Albert Einstein defined the word ‘insanity’ as doing something over and over again, while expecting a different result. Apparently more insane is the way the government has shied away from implementing Pakistan’s 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism, announced by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his televised speech in the wake of the brutal terrorist attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar. While the plan looks good on paper, the situation on the ground remains worryingly dire and unchanged.
The plan talks about countering hate speech and extremist material, choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organizations, ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organizations, taking effective steps against religious persecution and dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists. The point number 3 of the plan emphasizes on the commitment to ensure that no armed militias are allowed to function in the country while points 10 and 11 talk about registration and regulation of religious seminaries and ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media.
Banned outfits are not only operating under new names but their leaders and sympathisers are being given widespread coverage on both print and electronic media with due gratitude and reverence. Soon after the plan was announced the religious and politico-religious parties started giving the impression that religion was being targeted by the national action plan. Crumbling under the pressure, the government started issuing statements in flagrant contradiction to the plan.
While General Secretary Wafaqul Madaris Alarbia Qari Muhammad Hanif Jalandhri Deobandi vowed to defend ‘sovereignty, freedom and the Islamic education system’ of religious seminaries at any cost, Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was quick to assure him that the Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) government has no plan of taking action against religious seminaries and apprehensions in this regard are baseless. The federation of the religious seminaries is considered the biggest board of Deobandi school of thought having more than 18,000 religious seminaries. Thus the usefulness of the plan aimed at countering terrorism may well be summed up as doing something over and over again just for the sake of it and not even bothering about the result. Whom are we fooling? Do the authorities even realise that this ostrich-like strategy to counter terrorism is delusional, futile and ridiculously absurd.
Ironically, the government has, for the first time, admitted that close to 80 seminaries operating in Pakistan are receiving financial support from a dozen countries. The seminaries received funds of worth Rs300 million during 2013-14. In a supplementary report submitted to Senate Standing Committee on Rules of Procedure and Privileges, Punjab police is said to have disclosed that over 950 seminaries in Punjab only are receiving hundreds of millions of rupees from Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and some 14 other Muslim and non-Muslim countries. According to a newspaper report, citing Wikileaks, published in 2011, charities from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates financed a network in Pakistan that recruited children as young as eight to wage “holy war”. A US diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks said financial support estimated at $100 million a year was making its way from those Gulf Arab states to an extremist recruitment network in Pakistan’s Punjab province.
Aside from the “routine” targeted killings, Pakistan has witnessed five major terrorist attacks after the ghastly attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar that left 148 people, including more than 100 children, dead. Pakistan’s beleaguered Shia community was the target of four out of the five attacks. A powerful blast rattled an Imambargah, in a densely populated area of Rawalpindi on January 9, killing at least eight people and wounding at least 16 others. At the time of the blast, an Eid Miladun Nabi (PBUH) congregation was being observed at the Imambargah. On January 30, at least 62 Shias were killed and 55 others wounded in an explosion during Friday prayers at a packed Shia mosque in Sindh province’s Shikarpur district; the deadliest sectarian attack to hit the country in recent times. While in the 3rd attack 22 Shias were martyred when the Deobandi Taliban stormed a Shia mosque in the Hayatabad area of Peshawar on February 13.
And only a day after a deadly attack outside the Police Lines in Lahore, a lone suicide bomber killed three persons at an Imambargah in Islamabad but failed to enter the main prayer hall or detonate his explosive vest thanks to the fact that the suicide vest partially exploded or else there would have been many more casualties. Each of these devastating terrorist attacks was followed by the same old hollow promises of not sparing those involved in the ghastly attack, tall claims of weeding out terrorism and good-for-nothing statements like ‘terrorists can’t weaken the government’s resolve to combat terrorism by such cowardly attacks’. Needless to say that none of the aforementioned responses, repeated for the umpteenth time, ever translated into something meaningful and thus the systematic killing of the members of Pakistan’s Shia community continues with absolute impunity.
While the blast in Rawalpindi was followed by equivocal statements condemning the attack and hollow promises by the government officials to get the killers, the aftermath of the Shikarpur blast took a relatively different turn when civil society members including women and children staged a sit-in outside the Chief Minister House in Karachi to press the authorities to take action against banned organizations. The protesters called upon the government for the immediate implementation of their four key demands: List and name all the banned organisations on media, close the offices of all these banned organisations, remove their flags and their graffiti, take action against the Karachi head of the Deobandi ASWJ, formerly known as Sipah e Sahaba, Aurangzeb Farooqi Deobandi and take away his police protocol and lastly, those injured in the Shikarpur blast be transferred from Larkana and Shikarpur to Karachi for further treatment at the government’s expense.
It’s quite absurd that while CM Sindh was chairing the meetings to review progress on the implementation of the National Action Plan, a group of civil society members had to stage a sit-in outside his residence to demand precisely what the very same plan talks about since the aforementioned demands are in absolute harmony with the points 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 11 and 18 of the National Action Plan. Quite preposterously, the peaceful protesters and members of the civil society ended up behind the bars while the goons of the outlawed Deobandi Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamat (ASWJ) were allowed to hold a public rally.
The ongoing spate of targeted terrorist attacks is an indictment of years of flawed policies, opportunist patronage politics and strategic frivolity. And quite deplorably I don’t see that changing anytime soon. We are reaping a harvest of blood as the bodies of our loved ones keep piling up around us. Things look grim and gloomy to me. The PML-N government’s lack of seriousness about curbing religious persecution can be gauged from the fact that on the recommendation of the Punjab Police, Punjab Government recently issued stipend of worth Rs75000 to Malik Ishaq who had told an Urdu daily in 1997 that he was involved in the killing of 102 Shias.
The state of Pakistan still lacks clarity on extremism and the capacity to fight it. Let alone combating terrorism, the authorities are not even showing any intent to fight this menace. The government needs to realise that no plan is any good if you do not have the nerve to carry out the plan. Instead of hiding behind flimsy excuses, the civil and military leadership needs to set its priorities straight and clarify if they really want to combat the existential threat to Pakistan posed by extremists, before these ruthless terrorists impose their own partisan, barbaric, draconian and un-Islamic views on all of us.
In the longer run, the state needs to protect not only the communities’ physical spaces but also combat the extremists on the intellectual front. Although the proliferation of extremists is an immediate threat, there is also a pressing need to establish an anti-extremism and anti-terrorism narrative. Those at the helm of affairs will have to ensure that there is no discrimination between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban and the war against terrorism will continue till the last terrorist is eliminated. If the authorities are serious about eliminating terrorism, this is the time they will have to walk the talk. And if they don’t, the much publicised ‘National Action Plan’ (NAP) for countering terrorism and extremism will go down as ‘No Action Plan’ in the history of this country which, according to a report by Global Terrorism Index, currently ranks third in the most terrorism affected countries of the world.