Now the hard part

By Irfan Husain
Crackdown extremist groups. Offices and bank accounts sealed. Madressahs and clinics run by the charitable arms of militant organisations taken over.
So far, so good. But this was the easy part, and has also been attempted by past governments. But soon, the political bill is presented, and judicial and bureaucratic lethargy kicks in. Those arrested are released due to a lack of evidence as witnesses are often terrified of appearing against vicious killers. And judges, too, have been known to succumb to fear.
The ongoing crackdown against proscribed jihadi groups has clearly come due to the threat of being placed on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) ‘blacklist’. For some time, we have been in the limbo of the ‘grey list’, and now have until May to clean up our act.
Many Indians insist that it was their recent raid in Balakot that has pushed Pakistan into taking action. Frankly, I couldn’t care less if the Martians had pressured us into doing something we should have done years ago. As long as the job gets done, everybody is welcome to claim the credit.
The toughest bit is to drain the swamp of the extremist venom.
But the cynic in me sounds a warning note: we’ve been here before. Déjà-vu. Grabbing the suspects is the easy part as they have been free to roam around in public despite being on several terrorism lists. The hard part is to try and sentence them. And the toughest bit is to drain the swamp of the extremist venom that has poisoned the public discourse.
In Pakistan, an entire generation has grown up thinking it is normal for terrorist gangs to operate freely, apparently with the blessings of the state. So whenever there’s a terrorist atrocity in our neighbourhood, and a Pakistan-based organisation claims credit for the operation, the mantra from the Foreign Office, talking heads on TV, and much of the public is: ‘where’s the proof?’
Many years ago, I met a very senior air force officer at a party in Karachi, and asked him about our use of jihadi militants in Kashmir. “You civilians don’t understand,” he said in an obnoxiously superior tone. “With about 5,000 fighters, we have tied up several divisions of the Indian army in Kashmir. Had it not been for our boys, these divisions would have been on our border.”
This was before 9/11; now the policy has changed. After that fateful day, the distinction between freedom fighters and militants was virtually erased. So much so that India can now conduct an air raid deep into our territory to avenge the Pulwara suicide attack, and it is Pakistan that gets lectured by foreigners on the need to stop providing a safe haven to terrorist groups.
By appearing to use militancy as an instrument of policy, we were becoming isolated in the community of nations. Even those who feebly support the Kashmir cause are critical of the unconcealed presence of an array of jihadi groups in Pakistan.
In earlier FATF meetings, Pakistan had stonewalled by claiming that organisations like the militant Islamic State group, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed fell into the ‘low to medium risk’ category. Really? ‘Low risk’? Now they have been upgraded to the high-risk category where they belong.
But as our negotiating team has discovered, the rest of the world is neither blind nor stupid. In fact, Pakistan has been given a lot of time on the grey list to block channels of terrorist financing. Now, the vice is tightening, and if our tottering economy is to avoid a mortal blow, the authorities had better deliver on their promises.
After the savage attack on a Peshawar school in 2014, the army knocked heads and got all major political parties to agree to the National Action Plan. This ambitious plan called for not only military action, but a wide array of policies to be implemented by the federal and provincial governments aimed at eradicating the extremist mindset that had taken root in Pakistan.
But five years on, it is only the army that has completed its assignment while politicians have sat on their hands, lacking the resolve to act. Chaudhry Nisar, the interior minister in the previous government, was supposed to chair a number of committees set up to monitor progress. As far as I know, few meetings were held and Nacta, the implementing agency, has hardly been stellar in its performance.
One specific plank in NAP was intelligence sharing between federal and provincial agencies. But spooks guard their sources closely. Then there were a raft of decisions about curbing the media and mosques in the dissemination of hate messages. Finally, the curricula of madressas and state schools was supposed to be cleansed of xenophobia. Hardly any of this has happened.
The result of this dither and drift is our current situation of being dragged into taking action. What will come of it remains to be seen.
Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2019

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