16 December 2014 was the worst day in Pakistan’s history as on this day 144 children and staff of the Army Public School Peshawar were killed in a terrorist attack.

Military courts were set up immediately to hand out justice. An All Parties Conference was called under the PM Nawaz Sharif, and the National Action Plan (NAP) was formulated to counter terrorism in the most effective way.

Since the armed forces started Operation Zarb-e-Azb, a large number of terrorists have been killed and their sanctuaries destroyed. Large caches of weapons have been recovered, facilitators arrested and terror links cut off. Some laws were enacted to take action against hate speeches and extremism; and security was enhanced in all spheres.

Despite these measures, Pakistan witnessed a new wave of terrorism at the start of 2016, raising alarming questions against NAP and its implementation.

Dr Iram Khalid, a Professor in Political Science Department of The University of the Punjab, is currently working on an Urban Security Project. An author of seven books, her latest is titled, Insurgency - Counter Insurgency Challenge to State’s Security Stability Prosperity, Revisiting Pakistan’s National Security Dilemma. She has researched on the topics An Appraisal Of Pakistan’s Nuclear Policy During the War On Terror and Energy Crisis: An Issue of Good Governance, A Way Forward. Apart from this she has had her articles published in a number of national and international journals.

Speaking to The Nation on the implementation of National Action Plan she said “We needed this plan right after 9/11; the world had changed its policies in terms of terrorism, but we got into a debate whether this war was ours or not.We did not define our enemy to begin with and so we hardly have any success stories of governance. Our government could not build consensus against terrorism, thus leaving a divide in society. But 16 December 2014was the day when the state, including those parties who never condemned such heinous attacks earlier, decided to change its policy against terrorism.”

On the positive and negative aspects of NAP she said,“NAP should have been made years ago, so that our allies and the world knew our policy. The delay made the world doubt our intentions, despite being a part of war on terrorism; however better late than never. Now this is a policy that we can present to the world as a state program against terrorism in all forums. Our military has taken hard steps against terrorism and been successful to a large extent. But soft steps needs to be implemented by the government to ensure the safety of its citizens. We can win against terrorism only if the civil government performs as much as the military does.

“Like all things NAP has some loop holes which should be addressed and tackled. As we have seen recently, a new trend has emerged where students and teachers are getting involved in terrorist acts. A mechanism needs to be evolved to trace the background, mindset and ideology of the students and teachers to avoid such occurrences. Knowing the backgrounds, apart from their educational status and the purpose of their joining the institute or workplace, would help understand their life and purpose, which will help assist them in overcoming the problems. It is a very hard task, but even the army does a background clearance before recruiting men, so why can’t we take such steps? When a state is at war such steps become the need of the hour and this is what we need to explain to our government and youth.”

She continued: “We need to bring awareness in our institutions and introduce subjects to educate children about countering terrorism.”

She said she had submitted a report on “Countering Terrorism in Pakistan: Constructing a Comprehensive Counter Narrative” to the Higher Education Commission for Thematic Research Grant Program. In Punjab University she has applied for a Research Grant to work on “Role of Academic Institutions in Counter Terrorism: Instituting Personnel Reliability Program.”

Talking about the ideology and narrative of Pakistan she said, “It’s time we revise our ideology and narratives. During the reign of General Zia ul Haq, America was in favor of Islamization to counter Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, gaining mass popularity in Pakistan. However, no one supported General Pervaiz Musharraf’s period, internally or externally, resulting in his failure. Today the state needs to take serious steps and build a new narrative and ideology, by involving all state institutions, parliament, Islamic Ideology Council and the masses. The state should provide speedy justice to the people and give them employment; this would help bridge the gap between masses and government.”

After the Bacha Khan University attack in Charsadda, the Police undertook some security drills in some institutions. Addressing this, Dr Iram said, “When a state is at war everyone should learn to face it. Our youth needs to understand this fact now; these drills are very important as they would help the students face real situations. But these need to be done on a regular basis, rather than being a one-time activity that psychologically pressurizes the students. Trainings should be arranged in universities, colleges and schools.”

About institutions undertaking security measures, other than getting help from police and army, she said “Punjab University has taken extensive measures in securing the premises with humanly possible steps. Apart from the state it is the duty of every institution to ensure that they are providing sufficient security to the children.”

After every major attack in Pakistan we hear that the attacks were carried out from Afghanistan. The Pak-Afghan border is porous and has been an issue for a long time.

“This Durand Line cannot be sealed nor can it be compared to Pakistan Indian border,” Dr Iram said. “People who had to migrate from Indian did so in 1947; however on Afghanistan’s side people still keep moving in and out across it as families are settled in both countries for years. Trade and cultural ties are strong, hence they cannot be separated totally; yet we should devise a method to keep data of people crossing borders – where and how long will they stay, and what is the purpose of their trip. Such steps can be very fruitful, but we should not hurt their feelings, otherwise they could become hostile too. The state needs to build a policy to facilitate the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

Dr Iram speaking on issue of hate speech in NAP said, “Despite people having being arrested under hate speech and the ban on loud speakers and extremist parties; we still do not have a counter narrative to this mindset. Arresting people is not enough; we need to give an alternate path which needs to be followed now. Media should have a policy for not creating division. For example, when ulemas are on air, they should not be allowed to use their symbols that highlight their sect. They should speak on issues benefit the society, instead of addressing only their sects or speaking against other sects. It’s not easy for the government to take immediate steps because people have been fed hate for over 30 years. It will take time to make people realize that it was all wrong.”

On a question about military courts she said, “Military courts were formed as terrorists were not being punished and people were not getting justice in civil courts. But according to the lawyers’ fraternity, civil courts and judges have their own limitations as they were not secure in cases related to terrorism. This issue has to be resolved by the government, otherwise only military courts would be the solution.”

NAP is lacking human welfare Dr Iram, believes. “Since terrorism has started, no one has focused on the needs of the people. Giving few lac rupees to the family of the dead does not fill the gap caused by terrorism. The government is focusing on development projects, but no one is paying attention to people’s loss and psychological trauma.”

Overall Dr Iram feels that NAP, like most other government run things, does not lack in content, however it is the understanding and implementation that needs to be paid attention to, if we want to have a viable strong and effective counter terrorism action.