Counter Terrorism Policy Measures: A Critical Analysis of Pakistan’s National Action Plan

Posted By July 19, 2016 No Comments


Pakistan’s new counter-terrorism policy measure – the National Action Plan (NAP) – has yielded mixed results. The NAP is another policy instrument utilized by Pakistani policy makers following the terrorist attack on a military-administered school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, that killed 132 children.

A critical analysis of NAP would allow policy makers to gauge its successes and failures, as well as rethink and re-analyse the counter-terrorism policy framework that exists in Pakistan. Unfortunately however, no critical analysis at a government-level has been conducted. Either the policy makers are too cautious of their actions or they have not been able to get a positive nod from the powerful military establishment.[1] In either case, the Pakistani people remain under the threat of terrorism.


Despite the fact that Pakistan experiences one of the highest rates of terrorism-related deaths in the world (3rd behind Iraq and Afghanistan), with a large amount of the causalities being civilians (shown in the figure below), it does not have a concrete counter-terrorism policy. Instead, successive governments have implemented rudimentary, and event-driven measures in order to pacify public opinion.

Terrorism in Pakistan 2003-2016

(Data provided by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, as of 07-05-13)

Civilians Security Force Personnel Terrorists/Insurgents Total
2003 140 24 25 189
2004 435 184 244 863
2005 430 81 137 648
2006 608 325 538 1471
2007 1522 597 1479 3598
2008 2155 654 3906 6715
2009 2324 991 8389 11704
2010 1796 469 5170 7435
2011 2738 765 2800 6303
2012 3007 732 2472 6211
2013 3001 676 1702 5379
2014 1781 533 3182 5496
2015 940 339 2403 3682
2016 308 151 623 1082
Total 21185 6521 33070 60776

Since coming into power in May 2013, the Muslim League (spearheaded by Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Shariff) has introduced two counter-terrorism policy frameworks.

The first was the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2014-18 presented to parliament in May 2014, and the second was the National Action Plan (NAP) presented in December 2014. The NAP in particular, was a swift policy reaction to the tragic terrorist attack at the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014. Technically speaking however, both the NISP and the NAP are not ‘counter-terrorism policies’ per se, rather these policies are surface rearrangements of security measures amid growing terrorist threats, developed in reaction to public outcry. No concrete or broad policy guidelines ­- coupled with rules of engagement – were adopted. Concrete counter-terrorism strategies, such as the United Kingdom’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy (CONTEST), provide security and law enforcement agencies with an exact set of measures alongside categorically defined enemies of the state. These requirements of a counter-terrorism police are found neither in the NAP nor the NISP.

National Internal Security Policy

The National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) is a federal government agency established in 2008. It was modelled on the United States government’s Department of Homeland Security and Directorate of National Intelligence. The Pakistani Parliament did not ratify the NACTA ordinance until 2013 however, primarily because of bureaucratic hurdles and tussles over the control of NACTA between the powerful Pakistani military and the civilian administration.[2] The raison d’ etre of NACTA, as defined in the NACTA ordinance, is to “receive and collate data/information/intelligence and disseminate, and coordinate between all relevant stakeholders to formulate threat assessments with periodical reviews to be presented to the Federal government for making adequate and timely efforts to counter terrorism and extremism.”

Essentially, NACTA is supposed to act as a coordinating body, synchronizing the efforts of all of the security and law enforcement apparatus’ in the country in order to combat terrorism in a concerted manner.

In May 2014, NACTA presented the National Internal Security Policy (NISP) 2014-18. Key issues highlighted in the NISP were madrasah reforms, capacity building of security forces, development of an anti-terrorist force at the federal level, cooperation and coordination, and curbing terrorist financing; as well as the repatriation and registration of Afghan refugees. The NISP endeavour failed to yield the desired results however, primarily because the civilian government and the military establishment were unable to reach a consensus as to how to implement the policy. Moreover, the implementation phase of NISP required a hefty funding of Rs 32 bn, ($305m USD) which the newly elected government could not afford, according to reports.[3] Just a few months later however, a tragic event would cause the government to attempt another policy endeavour to counter-terrorist activity in the form of the NAP.

