Talking or walking?

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The National Security Committee that met in the PM office on Thursday 21st February had much to discuss. As ever with anything related to security in Pakistan, especially when it comes to organisations that at least on paper are proscribed it was something of a triumph of style over substance.

The spur for debate was the complex situation that has arisen post to the Pulwama incident that saw about 44 Indian paramilitaries killed. India has been quick to hold Pakistan responsible, has revoked the Most Favoured Nation status and led a diplomatic charge to try to get Pakistan isolated diplomatically thus far with little or no success.

At the heart of the matter are two organisations – the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) led by Hafeez Saeed and its vast and very active charity arm Falah-i-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF). In February 2018 former president Mamnoon Hussain had promulgated an Ordinance that amended the Anti-Terrorism Act in respect of individuals or organisations that are deemed terrorist by the UN Security Council – a belated move but no less welcome for that. Consequently, both organisations became proscribed.

However, that proscription was not open-ended and they had ‘slipped off’ the national list of proscribed organisations – a slip that must have been known to those that have the power to ensure that they do not happen – and were it not for Pulwama they would likely have remained ‘slipped’ but there is now no escape, and they are now notified as proscribed by the Ministry of the Interior.

So far so good apart from any number of unvoiced caveats. First among these is the fact that FIF is, besides government and international agencies, the largest provider of social welfare in the country.

It plugs many of the gaps in the system and has almost legendary status for its oft-demonstrated capacity for rapid response in the time of natural disasters, delivering aid at the point of need often before other voluntary and statutory agencies.

The FIF has large reserves of qualified volunteers and materiel and is a loss to the nation because the state lacks the capacity to take over FIF operations. This was obvious within days of its proscription in 2018.

The NSC meeting moved on to the nuts and bolts of anti-terror activity by the state and the PM reiterated that the monopoly of violence remains in the hands of the state – a statement that is palpably untrue and has been for decades. More words followed – there is a need to ensure that militancy and extremism are ‘routed from society’ and the much-tattered National Action Plan (NAP) of 2014 was brought in by wheelchair as an example of that commitment.

The state, declared the PM, must never become hostage to extremists. He directed the Interior Ministry and the security institutions represented at the moot to ‘immediately accelerate actions on the ground’ in pursuit of the above goals.

As a nation we have been here before. Other governments have made identical solemn commitments but the extremist mindset has never been effectively countervailed, and the NAP is often honoured more in the breach than the implementation.

Talks have been endlessly talked but walks are considerably less evident. It is true that there has been a very considerable reduction in terrorist activity in the last two years, but the mindset that underpins it remains intact, indeed flourishes, and the proscription of the FIF and JuD is going to do nothing to reduce their power or influence. Only when mechanisms are in place to roll back the extremist paradigm can it be said that we are truly getting serious about what remains an existential challenge.

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