zeroing-in

Not on the same page

By: Editorial Team
Published: November 23, 2016
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Will the Army Chief’s expression of dismay over the government’s poor performance on NAP motivate it to step up its role?

The terrorist bombing at the Civil Hospital in Quetta, in August, which killed more than 70 people, has once again highlighted the unstable fault line between the military and civil leadership on combating the twin perils of terrorism and extremism.

While the military has the success of Operation Zarb-e-Azb to its credit, the civilian leadership, unfortunately, has yet to make any significant contribution to this internal war, barring the lip-service often paid to the issue and attempts to steal the credit from the actual initiators of this massive effort.
No wonder then, that in the aftermath of the blast in Quetta, some of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s supporters and political allies attempted to shift the blame onto security forces and perceived intelligence failure, primarily to deflect mounting criticism over criminal negligence in implementing the National Action Plan (NAP). The plan was announced by the political leadership of the country in January 2015 after the brutal terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar on December 16.

Many ruling party politicians and their allied media – by design or by default – chose to ignore the sharp decline in terrorist attacks and bombs explosions since the launch of Zarb-e-Azb on June 15, 2014 in the wake of a terrorist attack on Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport.

Public Dismay

The military leadership, however, took a holistic view of the situation. In the Aug 12 meeting of top military commanders at the General Headquarters, Chief of the Army Staff General Raheel Sharif, articulated the fundamental obstacle in combating terrorism with these words: “the National Action Plan is central to the achievement of our objectives and its lack of progress is affecting the consolidation phase of Operation Zarb-i-Azb.”
The expression of public dismay by the Army Chief over the poor enforcement of the NAP should not have come as a bolt from the blue for Prime Minister Sharif and his small, family-dominated ruling coterie.

In fact, before going public on this sensitive issue for the second time over a period of nine months, the military leadership had been pressing for the implementation of NAP, behind closed door meetings in almost every engagement with the prime minister and his team.

In the aftermath of the blast in Quetta, some of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s supporters and political allies attempted to shift the blame onto security forces and perceived intelligence failure

The expression of public dismay by the Army Chief over the poor enforcement of the NAP should not have come as a bolt from the blue for Prime Minister Sharif and his small, family-dominated ruling coterie.

NAP not a Priority

Yet, the NAP has failed to appear on the priority list of the civilian government of Sharif, who seemed to have time, strength and resources for almost everything else, bar the country’s make-or-break war against terrorism and the extremist mindset.

The Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) government has virtually left the military, fighting in this operation, by itself. This position of the PML-N decision-makers’ appears in line with their deep-seated thinking, which instead of taking on the terrorists, favours pursuing a policy of appeasement. Peace talks were deemed the need of the hour during the crucial months leading up to the attack on the Army Public School.

As a result, the political space created by the military in the conflict-hit areas was never utilized by the civilian leadership. The government also failed to take the ideological ownership of Zarb-e-Azb and efforts to create a counter-narrative to challenge the extremist and terrorist mindset have been sporadic and unconvincing.

Failing to Reform

Barring lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty and the establishment of military courts, which were done under tremendous public pressure, the PML-N government miserably failed in implementing any of the other remaining points listed in the NAP. The government did not attempt to choke funds of terrorist groups. Nor has the government introduced simple and basic police and judicial reforms. It also spewed more heat and noise, on the issue of hate-speech and introducing seminary reforms, rather than delivering on them.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) remains directionless and the government has refused to give a free hand to the security forces to take action against extremists in Punjab –- the breeding ground of different shades of terrorists, which further complicated the situation.

Will the Army Chief’s expression of dismay over the government’s poor performance on NAP motivate it to step up its role? Experience shows that the civilian Sharif believes more in passing and gaining time than taking any meaningful steps. After all, what is the need for him to change, so long as he is calling the shots on ventures which are close to his heart and mind?

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Editorial Team
The Editorial team of Bol Narratives