Making Pakistan’s Anti-terror War More Effective

Pakistan needs reforms in its criminal justice system to strengthen anti-terrorism institutions, which remains on the wish list rather than actual implemented measures.

Posted on 11/23/15
By Ikram Sehgal | Via ViewsWeek
Policemen stand at the site of a terrorist attack on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, on February 12. (Photo via The Friday Times)
Policemen stand at the site of a terrorist attack on the outskirts of Peshawar, Pakistan, on February 12. (Photo via The Friday Times)

The National Action Plan (NAP) was crafted on an emergency basis by a panel of experts after the Dec 2014 terrorist attack on the Army Public School (APS) Peshawar.  NAP’s working mechanism comprises a three-tier structure consisting of a Federal Apex Committee chaired by the Prime Minister (PM), the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) and Provincial Apex Committees meant to facilitate NAP’s effective implementation and execution. However the comprehensive deterrence and response plans envisaged under the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) annunciated several months earlier by the Federal Interior Minister, Ch Nisar Ali Khan, have only been partially implemented or not at all. Relegated to lip-service only under the Zardari regime, NACTA placed as a bridge mechanism in the second tier as a bridge mechanism, remains toothless, symbolized by not yet having dedicated leadership.  A senior police officer, albeit a professionally competent one, has dual charge of both NACTA and the National Police Bureau (NPB).


Wide-ranging measures were envisaged against promotion of terrorism through the litany of fear, extremism, sectarianism and intolerance bring spread by means of electronic and print media, the internet and the social media.  NAP’s salient points included strict action against the dissemination of hatred and fear through radio, TV, literature, newspapers, magazines, etc. Many “chat rooms” and social media channels freely spread hate, no comprehensive plan is in place to check their proliferation. While some action has been taken against those media espousing hate, the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 is still inadequate to ensure convictions for such crimes.


Great emphasis was made on stopping of all funding of terrorists and terrorist outfits from internal and external sources, despite some steps from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), there is no real action plan to combat such money-laundering. One of the Khananis, who has now been arrested in the US against a sealed indictment by a grand jury, walked free from the courts in Pakistan notwithstanding a wealth of evidence against him. Who was paid off, the courts or those who prosecuted him? Many in Pakistan are bracing themselves to fend of Khanani’s disclosures in a bid to get “approver” status and/or a reduced sentence. Terrorists have already shifted to alternate money transfer, most of them hawala-based. There is a distinct lack of enthusiasm to control foreign funding to religious seminaries.  In somewhat of a macabre joke funds are still being directed to many defunct outfits still operating in the country under different names. Elements excelling in spreading sectarianism regularly operate madrassas without check, holding street protests and donation drives.


With no credible information existing about the mushrooming of unregistered madrassas, generally located in remote areas, constitutes a severe problem. Estimates put this figure as high as 12000 unregistered among 28,000 registered madrassas. They usually escape scrutiny since they occupy an additional room of a mosque where students are imparted Nazria Quran and Hifz lessons. To quote my article “Madrassah” dated May 20, 2010,  “Stretching from Jhang to Bahawalpur, South Punjab is an educational battleground, dotted with the most aggressive and militant of all madaris.  Dominated by feudal lords with large landholdings, the cities of this region are teeming with the poor masses, both controlled by jihadi groups. Private citizens from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait fund them generously.   Despite all the good talk, none of the Musharraf’s 2002 promises to reform madaris have been fulfilled or even come close to it.  Only three model madaris have been set up – one each in Karachi, Sukkur and Islamabad, a meagre 300 students in total. There is a dire need to fulfil the 2002 promises made by the Musharraf regime, more important is the need to implement alternatives to reduce the dependance of the poor and impoverished on a madrassah.”


A major concern is how the media serves the terrorists’ purpose by force-multiplying fear into the homes of citizens.  This is not inadvertent, it is meant to increase viewership and other than creating panic and despondency among the masses, it instils loss of confidence in the ability of the State to protect them.  Consider the effect of TV grabs of the recent Paris incident visibly displaying the panic and fear in the Paris population.  The laws curbing such dissemination from our electronic and print media must be strictly applied. The advances in modern electronics (and communications thereof) are such that despite imposing bans the west has not been able to prevent the Islamic State (IS) from spreading their ugly message on the internet.  Compared to the electronic capacity of the west, Pakistan simply does not have the necessary infrastructure to counter such a propaganda.


Reforms are needed in criminal courts to strengthen anti-terrorism institutions, this remains in the wish list rather than in actual implemented measures. It is very heartening to note that the Supreme Court (SC) is now very aware of the problems associated with terrorism.  Addressing the foundation stone-laying ceremony of construction of 10 Anti-Terrorism Courts (ATC) inside the Karachi Central Prison on Saturday to ensure swift trials of terrorism-related cases in a secure environment, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (CJ SC) Anwar Zaheer Jamali, said, “All sections of society, including judges, lawyers, policemen, security forces and general public, had to pay a price for being on the forefront of the war against terrorism, Pakistan is facing both internal and external threats.” According to the CJ SC, “ordinary steps are not enough to combat terrorism in an effective manner because the whole scenario had changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001. Better environment and protection of the appointed judges for ATCs is extremely crucial, this is equally important for provision of speedy and inexpensive justice,” unquote.


The Prime Minister’s rhetoric in repeated again and again says that extremism will not be tolerated in any part of the country, but is the PM’s enthusiasm being put into practice? Not according to the rather imbecile reaction of the government to the last Corps Commanders’ Conference where the mention of improving “governance” in a subsequent ISPR statement set off a furore despite the fact the everyone and his uncle knows that bad governance is Pakistan’s major problem. While the military has pursued the mandate agreed for tackling the terrorists successfully and that while the civilian response has certainly made some progress, it is neither enough nor has clear-cut and unambiguous tactical direction.


So why the rather knee-jerk reaction by the government’s minions, or was it simply a case of someone being peeved and spiteful on the eve of the Army Chief’s visit to the US?


The writer is a leading defense and political analyst of Pakistan. He can be contacted at

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