By Imran Khan
A Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) report about security situation in Pakistan in 2011 apparently starts with an optimistic note: “the last half of 2011 was a period of comparative peace in Pakistan”. However, during the same year, the report goes on to state, more than 6,000 civilians died, terrorism-related violence increased by eight percent in Khyber Pakhtunkhuwa and the FATA, and there were 103 sectarian attacks. The researchers at PIPS could not help being optimistic, for there was a 31 percent decrease in casualties and 25 percent decrease in suicide attacks as compared to previous years, notwithstanding that more than 6,000 people died.
Having lost at least more than 35,000 of her citizens to the phenomenon of terrorism in the last decade, Pakistan is one of the worst-affected countries. Even if we leave behind the tragic decade, and even if we forget all the terrorist attacks that happened in 2011, the self-inflicted curse – a curse that can be cured – will keep on haunting us. The country witnessed three major terrorist attacks during the last week. A terrorist attack on ANP rally on February 27, execution in Kohistan of 18 people from Shia community on February 28 and a suicide attack on PPP-S leader Aftab Ahmad Sherpao on Saturday.
In such extraordinary circumstances and time, one would have expected Pakistani state to deal with the issue as a priority and to have devised a national counter-terrorism strategy by now at least, after having suffered so dearly at the hands of terrorism. However, the state elites seriously lack the political will to work for long-term counter-terrorism goals. Three years after the current government announced to set up National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) in 2009, we still do not have an institution with the mandate initially envisaged for the NACTA. The NACTA was being set up as the leading institution entrusted with the task of devising a national counter-terrorism/extremism strategy. The government body was also supposed to supervise and coordinate the work of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
The print media has published dozens of news reports about the reasons why the NACTA is still ineffective – nay a “dead horse with a staff of 10 people” as senior journalist Umar Cheema put it in one of his investigative reports. The bottom line is NACTA – and with it thousands of people who are being killed in preventable acts of terrorism – was sacrificed at the altar of power politics. Rehman Malik, the Interior Minister, wanted NACTA to work under his supervision, whereas the first national coordinator of NACTA, Tariq Parvez wanted to report to the prime minster directly. Senator Raza Rabbani, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on National Security, and various provincial authorities also wanted NACTA to work under the PM rather than the interior minister, who doesn’t have a lot of credibility, to put it politely.
A very capable former police officer with an impeccable professional record, Tariq Parvez resigned from NACTA in July, 2010, expressing his anger and frustration over the government’s failure to let him work directly under the PM and to give a legal mandate to the NACTA by enacting NACTA Act. Since then, the government has appointed and changed three national coordinators and the fourth one is currently serving as the NC. The NACTA Act has not yet been tabled in the parliament. On the other hand, the jihadis have teamed up to form a Difa-e-Pakistan Council that has staged four major rallies in the country, attracting hundreds of thousands of people and spreading the ideology that fosters terrorism.
This is a first in a series of articles that will analyze what a comprehensive national counter-terrorism strategy should entail, with special emphasis on countering-extremism aspect, and how it will help prevent terrorism.