foreign policy as the country is faced with difficulties in its diplomatic relations. Other than that, little is known of this component as of yet.
Looking at the draft, everything seems hunk dory. But translating it into action seems to be herculean task. For a political scientist there are many complicated questions to be answered before predicting a successful or otherwise outcome of this seemingly serious attempt of the current civilian government. To begin with, a national security policy is the need of the hour. And the fact is that its formulation cannot be delayed any further due to the existential threat internal terrorism has posed to the state. So, in this context, no one will be able to criticize the effort in itself although some of the contents can be debated and disagreed with.
The first question that comes to mind is; is the military establishment on the same page with the civilian government on this issue. There can be both ‘yeses’ and ‘noes’ to this question. Firstly, the armed forces are direct victim of this terrorism wave. And the truth is that it has failed to overcome it on its own during the past about 12 years. So, it is necessary for the political leadership to take the ownership of a bitter war that might be necessary to be fought against an internal enemy – ‘one of our own’, so to say. Because, without that political ownership the nation may not stand behind its forces, particularly in a war that is being wedged in the name of religion. Up to that extent, the military establishment is likely to support the civilian setup in its endeavor.
But what about the fact that it will lose the policy-making initiative to civilians? Will it accept this reality after tasting the power of decision-making for such a long time? And has it really gone through a paradigm shift as far as its afghan outlook is concerned? Are the armed forces, or some sections amongst them, prepared to do away with all the ‘strategic assets’ they invested in during the past? And, really, what about the non-state actors that they produced for the Kashmir cause (notwithstanding the fact that some of them have now turned their guns on their mentor)? It is necessary to know answers to these questions because if the civilian and military setups are not thinking alike, the chances of success of the proposed national security policy come to almost none. Why? Because success of the first and the second last components – which incidentally are the most crucial among all – heavily depends on army’s active support; The first one, because terror networks can be ‘eliminated’ on ground only by the army; and second last, because indoctrination in education was introduced by it during Zia-ul-Haq’s time initially for Afghan Jihad and then for self-perpetuation. But chances are that the case won’t be like that, because this is not Zia-ul-Haq’s or Musharraf’s army anymore. And its aims may not be the same.
Second, third and fifth components, though, are correct in principle yet they can meet two stumbling blocks. These will need huge resources to train and equip police and border forces, and their capacity, to handle and perform the intelligence, investigation and prosecution duties on scientific basis or for the border forces to effectively monitor and secure the country’s borders to the satisfaction of all. This will also mean lessening of the armed forces’ role in both the geographical and intelligence domains. And this may prove to be the second, but even bigger, hurdle. Because the first stumbling block can be overcome with possible international financial support if they saw the civilian and military setups actually on the same page. But if the perception remained that there is an internal divide, nobody will come forward to offer help. How the armed forces react to these proposals can be seen in the days to come.
As mentioned above, reforming Pakistan’s education system is not a child’s play. Indoctrination in education is going on for a long time now. And everybody has been taking benefits out of it. Be it the religious parties, leaders, seminaries or terrorists’ networks or be it politicians or military establishment. The phenomenon has become so widespread that media, entertainment and advertising sectors are now taking advantage of people’s religiosity induced through this indoctrination. Large business concerns, even multi-national companies cannot claim ‘innocence’ in this regard: Look at the cellular phone companies’ Islamic services during Ramzan or the non-Muslim banks offering ‘interst-free’ Islamic banking. Or if you are still not convinced, then have a glance at Bareeze’s ideal “MAN” to realize what this education system and its resultant confusion has done to the state and society.
The government is likely to face a fierce reaction on this front. All like-minded segments are likely to unite and present it with a formidable challenge. These will include not only the vested interests but also general masses. Many of the politicians, outside the government, are also likely to play it to their advantage. The armed forces, if they are unhappy with the government tacit efforts to snatch its ‘authority’ back in national security and foreign policy spheres, can join the bandwagon and make it a real spoiler for the ruling party.
Be that as it may. But what is good for the country? And what should the government do? No one can dispute that terrorism and extremism have harmed Pakistan more than anything else in its 66 years history. Many are of the opinion that the problem of internal terrorism has turned into a threat to its very existence. And this is true because not only thousands of people lose their life in terrorists’ incidence and bombings but also that vital institutions of the country are under attack particularly those which have the responsibility to protect the country physically. Also its social fabric and values and even prevailing religious beliefs have been threatened. This grave situation demands a unified resolve of the nation to take it head on, no matter what it takes. But the confusion regarding the ‘enemy’s’ identity, its goals and objectives plus divisions among the state’s different institutions, political leadership and the masses have helped the menace to multiply. Keeping in view all this, the government’s current efforts seem to be with good intent and in the right direction. Chief of Army Staff has highlighted this fact more than one time during the past on year, starting August 13 last year when he termed ‘internal enemy’ to be a threat to national existence rather than any ‘external threat’. And in order to defeat it he wanted the whole nation behind the armed forces and a political leadership to own this war.
Now, when a political government is going to take an initiative, every political and non-political individual and institution has the responsibility to stand by it and support it. The current military leadership appears willing to do that – at least, to some extent. But the problem is likely to come from the political side where religio-political and right-leaning parties are likely to pressurize it adopting a policy of dialogue and the state giving in and accepting the extra-constitutional demands of those who refuse to accept the writ of the state. Though PPP, ANP, MQM and PkMAP are likely to come to its rescue, achieving total consensus is next to impossible. The government should try its best to win over the support of the remaining parties too. But help and support from Imran Khan’s Thehreek-i-Insaf for devising a comprehensive national security policy is crucially important and will make a lot of difference.
Achieving hundred percent ‘national consensus’ is a myth created by those who have vested interests and inherent benefits in the prolongation of current violent situation. Though last ditch efforts should be made to evolve a broad agreement on this issue of national importance, the government cannot and should not chase it anymore. It cannot delay a decision in this regard anymore. But the objectives should be clear; bringing the initiative of decision- and policy-making back to civilian domain and not surrendering to terrorists without a fight – the army’s stand on this issue should be appreciated and supported for once. It has been mandated and, therefore, is duty-bound to take ownership of a war that has turned existential in nature. Executives are elected for that purpose. Otherwise there is no justification for spending millions and billion on ‘electing’ and then running governments and keeping people’s destinies in its hands.
For the PML (N) government, time hit nail on the head is now. The more it delays the initiative, the more it will become weak and vulnerable. Time is of essence; political governments tend to crumble under the burden of incumbency. Increase in violence after the new government’s coming into power demonstrates this simple fact; the enemy wants to bring it on its knees before it even tries to stand on its feet. And this is but stating the obvious; this is our real last chance – not only for the government but for the survival of the state itself.