A year after APS attack, Pakistan still at crossroads | Pakistan Today

A year after APS attack, Pakistan still at crossroads

  • PPP Co-Chairman Asif Zardari asks for honest assessment of the many failures that had taken place under NAP
  • MQM leader says counter narrative that is needed to eradicate extremism is not there

On December 16, 2014, the kind of bloodshed Pakistan witnessed wrangled it out of its sleep. The country had seen so much carnage and brutality that there was little that could happen to take it by surprise!

Progress on the National Action Plan (NAP) has come under fire time and again. It most recently caused chaos after the corps commanders’ meeting in November denounced ‘government initiatives’ in not such nice terms. The ISPR statement highlighted the “incumbent government’s incompetence to fight the war against terror”.

A need for complementary initiatives was highlighted by Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif at the time. While the National Assembly was quick to side with the government and announce that ISPR’s statement was out of line, it could not deny entirely what the statement said.

Political leaders and analysts from across the board doesn’t seem much happy with the progress either.

Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari, in a statement released through his spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar, paid tribute to those that were killed in the attack, only to follow it up with acerbic criticism.

The former president asked for an honest assessment of the many failures that had taken place under NAP, and further said that ruthless accountability was the need of the hour.

“Abysmal failure in implementing the NAP amounts to rejecting the sacrifices of countless shuhada of the armed forces, the paramilitary forces, the police and the civilians in the fight against militancy and extremism,” he said.

The former president said that the absence of progress in core areas of NAP, including action against proscribed organisations, reforms of madaris, structural reforms in FATA, reforms in criminal justice system, empowering NACTA and bringing all intelligence agencies under its umbrella, were alarming.

He said that banned militant organisations have resurfaced under different names, while pretending they are only around for charity work. He claimed that even the parliament has been misguided on the matter. Structural reforms in tribal areas have been buried under one committee after the other.

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) is also nothing to be proud of. And openly extremist people are continuing their hate filled rhetoric, and even inviting Da’ish to come to Pakistan, he said.

Homage can only be paid through real, practical implementation of the NAP, he said.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) senior leader and Member of of the Provincial Assembly of Sindh, Faisal Sabzwari’s views don’t stray too far from those of the former president.

“I think what has changed in a year is that before what we used to say – even mainstream political parties did this – that the Taliban were our brothers, but now they have trouble saying that,” he told Pakistan Today.

“I don’t think there has been a change of policy, because the public perception after APS was such that they could either stay quiet or they had to say ‘okay the government and army will act now’. Unfortunately, the counter narrative that is needed to eradicate extremism is not there,” he lamented.

Sabzwari felt that Pakistan is only tackling the end product of an extremist mindset i.e. the person who makes the bomb, or the person who explodes it.

“We are not tackling the mindset that is creating sleeper cells and turning them towards this path. Students and professionals that are falling prey to this mindset… were we able to conquer their mindset? That is the question. When people like Maulana Abdul Aziz can sit in the heart of Islamabad and challenge the writ of the government very openly, and extend support to a terrorist organisation… what progress have we made?” he questioned.

Sabzwari felt that political parties were also to blame. “Frankly speaking the major political parties of cht country have had their fortress in Punjab and the National Assembly is such that most of the seats come from Punjab. The right wing approach that breeds extremism is right there. To appease the right wing your major political parties partake in hateful sloganeering or allow it to happen,” he asserted.

The MQM leader questioned what the point was if the mindset was not being questioned.

“Forget the madrassas, have you changed the right wing? Have you challenged the khutbas on Friday? Have you changed the curriculum in your schools? Did you ensure that extremist organisations won’t be able to function simply by changing their names?” he asked of the ruling party.

“The government is shying away from the issue, and I won’t suggest that they do not have the courage to do what needs to be done – it’s the will that matters,” he stressed.

Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed said that the government has shown absolutely no progress.

Rasheed said that he didn’t see the situation taking a turn for the better anytime soon.

“I don’t think APS changed anything in this country. I don’t see it and there is no big change,” he said.

Members of the PTI itself have gone on record right after the ISPR statement in November to lay blame back to the government.

“We have told the government to perform from time to time but they have no interest,” Shah Mehmood Qureshi had said while addressing the National Assembly during a session on November 11. The PTI leader said that the statement should trouble both the Centre and the government, and further asked that the House be briefed on what the government was up to when it came to NAP.

Awami National Party President Asfandyar Wali Khan, through a statement issued from the party’s central secretariat, said that it’s been a full year since the tragedy happened, but facts about what took place are yet to be made public.

“One year of the tragedy has passed, but neither facts have been made public nor was judicial commission formed to conduct inquiry and demands of the parents are not addressed,” the statement said.

Khan was of the view that the government had done a disservice to parents and victims by not ordering a judicial inquiry into the attack. Like heads and leaders of other political parties, Khan too pushed for implementation of NAP, and more concrete measures rid the country of terrorism.

Khan highlighted that the parliament was not being taken into confidence over NAP. The plan doesn’t even have its own committee that can help foresee progress. The attack in Parachinar is evidence of the fact that terror producing ‘factories’ are still hard at work – and that is only because NAP has not been implemented in full.

Saroop Ijaz, lawyer and the Pakistan Researcher at Human Rights Watch, thinks that the APS incident was indeed a watershed moment for Pakistan, however, the official response can be called a mixed bag at best, especially the NAP.

“There were some good things, like cracking down on hate speech or terror financing. However, there are some things that the state should have resisted, such as the military courts. I think that was misguided to begin with,” Ijaz said.

“What should have happened was more investment in a viable functional criminal justice system as opposed to creating a system with lack of transparency and accountability – and same goes for the executions,” he added.

However, Ijaz felt that change would come at its own pace, and expecting a large amount of progress in just a year was unrealistic.

“Some things have changed, Mumtaz Qadri was in fact sentenced and it was a judgement by the Supreme Court, which took a position on not only the murder but on blasphemy itself – the freedom to criticise the law,” he said while acknowledging that one ruling would not undo the support that people like Mumtaz Qadri have.

“I think because we work in an enabling environment for hatred and extremisms… to undo what three and a half decades of foreign and internal security policy has bred will take time and what we can demand is thought-course correction,” he said.

Ijaz pointed out that the larger problem lies with not strengthening civilian institutions. “It is imperative that the civilian government and the military work on this together. What you need now is functional institutions. There hasn’t been much done in terms of institution building and capacity building of the civilian state, to tackle the very complex security challenge that Pakistan faces,” he added.

Pakistan Today tried repeatedly to contact Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Punjab government’s spokesperson Zaeem Qadri but all three leaders were unavailable on their cell numbers.

Luavut Zahid

Luavut Zahid is Pakistan Today’s Special Correspondent. Her work places an emphasis on conflict and disasters, human rights, religious and sexual minorities, climate change, development and governance. She also serves as the Pakistan Correspondent to the Crisis Response Journal. She can be reached at: [email protected], and she tweets at: @luavut.

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