Beyond the structural issues affecting the progress of National Action Plan (NAP), there are broader conceptual issues that shape the broader framework as well as the counter terrorism narrative. Whether the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) is activated or not, whether the Joint Intelligence Directorate is established or not, whether the JID budget is allocated or not, whether NACTA gets its promised human and technical resource, are all very important questions. But more important questions are, what ailment are we going to cure with NAP? Are we looking at obstruction in terrorist attacks in urban Pakistan or is our goal beyond that, addressing the mass receptivity of the extremist narrative?

A recent meeting of Corps Commanders concluded that their counter terrorism efforts would not bear any fruit in the absence of matching governance measures. ISPR has held couple of briefings in last one year, giving the number of intelligence operations throughout the country in addition to Zarb-e-Azb. The government on the other hand, has been briefing the media on NAP progress in terms of the number of arrests made, number of cases registered against the suspects, number of mobile phone SIMs blocked and/or registered, number of bank accounts suspended on the suspicion of terror financing etc.

None of these measures, and concerns shared by either side of civil and military equation, points to any strategic thinking towards curative measures against the process that creates and nurtures terrorists and violent extremists. In fact, during the meetings of the committees constituted to formulate NAP in December 2014 immediately after the APS attack, major focus was on counter terrorism. Any attempt to bring counter extremism or de-radicalization was reportedly barred on the basis that such measures would be require very long term efforts with a lot of state resources. Also, the argument was reportedly made that any inclusion of counter extremismmeasures might digress the state institutions from the immediate task of counter terrorism because it might open various fronts simultaneously, which would be impossible to tackle by the security agencies and defence forces.

This might explain why NAP would not go anywhere when this ‘feel good’ environment being artificially created by the establishment evaporates after the settling down of the Afghan endgame. It is mainly because of relocation of Afghan Taliban and allied groups that we see military operation in the restive North Waziristan. Any call for the operation in this area, might one remind, was a sure shot sign of one’s being ‘foreign agent’ who did not care about national interest. And this was just two years ago.

Now when there is no ‘good guy’ remaining in NWA, it was safer to sort out bad guys. And hence we put our soldiers on plate for them to kill and run. The bad guys are on a run and so there are fewer terrorist incidents. But that does not necessarily mean that there is no bloodshed by them. Targeted killings of police personnel and those of sectarian nature are still rampant in urban Pakistan especially Quetta, Karachi and Peshawar. There is a strange bar on reports covering these incidents in news media. A conscious effort is being made to create a false sense of security with a concocted narrative of ‘things are much better now’.

There are incidents like killing of LeJ terrorists in custody and arrests (temporary) of various sectarian terrorists, which are considered lesser evils. All of them, when put together with lesser number of terrorist attacks of massive nature, prop up this deceptive sense of ‘things getting better’. But those engineering this deception must know how momentary and transitory this security situation is. The sectarian extremists are still there. They are just not speaking up as louder as they have been in recent past. This might not mean they have abandoned their ideology of radical extremism.

Now what to do with these groups and individuals? In the name of mainstreaming them, the experiment of allowing them in political and social space has been tried here and elsewhere in the world. What follows is the mainstreaming of their radical ideology. They make the larger populace receptive and sympathetic to their worldview. One reason why there has been so much confusion in Pakistan over where to place the Taliban – Taliban of all categories. Politicians of this country have been calling them ‘our own brothers’ and have been suggesting providing the proscribed Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan an office on our land so they could coordinate the peace negotiations with the government. We have also seen how the terrorism and militancy was being termed as Jihad by our own politicians and opinion leaders. The same militants who have been killing our citizens, are now killing our soldiers. One wonders if there is any introspection among political parties on their past conduct.

This process of confusion and radicalizing the masses would continue if these extremists are allowed to operate in political arena under one name or the other. Just like the Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party (PRHP) that has won several seats in Sindh in last week’s Local Government Elections. PRHP has very clear and links with the banned ASWJ, which in turn is incarnation of sectarian terrorist SipahSahaba Pakistan, proscribed a long time ago.

Here one might bring a longstanding issue of who is proscribed and what it means to be proscribed under the law. Under Section 11-B of the Anti Terrorist Act 1997, following shall be done by the federal government to an organization listed as proscribed: it offices shall be sealed; its accounts be frozen; its literature, posters, banners, oriented, electronic, digital or other material shall be seized; andpublication, printing or dissemination of any press statements, press conferences or public utterancesby or on behalf of or in support of a prescribed organizationshall be prohibited.

The law also says that the organisations that the federal government deems fit to be proscribed, shall be listed under First Schedule of the ATA. This list has to be a public document, ideally displayed prominently in all police stations and advertised on mass media so that any violation of the Act must be brought to the notice of the authorities for effective implementation of the law. Unfortunately, this part of the law, like many other state documents, is kept from public eye. One reason why most of us don’t even know who is proscribed or whether we are hearing sermons from those already proscribed by the state. The NACTA website that once carried the list of proscribed organisations, is permanently put under construction ever since some media reports pointed to the name of ASWJ in that list. What a mess this counter terrorism business has become!

But there are ways to sort this mess out. One easy way could be, the state must completely disassociate itself from all these groups and individuals. No one should be allowed to break the law or violate the writ of the state. Be it Lal Masjid or anyone else doing it in the name of patriotism. If the law is not implemented across the board, you can’t have good governance so much urged by the good men in uniform.

Can we try this one simple step to start with?

The writer is an Islamabad based freelance columnist.