Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s strong body language while announcing the National Action Plan against terrorism in January 2015 had shed a ray of hope for those who want to see Pakistan a terrorism and extremism-free state. The NAP was considered the state’s final battle against terrorism, sectarian violence and hate speech.
The top leaders of the government asserted with conviction on various occasions that the government would not compromise even a single one of NAP’s 20 points.
Point 5 of the NAP says, “There will be a crackdown on hate-speech, and action will be taken against newspapers, magazines contributing to the spread of such speech.”
Point 7 reads, “The government will ensure against re-emergence of proscribed organizations.”
The nation has witnessed that the government compromised these two critical points for political or personal reasons.
Most of the proscribed organizations are still active with new names and their leaders enjoy official protocol. Civil society, analysts and peace activists witnessed several violations of the NAP by the government.
The most recent episode took place on December 1 in a by-election for Punjab Assembly’s constituency PP-78 Jhang. Masroor Nawaz Jhangvi, son of Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the slain founder of banned group Sipah e Sahaba Pakistan, won comfortably against the ruling PML-N, Pakistan Peoples’ Party and Pakistan Tehrik e Insaf’s candidates.
According to media reports, his name is included in the Fourth Schedule, a list under anti-terrorism law against those found to be or suspected to be involved in anti-state activities, delivering hate speeches and/or activists of religious outfits not yet banned but related with militancy in any way. Jhangvi ran his campaign based on hate speech against Shiites and his video went viral.
People were quick to blame the Election Commission of Pakistan, Government and Law Enforcing Agencies for allowing this to happen. However, some apologists took the position that the banned outfits and their leaders should be brought into mainstream politics and de-radicalised.
It would not be a new experience. We have experienced this in past several times and faced the outcome.
In 2002, Gen Musharraf and his team masterminded formation of Muthida Majlis e Amal (MMA), a six-party religious alliance, and its success in Elections 2002 as the result of which the MMA formed provincial government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and a coalition government in Balochistan. The outcome was more radicalisation and extremism in the society. We saw the emergence of Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and their safe havens in tribal and settled areas of KP.
In 2009, Pakistan Peoples’ Party’s Government struck a deal with Tehrik e Nifaz e Shariat Muhammadi in Malakand Division of KP. As a result, TTP occupied Swat, Buner and adjacent areas.
In 2014, the PML-N Government tried to give space to TTP – offered them negotiations and formed a committee to talk with TTP for peace and surrender. And the result was a horrible attack on Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014 that claimed 144 lives.
The incident compelled the rulers to announce the NAP, but still they did not learn.
A state cannot eliminate extremism and terrorism without implementing policies in letter and spirit. Giving militants more space means giving them Pakistan.