Thursday, March 23, 2017

OPED: NAP - the Second Coming



Published by National Herald Tribune March 2017



A 20 point National Action Plan devised in January 2015 identified key issues that needed to be resolved on an urgent basis. It looked perfect on paper and ceded space to military courts; kick-started the process of refugee reparation; proposed actions against banned organizations and recommended the registration of seminaries. The proposal though ambitious appeared to be well crafted and would ultimately become the cornerstone of Operation Zarb-e-Azb. Its implementation however left a lot to be desired.

NAP was supposed to bring sweeping reforms in the realm of education, criminal justice, religious seminaries, FATA; have zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab, strengthen NACTA - National Counter Terrorism Authority and fortify the security parameters.

It led to a marked improvement in Karachi’s security. Fencing was considered along the Western front despite resistance by the neighbors. And the moratorium was lifted on death penalties for terror suspects. An uneasy calm had descended, only to be shattered soon since all the elements of the NAP couldn’t be put in motion. It had failed to factor in the political will or lack thereof and the limitations of its reach.

There were too many working parts to the plan and not enough qualified handlers to supervise its seamless coordination. There were Machiavellian politics at play while the fate of the nation hung in balance.

Though 2300 Seminaries were reportedly shuttered in Sindh, the rest of the provinces lagged behind in the geo-tagging and registration department. Havens in Punjab were left untouched; the floundering justice system that enables a corrupt mindset kept festering. And a civil military divide appeared instead of the unity everyone expected. Corruption would be the leading headline and the as yet unreformed justice system was expected to deliver a fair verdict for cases against the ruling elite.

After a month of violence, NAP is back on the table; as are the military tribunals. Now that the conversation has circled back to the unrealized vision, the path has to be cleared for its speedy implementation. And though the army wants to fast track the process, how realistic is their wish-list given the fundamental flaws in the basic premise?

It would need tweaking to compensate for the flailing system. It may require the leaders to reinforce the message and fix misplaced priorities. It will need an intervention when the debate turns to regressive policies that hearken to the Talibanization era in the academic circles by enforcing mandatory head gear for female students instead of initiating educational reforms. And when crucial time is wasted playing to the mullah gallery by chasing blasphemous content across the cyber-world, threatening bans on social media, and issuing threats against liberal voices on behalf of extremist agendas. Or, when complacency sets in and petty politics and power-plays take precedence over more pressing matters like life, liberty and the integrity of a nation.

The first NAP misread the commitment. It was a glossy piece of paper that assumed the existence of well oiled cogs in the state machinery ready to spring into action when called to battle. In reality the civilian infrastructure has deteriorated to a point that bringing it back to life will require serious negotiations along with investments in time, resources, and trusty watch-dogs to oversee and deliver results via progress reports.

It would need to assess the difficulties encountered in the first round and devise practical solutions that make room for stakeholders concerns without compromising its core agenda. The Action Plan is basically ‘terraforming’ – in that it is now attempting to alter the very fabric of national disunity to encourage the return of its founding fathers original design that proposed the highest standards of excellence. It will have resistance not just from the ideology it is trying to expunge – but also the powers that be who benefit from the politicized security forces at their beck and call and a blanket immunity to permit the blatant misuse of the taxpayers’ money. The blowback that comes from pulling the plug on their power source should have an appropriate response handy.

Is the new improved vision ready to fix those oversights? Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad launched in February in response to the bloody wave of terror that swept through the region is supposedly an extension of NAP I. There is a deweaponization drive, awareness campaigns to mobilize the nation and broad spectrum security CT (counter terrorism) operations authorized in previously no go areas like Punjab. And yes, FATA is set to join KPK.

Despite these optimistic indicators – expectations are low. Unless the bold vision can clear through the rubble in time to convince stakeholders that the show of unity and strength across the board may turn the tide in Pakistan’s favor. That the impenetrable wall of resistance they aim to build can only be fortified with intuitive policies designed to adapt to a changing threat matrix on a priority basis. And that this will be a mission critical component to the overarching goal of nation-building. NAP II cannot become a hatchet job and must succeed because if it falls short in any department – the entire scheme will start to unravel. Will Pakistan be able to survive another betrayal?

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