Four and a half months have passed since the heart-rendering Peshawar tragedy named as the ‘Pakistan’s 9/11’ took place on December 16, 2014, where terrorists attacked the Army Public School, leaving 141 people dead including; 132 students and 9 school staff. This horrible incident jolted the whole world, and this unimaginable tragedy was mourned, and special prayer services were held all over the world, even in India, where the students sporting black bands observed a two-minute silence to express solidarity with Pakistan following an appeal from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Although this was the most painful and dastardly terror attack, yet this incident proved as a turning point for Pakistan. This incident helped to change the stance on terrorism of political and religious leadership of Pakistan, who used to consider war against terrorism as the war of America, not of Pakistan; and used to demand office for them to operate their activities. Even the incident has helped to eliminate the misconception about the distinction between good and bad Taliban among public and leadership, who used to suggest action against bad Taliban and talks with good Taliban. It is encouraging that the religious groups and political forces having soft corners for Taliban started supporting the military operation against militants, which have been justifying their terrorist activities, and calling dead terrorists as Martyrs in the past.
Responding to the Peshawar tragedy, the government called several All Parties Conferences (APCs) to take key stakeholders on board to fight the menace of terrorism, where political and military leadership took oath to eliminate terrorists for better future of Pakistan. The 20-point National Action Plan (NAP) on 24 December 2014 was agreed upon by the country’s political and military leadership to rid the country of extremism and terrorism, following the gruesome attack on School at Peshawar. The NAP led to the formation of 20 committees to deal with various aspects of counter-terrorism; particular blocking financing and breaking communication network of the terrorist groups. The APC members decided to deal with terrorists in a different manner by initiating their trials in the special courts headed by military officers to deal with extraordinary problem with extraordinary solution, because no one dares to give testimony against terrorists, so judges have to give acquittal to them in existing court due to lack of evidence against them. The parliament adopted 21st Constitutional amendment bill and the Pakistan Army (Amendment) Bill on 6th January 2015 to provide legal cover to the military courts.
No doubt, the government has also taken several measures to curb extremism and terrorism since December 2014. It has introduced national action plan to counter terrorism, created several laws, made several arrests and established a special force to deal with extremism and terrorism. Moreover, Provincial Apex committees consisting of both military and political leadership have been formed for effective coordination between the civil administration and the local military commanders and intelligence heads.
The recent report presented to Prime Minister of Pakistan, Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on actions taken under the National Action Plan from December 24, 2014 to April 1, 2015 states that security agencies conducted 30,314 combing search operations and 3,019 Intelligence-Based Operations throughout the country including; Punjab, Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Islamabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), Gilgit- Baltistan and Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to nab suspected terrorists and their facilitators. The government since launch of the National Action Plan (NAP) has executed 65 criminals, including hardcore terrorists while law enforcement agencies arrested 34,517 people on different charges across the country. According to the data, around 20,024 Afghan Refugees have been deported, whereas 358,288 have been registered. In total, 955 cases have been registered for spreading hate speech and material. The cellular mobile companies, in cooperation with the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) have so far verified 42.84 million SIMs.
It is a known fact that the terrorism in Pakistan is the result of the country’s Afghan policy in the 1980s, therefore the government must formulate policies keeping in view the supreme interest of the Pakistani nation. The successive governments and armed forces in Pakistan have been supporting and training militants for vested interests in the past, and have been playing both sides of the field in war against terrorism, following their dual policy on counter-terrorism. Even the sitting government was reluctant to launch military operation against militants, and supporting talks with Taliban. When the strategy to hold talks with militants did not work, then the army launched action against Taliban called Zarb-e-Azb in second quarter of 2014, but the real army operation against militants started after the Taliban had attacked children in a School at Peshawar.
The madrasas have been used as the bases of promotion of hatred for other sects and religions, leading to fragmentation of society. Therefore, the government must take madrassa organizers into confidence to remove their reservations on integrating madrassa education with mainstream education; register all madrassas with the education boards of Pakistan, giving them the status of schools so as to link them with the mainstream education system; and allocate sufficient funds for them in the national education budget so that they could run their institutions without resorting to foreign funding for sustainability. The education being imparted in madrassas must not be limited to religious scripts. Therefore is a need to form a balanced and unified syllabus that includes religious, scientific knowledge and computer education to enable madrassas students to pursue higher education, compete in the global world and become productive citizens, and no madrassa shall be allowed to teach any text which promotes militancy, sectarianism or religious hatred.
It is also imperative to monitor the speeches made by clerics during Friday prayers across Pakistan. In this regard, several options could be tested, such as; a committee of key religious leaders from different denominations be formed to jointly issue content of the speech to be delivered by the clerics during Friday prayer in Mosque, the content could also be published in Newspapers. There is a need for investment in the alternative means particularly broader program to tackle the root causes and various facets of hate, beginning from the educa¬tion sector to state-level campaigns involving civil-society led initiatives, which will serve as best antidote to combat extremism, inequality and structural discrimination. A joint committee of religious scholars hailing from major sectarian and religious groups must be established to approve the syllabus for schools and seminaries for the prevention of hate material on sectarian and religious basis, and awareness material regarding different faiths must be included with due respect without hurting sentiments of faith practitioners.
The federal minister for interior, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has claimed in a press conference that 10% of the madrassa (religious seminaries) in Pakistan are directly or indirectly involved in the terrorism, but he has not yet made public the list of seminaries as well as proscribed organizations promoting terrorism and extremism, which gives the impression that the government is not implementing NAP across the board, instead using selective approach.
Reaffirming its commitment to combat terrorism, the government of Pakistan must announce 16 December as the national day to express solidarity with victims of terrorism.
The government seems determined to eliminate terrorist networks in every nook and corner of the country, but it is yet to be seen how the government with centre-right and conservative image manages to curb menace of extremism, leading to terrorism. There is lack of political will, conviction and courage among political parties to counter extremism; therefore, curbing terrorism will not serve the purpose unless the nursery of extremism is rooted out.