National Action Plan

On December 16, 2014, six Islamist terrorists belonging to the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Fazalullah faction, stormed the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar and massacred 145 people, including 132 children.[4] It was categorized as a Fidayeen[5], because the terrorists first targeted the students, and then targeted the security forces once they arrived. Amid the public outcry over the APS carnage, Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff announced the National Action Plan (NAP) with the purpose of curbing terrorist activities. The Prime Minister announced the 20-point NAP during his televised speech on December 24th, after the conclusion of the All Parties’ Conference, which was called together following the declaration of a national emergency by the government.[6] Despite the fervour of the time, the NAP itself was a haphazard policy, and it cannot be categorized as a proper counter-terrorism strategy because it lacks detail, coherence and rigor. Even still, the step received admiration throughout the government and the country, with the exception of Islamist political parties, which took issue with the word “religion” being used specifically in the text regarding the trying of persons in military courts belonging to a “terrorist group or organization using the name of religion or sect.”[7] They felt the word usage was objectionable.

The 20-Points of the NAP are outlined below:

  1. Execution of convicted terrorists
  2. Establishment of special trial courts
  3. Ensure no armed militias are allowed to function in the country
  4. Strengthening and activation of NACTA
  5. Countering hate speech and extremist material
  6. Choking financing for terrorists and terrorist organisations
  7. Ensuring against re-emergence of proscribed organisations
  8. Establishing and deploying a dedicated counter-terrorism force
  9. Taking effective steps against religious persecution
  10. Registration and regulation of madrassas
  11. Ban on glorification of terrorism and terrorist organisations through print and electronic media
  12. FATA Reforms
  13. Dismantling communication networks of terrorist organisations
  14. Measures against abuse of internet and social media for terrorism
  15. Zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab
  16. Taking the on-going operation in Karachi to its logical conclusion
  17. Balochistan reconciliation
  18. Dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists
  19. Policy to deal with the issue of Afghan refugees
  20. Revamping and reforming the criminal justice system

Measuring the Successes

Despite its rudimentary character, the government has worked to implement the NAP in bits and pieces, thanks primarily to public pressure and frustration. The successes however, are few. The next part of this piece will outline the points from the NAP, which can be deemed “successes.”

Lifting of the Death Penalty Moratorium

The President Asif Ali Zardari’s previous government had promulgated a moratorium on capital punishment in 2008, but the current regime ratified it again after coming into power in 2013.[8] Point No. 1 of the NAP – Execution of convicted terrorists – essentially lifted the moratorium, and since December 2014, 345[9] prisoners have been executed. According to a Reuters report however, “fewer than one in six were linked to militancy.”[10] Reports suggest that not all of the prisoners executed were convicted terrorists, except a few high profile terrorist operatives of the TTP, such as Aqil alias Dr Usman, and Arshad Mehmood alias Maharband.[11] The government claims however that the policy is indeed effective, because according to official statistics the number of terrorist attacks have decreased from 1,823 in 2014 to 1,009 in 2015. Fatalities from attacks have also decreased from 1,761 in 2014 to 1,081 in 2015.[12]Although the statistics may point towards an improvement, there are other indicators that suggest terrorist attacks and fatalities from said attacks are still a prominent issue in Pakistan. This will be discussed further in the second part of this article, “Measuring Failures.”

Military Courts

The second item on the NAP agenda – the establishment of special trial courts or the military courts to try terrorists in camera trials – proved difficult to execute.[13] In January 2015, the Pakistan Parliament – in a joint session of both Houses (Senate and National Assembly) – passed the 21st Amendment[14] to the Constitution of Pakistan, establishing military courts for trying Islamist terrorists with a sunset clause of two years. The Supreme Court of Pakistan initially issued a “Stay Order” on the parliament’s decision, due to petitions filed by human rights activists, but later allowed the courts to commence in August 2015.[15] Until this amendment, the military courts had only announced six sentences.

