The Jhelum incident has raised new questions over the efficacy of National Action Plan, the credibility of which is being eroded rapidly. A mob of self-proclaimed guardians of religion targeted a factory and an Ahmadi worship place and set it ablaze in Jhelum. Ritualistic official response ensued after the damage was done. Reports were sought, the incident was condemned, officials frequented the place and some perpetrators were arrested.
As usual mosques were used to mobilise the mob and a helpless contingent of policemen succumbed to an enraged mob.
The incident is a grim reminder of the fact that the National Action Plan has lost its steam and it could not deter extremist elements from unleashing their might. Only two weeks ago, the army’s media cell publicly disclosed the resentment of senior military officials on a tardy implementation of the plan.
The statement triggered a vortex of premonitions and generated a heated debate in the parliament. Some seasoned parliamentarians issued retaliatory statements reminding the security establishment of its actual role.
Nevertheless, it does not obviate the need for a firm action by the civilian government to implement the National Action Plan in its true spirit. It is an undeniable fact that the NAP was unanimously agreed and owned by the federal as well as provincial governments. It was the Interior Ministry that drafted and announced the plan. The political leadership, both in the government and the opposition, publicly endorsed and pledged their support to the plan aimed to eradicate terrorism from the country.
What prompted the military command to publicly demand a non-cosmetic execution of the plan merits a serious introspection by the government. Taking shield behind the ISPR statement as an offense against the civilian rule will not conceal the government’s remiss to act against extremist elements.
A spineless government was not able to act against Maulvi Abdul Aziz who openly defied the writ of the state and the government in its federal capital. According to newspaper reports, a security person was heard paying tributes to Aziz outside the mosque where he publicly derided the National Action Plan by delivering a sermon and staging a rally in violation of the law. Aziz’s valour coincided with the government’s rebuttal to the ISPR statement. He remained in hibernation for quite some time and abruptly surfaced the very next day when parliamentarians vented their spleen on the ISPR’s jibe at the government. The firebrand interior minister has yet to educate people on the wisdom behind this bizarre capitulation before the fiery cleric.
Another coincidence was government’s own admission in the Senate on the very same day about a rudderless National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). A government minister conceded during the Senate session that the authority has been functioning without having formally appointed staff even after six years of its existence. He emblazoned his admission by adding that the authority does not even have any service rules. Sloppiness of such intensity explains the prevalent resentment in the military establishment ranks which has demonstrated a visible departure from its past policies and approach to some extent even if several provocative questions are still unanswered.
The government’s tardiness is evident from the fact that so far it could not devise a credible mechanism to choke terror financing conduits. It manically stalked a handful of non-governmental organisations and took some cosmetic actions to create a smokescreen. The main arteries of extremism continue to function smoothly with an uninterrupted supply of resources. Every now and then, a statistical report of lodging phoney cases, detentions and police encounters is presented. No one knows how many of the accused and detainees were actually convicted or were subjected to any nemesis for their deeds.
Little progress has been witnessed in purging the textbooks of toxic content that continues to seep millions of impressionable minds. No such initiative has even been contemplated to review the textbooks. Malicious material and speech continue to plague minds in the country. There were a few sporadic instances of confiscating inciting literature but without any consistency and serious followup.
On several occasions, inflammatory banners were brandished in the main avenues of the capital. A federal minister Pervaiz Rasheed, received life threats but the administration failed to take any action. Ultimately, the minister had to capitulate and issue an apology and explanation.
Proscribed outfits enjoy complete impunity and some of them even frequently appear in media talk shows to impress the simpletons with their noble acts of charity. Sectarian killers continued to slaughter innocent people without any tangible action by the government. Their safe houses and abettors might have gone in hibernation but their tentacles remain intact and undeterred.
Recently, the Interior Ministry presented a report before the National Assembly highlighting its action against madrassas stoking sectarianism. The report revealed that out of 102 madrassas sealed by the law enforcing agencies, only two were located in Punjab. The province is known as a sanctuary of sleeper cells of proselyting elements. After the breakdown of terrorists’ network in tribal areas, they have found new havens in settled areas.
Lack of alacrity by the Punjab government is evident from the fact that the provincial government could find only two objectionable locations in the whole province, which is infamously called as nursery of obscurantist elements. While a full scale operation is going on in three provinces to asphyxiate wayward extremism and violence, Punjab has been spared from the clean-up drive as if streams of milk and honey flow through the province. This dichotomy is too conspicuous to ignore.
The civil-military tug of war is almost an integral part of politics in Pakistan. This narrow aperture of opportunity at the disposal of civilian governments ought to be exploited diligently. Only a performing democracy with a clear vision and commitment can dilate this space in favour of civilian forces. Corruption, inefficiency and indecisiveness are inimical to the future of civilian remit. Civilian governments can assert their supremacy only by banking on the support of a satisfied citizenry that in turn requires a strong bond with masses.
The Jhelum incident has exposed the vulnerability of security structure available to the civilian government. When the police failed to restore normalcy, army was summoned to restore peace. If civilian administration cannot control an ordinary mob, one can guess its capacity to react if well-trained extremists resort to use of their muscle.