Cold blooded December By Sabbahuddin

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As always, the month of December returned once again this year. It is the fifth year this nation is enduring the remembrance of agony inflicted by the act of most heinous act of terrorism. The attack on Army Public School (APS) and the blood shed of innocent children on 16th of this fateful month was not only felt across the length and breadth of the country but shook the conscious of the world. Today the scars of this most cunningly planned, deeply inflicted and unforgettable grief remains fresh and bleeding.

The APS attack forced the nation to forget the political differences and sit at one forum to develop a National Action Plan (NAP). This plan became the unanimously declared will of entire nation. NAP reflected country’s resolve against terrorism and militancy. Pronounced as the foremost priority of both the government and the nation, NAP was seen listed at the top of every meeting agenda, policy document and newspaper columns. However, with the passage of time governments enthusiasm on NAP started to fade. Actually it could not be perused in letter and spirit on the ground from the very first day. Probably the reason was that no single institution was made responsible or took full responsibility for NAP’s implementation. Military was doing its bid but the forum formed on national level was not ready and couldn’t be organized to pursue the plan.

The successes achieved by intelligence agencies in the field are commendable, but war on terror is not over yet

The 19 or 20 points of NAP were actually the extract of the then Prime Minister’s address to nation after the December carnage. Thus NAP was actually the brain child of the Prime Ministers speech writer. However, although it was not all encompassing but the issues highlighted were relevant and required. NACTA was reorganized as federal authority vide NACTA Act 2013. It was to act as a focal national institution and unify state’s response in countering extremism and terrorism by combining the efforts of law enforcement & intelligence agencies. It was also mandated to formulate and implement policies & action plans through continuous research, adaptive innovation and ancillary mechanisms. NACTA was established with a much needed purpose for developing a coordinated strategy in consultation with the provinces to implement NAP. While about two dozen NAP implementation committees including four provincial apex committees were working to implement NAP, its ownership remained disputed among federal ministries and provincial administration. NACTA which never had the wherewithal for its most prioritized task, was always found limping and begging after the security agencies for the intelligence feed and resources. The Joint Intelligence Directorate established under NACTA had no integral intelligence to feed information to it. More than 400 officers from intelligence agencies including Intelligence Bureau, Inter-services Intelligence and Military Intelligence were transfused as fresh blood into the organization, but NACTA could not stand on its own feet. It was strange that the efficiently working intelligence agencies including the provincial counter terrorism departments were earning quite a good space in their battle against terrorism. While on the other hand, NACTA which was supposed to be a superior headquarter for these agencies,had become merely an information publishing body.

NACTA was supposed to coordinate counter terrorism effort in the entire country but due to complacency of governments, the organization was doing nothing beyond issuing threat warnings and alerts which the agencies in the field already knew. The information coming from NACTA was never actionable and what so ever actionable was obtained by the intelligence agencies, they were already coordinating swift actions with each other at their own. The Counter Terrorism Departments in Sindh and Punjab were performing much better than NACTA and achieving tangible results. NACTA was only gathering data such as lists of most wanted terrorists people already published in the Red Book by Federal Investigation Agency or the Fourth Schedule Elements whose list were actually prepared by provincial special branches or Counter Terrorism Departments.

One of the major task NACTA was assigned was to draft a national narrative or policy on countering extremism. What so ever was done in this regard, nothing is known to us so far. Reportedly, NACTA did prepare an initial draft but it seems it could not see a final implementable shape. Another important task was to focus on Counter Violent Extremist (CVE) efforts. NACTA could not initiate a single noteworthy project so far. Thus in nutshell, with a needy organizational structure, a vague legal status, zero legal powers, and funds consumed on administrative expenses and no steam in the organization to provide strategic guidance, NACTA is so far a big disappointment for the country. One can state this with no offence intended to the good people serving in organization since the fault doesn’t exist in tactical domain but subsists at policy level.

The successes achieved by intelligence agencies in the field are commendable, but war on terror is not over yet. Dismantling terrorist network as dreamed by National Action Plan is not yet fully complete. Much has been done but a lot needs to be done. In the recent months, NAP somehow has also got connected with FATF compliance issues in Pakistan. Government has to satisfy FATF observations regarding monitoring and regulation of funds for seminaries and religious charities. NACTA also needs to develop capacity as well as its capability to counter money-laundering activities. In short, NACTA could be instrumental to address FATF related issues.

In days to come, NACTA should be built and organized as a steering headquarter and not a mere intelligence sharing outfit. It is need of the hour to strengthen NACTA and focus once again on the NAP. The nation can bear the torment of Decembers in years ahead but cannot afford to see a dysfunctional organization failing in full filling its promises to nation in eliminating terrorism from the country.

Writer is a versatile analyst and a speaker on contemporary issues