The Act also amended Article 175 of the Constitution, which then led to further amendments to the first schedule of the constitution (i.e. clause XXXIX of The Pakistan Army Act 1952, VI of The Pakistan Air Force Act 1953, XXXV of The Pakistan Navy Ordinance 1961, and X of The Protection of Pakistan Act 2014).[16] These amendments officially allowed the trial of terrorists in the military courts of each military branch.

Countering Hate Speech and Extremist Material

The development and distribution of ‘hate-material’ was a significant part of the 20-point NAP. All of the provincial home departments were directed by the Federal Ministry of Interior in Islamabad to curb the distribution of hate-material distributed by proscribed organizations. Law enforcement agencies, especially police at the district level, were the primary agencies tasked with implementing these policies. According to official figures, the police have so far booked 3,906 people for violating the Sound System Ordinance 2015 – an Act that was framed to curb hate speeches (mostly sectarian) by prayer leaders of mosques.[17] The Act states:

“It shall be unlawful for any person to use, or assist in using, permit or allow use of a sound system which generates any loud, unnecessary or unusual noise or any noise which annoys, disturbs, injures, or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace, or safety of persons in or beyond the vicinity.”[18]

Counter-Terrorism Force

Terrorism is not considered a ‘regular’ or ‘usual’ crime, and that is one of the primary reasons that terrorism is dealt separately through special anti-terrorist, and counter-terrorist forces. Though practitioners use the terms anti-terrorism and counter-terrorism interchangeably, technically and academically speaking they are different. Counter-terrorism utilizes offensive strategies intended to prevent a belligerent, in a broader conflict, from successfully using the tactic of terrorism. Anti-terrorism utilizes defensive strategies intended to reduce the chance of an attack using terrorist tactics at specific points, or to reduce the vulnerability of possible targets.

Ultimately, law enforcement forces all around the world are traditionally trained to combat crime, not terrorism. Dealing with the highly trained, ideologically driven, and motivated terrorists requires specialized measures and training.

In this regard however, the NAP only reiterates the establishment of a specialized anti-terrorist force as initially pointed out by the NISP. Although the NAP does not mention anything about police, the NISP requires that the police play the primary role in countering-terrorist threats.

Thus the four provincial governments have taken independent measures to raise specialized police forces, and many already maintain anti-terrorist units. Punjab province for example, despite having the Elite Police Force already[19], recently created a new force called the Counter Terrorism Force (CTF) under the Punjab police’s Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) with an estimated 3,000 police. Other than this Punjab police endeavour however, the other provincial police departments opted to use their existing forces.

Zero Tolerance for Militancy in Punjab and Dealing Firmly with Sectarian Terrorists

Another major decision taken specifically by the provincial government of Punjab province (which is headed by the Chief Minister Shahbaz Shariff, the younger brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff), was combatting the Punjab-based Islamist terrorist organizations.[20] The Punjabi jihadi organizations maintain strong links with Al-Qaeda and the TTP, because many of their leaders and members received training at Al-Qaeda-run training camps during Taliban-ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001.

The provincial government flexed its counter-terrorism muscles by killing the Emir of the sectarian terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), as well as his deputy, and 14 other members of LeJ in a police encounter on July 28th in Muzaffargarh district of southern Punjab.[21] Although the circumstances of the police encounter appeared suspicious to many, the actions taken by the police showcase the new resolve of the Punjab government to root out sectarian terrorism.[22]

Taking the On-going Operation in Karachi to Its Logical Conclusion

The federal government, in collusion with the Pakistani military, also sought to tackle political opponents and opposition parties. The Mutahida Quami Movement[23] (MQM), a staunchly anti-Taliban, overtly secular, and anti-Islamist party has become the target of Karachi operations. Spearheaded by the paramilitary force, the Pakistan Rangers. During the on-going operation in Karachi, hundreds of MQM workers have been arrested, and the Rangers also raided the party’s headquarters. Some were killed in custody and many simply ‘disappeared.’ So far, it appears that the targets of the operation were primarily MQM members, and no significant action was taken against sectarian, and proscribed organizations openly operating in Karachi. According to MQM sources the Rangers, and police have picked up dozens of its workers, and at least four are still being held illegally by the Rangers.[24]

Some of the MQM workers were reportedly involved in criminal activities, but most arrests appeared to be politically motivated in order to weaken the influence of the MQM’s secular politics in Karachi.

