Pakistan’s powerful Army Chief General Raheel Sharif warned Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government, in the aftermath of Quetta’s massacre, that lack of proper implementation of the National Action Plan would result in serious consequences. The General said, “Establishing long term peace and stability in Pakistan would remain a ‘distant dream’ unless all stakeholders deliver meaningfully on the National Action Plan (NAP) against terrorism”.
The General’s remarks were indirectly responded to by Punjab Province’s Law Minister, Rana Sanullah. He stated, “If the criticism against military can take us away from our target, in the same fashion, criticism of our civilian institutions and law enforcement agencies can take us away from our objectives”. The ping pong approach to the shift in blame blatantly exposes the gaps in the Pakistani civilian-military approach in the fight against terrorism.
Gaps in Pak Civilian-Military Approach to Terrorism
Discrepancies in the Pakistan civilian-military approach to confronting terrorism and terrorists in the country has long been debated by independent analysts, who have viewed the policy with concerns. To analysts the reasons are obvious, the stakes for fighting terrorism are different for the military and civilian government are different.
Pakistan’s leading analysts caution on the widening gap between the state and military institutions. Most worrisome for them is perhaps their view of how Pakistan continuously insists that there is a distinction between good and bad Taliban. Meanwhile, Nawaz government is criticized by his opponents for failing to take action against extremist groups within in his home province of Punjab.
Although they share the same surnames, the two Sharifs hardly share the same views on terrorism apart from acknowledging it is a severe issue and shifting the blame on foreign entities. In the aftermath of the Quetta massacre both General Sharif and Prime Minister Sharif stated that a “foreign hand is involved,”
One State, Different Narratives
Former Pakistan Army General and leading security analyst, Talat Masood dubs the army stance that the civilian government is selectively pursuing the 20 point National Action Plan. “The army chief wants to put pressure on the civilian set up to make it more pro-active against the menace of terrorism”, says Talat Masood. General Masood says if the blame game continues, the gap between the two institutions can widen further.
However, Pakistan’s military campaign against terrorism in the tribal region titled, Zarbe- Azb has also come under serious scrutiny following the Quetta attack.
Pakistan Senate Chairman, Raza Rabbani, a respected voice within the Pakistani political scene, equaled Pakistan’s state approach to eliminating terrorism as ‘fire-fighting’; the state puts out one fire and then waits for the next fire to erupt. He called for changing the fundamentals of the strategy after the bloody Quetta massacre. Raza Rabbani’s sentiments on Pakistan’s policy on terrorism are echoed both in Pakistan and abroad.
Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Plan
Pakistan National Action Plan is a concise 20-point plan of action that PM Sharif’s government devised in the aftermath of Peshawar school massacre by terrorist outfit Tehreek Taliban Pakistan in December 2014. Analyst Zahid Hussain believes that selective implementation of the national action plan has yielded very limited results. “Hate material is still easily available in the country and the government claims of arresting thousands of terrorists under national security cannot be verified independently”.
Nawaz Sharif’s Punjab Problem
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif draws his political power from his home land Punjab, the largest province in Pakistan. His government is accused of inaction against Punjab based terrorists such as, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Analysts say inaction against militants, or simply the lack of it, in Punjab will diminish any gains operation Zarb-e-Azb’s has achieved. Their view. is that the root causes of extremism lay in Punjab and unless a decisive action is taken into action, counterterrorism efforts elsewhere will not be able to yield results.
‘Pakistan’s Enabling Environment is the Perfect Cultivation Ground for Extremism’
Michael Kugelman of Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC says an enabling environment in Pakistan allows terrorists to remain resilient. kugelman told VOA Deewa, “The issue here is the environment, the climate continues to be conducive for terrorists. You have the types of narratives, the types of ideologies that drive militancy and terror. This messaging coming from clerics, that appears in school text books, that you quite frankly hear on the television that talks about how India, the US and Israel are trying to surround and harm Pakistan and Islam. These are narratives that are everywhere across society in Pakistan. And these are the types of narratives that terrorists are able to act upon violently”.
Where is Pakistan Heading on Terrorism?
Experts think the more pressing issue at hand are the differences in the state and the military’s priorities. Both institutions are eager to pursue their own interests in the fight against terrorism. Regardless of what each side might say of its success, the nation is caught in a bloody quagmire due to institutional ambivalence. The nation bleeds and the ethnic Pashtun, Baloch, and Sindhis are the innocent bystanders of terrorism as the stakes of peace remain amidst disparities between the military and civilian government of Pakistan.
**Niala Mohammad contributing editor