Chief of Army Staff Gen Raheel Sharif has declared that 2016 will be the year when terrorism is eliminated from Pakistan. This is something that the entire nation hopes and prays for, but if it is to come true there will need to be a significant change in counter-terrorism operations.
Officials understand that military operations alone are not enough to defeat terrorism, which is why the National Action Plan was adopted. The 20-point plan adopted after APS Peshawar was termed a ‘defining moment‘ as it had united the entire country against the jihadi factories that were spreading extremism and supplying new militants to carry out attacks. After some months, though, the enthusiasm for shutting down jihadi factories fell flat. The most telling case being the Interior Minister refusing to take any action against Abdul Aziz, even ignoring non-bailable arrest warrants for the same.
The real problem with shutting down extremists goes far beyond the state’s unwillingness to take action against Abdul Aziz, though. Even if the will was there, the system has too many easy loop holes for extremists to slip through. The obvious example is the popular path of changing names. This has allowed extremists like Hafiz Saeed to slip from being chief of nominally banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba to chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa in order to avoid being held responsible for anything. Same loop hole has been used by other militant groups also.
Now another loop hole is keeping extremist madaris from being detected despite investigations. In the case of 200 seminaries in Punjab, almost no bank transactions are being made. When these seminaries suspected of involvement in terrorism were alerted that their bank transactions would be investigated, they started using cash only. This should be no surprise. Actually it is the same strategy used by other criminals: Tax evaders.
Fulfilling Gen Raheel’s promise of ending terrorism this year requires military operations. It will also require finding the will to take action against difficult problems like Lal Masjid and Jamaat-ud-Dawa. If we are to succeed, though, we will also need to close the popular loopholes that allow extremists to avoid accountability.