It appears that no significant action has been taken during the Karachi operation to counter the growing influence of TTP in the city’s suburbs, particularly in the Pashtun-dominated areas. This is a result of the military operation in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, which paved the way for a continuous influx of refugees from FATA to the suburban areas of Karachi, where the TTP has reportedly gained a stronghold.

Baluchistan Reconciliation

Apart from Islamist insurgency in northern parts of Pakistan, Baluchistan – the country’s largest province – has experienced ethnic Baluch nationalist-separatist insurgency since 2006. The insurgency began following a 2005 incident where a female Baluch doctor was raped by a captain of the Pakistan Army stationed in the Dera Bugti district.[25] The subsequent uprising by Baluch tribes led to a military operation in the region. There were no serious rifts between government and Baluch tribes before the incident, although Baluchistan has a history of insurgencies since 1948.

The killing of Baluch tribal chief, Sardar Akbar Bugti, in an encounter with the military in 2006 only added fuel to the fire. Due to this ongoing conflict, reconciliation with the Baluch separatist groups is an integral part of NAP. The current Pakistani government appeared determined to implement a reconciliation plan, which was announced by the Chief Minister Baluchistan province – Dr Abdul Malik Baluch – in 2015.[26] To further the process, amnesty has been offered to Baluch militants who are willing to unconditionally surrender to security forces, which a group of 400 Baluch insurgents did on August 14, 2015.[27]

 A Policy to Deal with the Issue of Afghan Refugees

Another major issue addressed in the NAP was the repatriation of the estimated 1.5 million Afghan refugees who have been living in Pakistan for the last three decades.[28] To address this issue, the federal government formulated a new policy for the repatriation of Afghan refugees called the National Policy on Management and Repatriation of Afghan Refugees.[29] More recently, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) in Islamabad flattened a decades old Afghan slum in the outskirts of Islamabad, forcing more than 50,000 Afghan refugees to leave the area.[30] The eviction of Afghans from Islamabad was indeed seen as a “successful” implementation of the NAP agenda.

Registration of Religious Seminaries

There is no exact number available to gauge how many religious seminaries currently exist in Pakistan, however the local estimate is 22,052.[31] In order to address the issue of illegal madaris, the federal government is currently contemplating whether or not to create an Islamic Education Commission in order to regulate the religious seminaries in the country.[32] Interestingly, the Saudi Arabian government, the primary financer of religious seminaries in Pakistan, has reportedly decided to stop directly funding these religious seminaries as it has done historically. Instead it plans to devise a mechanism to directly assist the Pakistan government instead.[33]

Measuring the Failures

Despite the few successes outlined in Part One of this article, a majority of the NAP’s objectives have not been achieved. Either the government is incremental in its efforts, or has only planned to act upon some of the policy measures outlined by the NAP. The following section outlines the objectives of the NAP that the government has so far failed to achieve.

Complete Eradication of Armed Militias

Despite the government’s efforts to curb violent-Islamist, non-state actors in the country’s most populous Punjab province, there has been no policy dealing directly with the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).[34] The LeT, considered a Salafi jihadi organization, could be designated as the most dangerous of all jihadi groups operating in Pakistan because it appears to be the Islamic State’s ideological twin. LeT was designated as a proscribed organization by President General Pervez Musharraf’s military regime in 2002, after it was revealed that the organization was involved in the 2001 Indian Parliament attack in New Delhi. Despite this, the LeT continues to operate under the name Jamaat ud Dawa, the proselytization wing of the Markaz ul Dawa wal Irshad – the parent organization of LeT.

Activating the NACTA

Another missed NAP objective is the restructuring and strengthening of the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). Since its inception in 2008, NACTA has not been able to perform at its optimal level. The organization was established to coordinate with the plethora of security and intelligence agencies in Pakistan in order to gather, collate and analyse data. As well as function as a wider-network hub. Unfortunately however, no significant efforts have been made to activate the almost dormant NACTA under the aegis of the NAP.[35]

Choking Terrorist Financing

The Financial Monetary Unit of the Ministry of Finance, and the Special Investigation Unit at the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) track and investigate crimes related to money laundering, as well as curb other financial aspects of terrorist organizations. The Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA) of 2010 was amended amid pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other international agencies in 2014. The federal government also wanted to enhance its counter-financing of terrorism (CFT), and place AMLA and CFT in line with the requirements set by the international organization, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).[36] Although the government has made some leeway in this regard, its CFT and AML policies are still in their preliminary stages of development.

Preventing the Re-emergence of Proscribed Organizations

After the implementation of the NAP, many of the previously banned Islamist terrorist organizations continue to operate, but under new names. Jaish-e-Mohammad is now known as Khudam ul Islam, and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) now operates under the umbrella of Jamaat ud Dawa (JuD). Therefore it appears that the government has only effectively targeted a select few jihadi organizations, and many are still fully operational. For example, the TTP (Fazalullah) recently struck another educational institution, Bacha Khan University in Charssada this year – a town just 20 miles from Peshawar – killing 21 students.[37] As far as international terrorism is concerned, the Kashmiri Islamist terrorist organization, Jasish-e-Mohammad (JeM), was suspected of perpetrating the Pathankot Air Force Base attack in India in January 2016, killing 7 security officials.[38]

There are other NAP agenda items that have not been acted upon; such as implementing policies to reduce religious persecution, FATA reform, dismantling the communication networks of terrorist organizations, disrupting the abuse of the Internet for terrorism, and revamping the criminal justice system.


The implementation of the NAP has hitherto been partially successful. As stated earlier, this may be due in part because not all of the major stakeholders (the civilian government, and the military establishment) have reached a consensus regarding strategy and tactics. Some policy makers may be too cautious to disrupt the status quo, or act contrary to the military’s interests. In either case, it is the Pakistani civilians who continue to face the threats from terrorism. With no properly designed, framed, and concrete counter-terrorism policy it appears that Pakistan is far from achieving any major successes. The best counter-terrorism practices stem from strategies formulated with consensus, and implemented with fervor. A wide range of successful counter-terrorism policy examples could be quoted here; such as the UK, Israel, Peru, Italy, Germany, Egypt, and Sri Lanka.

The haphazardly framed 20-point NAP agenda lacks proper direction, as well as coordination between the federal and provincial governments. It also appears to lack the full backing of the powerful military establishment. It is this lack of commitment, and coherence that led a Supreme Court Judge to ruthlessly criticize the federal government during a proceeding regarding the NAP. He lamented that it was “nothing more than joke with the nation” because of the government’s lack of perceived willingness to implement it fully.[39]

After the terrorist attack by TTP-Fazalullah in December 2014, the situation was ripe for the development of a concrete and comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. All opposition parties gave a carte blanche to the government to adopt any measures needed to combat Islamist terrorism. Pakistani citizens were ready for action, and public opinion was drastically in favor of a meaningful operation against the terrorists. Ironically however, no major operation was launched against terrorist strongholds in urban centers (the much-talked about Operation Zarb-e-Azb was already in progress against TTP strongholds in North Waziristan district of tribal areas). In reality, only a few of the NAP’s unanimously adopted measures following the massacre were implemented in true letter and spirit.

The eyebrow raising question is:

If the APS attack was not enough to spark a significant, and far-reaching policy shift from anti-terrorism to counter-terrorism by the Pakistan government – then what is enough?