A committee has been formed to suggest revision of role and task of National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA). Ironically while terrorist activities are almost coming to an end, this entity is yet to stand on its feet, despite being in existence for nearly a decade, in one form or the other. This is a horrible example of how difficult it is to raise and sustain an autonomous institution, notwithstanding the necessity and urgency. NACTA did not come under due focus until its strengthening was included as a formal agenda item of National Action Plan, 2014. Even then, NACTA continues to remain dormant due to dearth of quality human resource. It has become a parking place for “unwanted” police officers and other “non-cooperative” bureaucrats.
NACTA is mandated to frame a National Narrative to counter extremism and terrorism. Constructing a robust national narrative is the corner stone of ideological response to such threats. A convincing narrative is essential for coming up with ideological denominators in a diverse society. Yet, we have none. Authority was created “to strive for a safer tomorrow by comprehensively countering terrorism in all its manifestations”. It is supposed to acts as a focal national institution to unify state response by combining the efforts of law enforcement and intelligence agencies and formulate national counter terrorism counter extremism policies. However, NACTA’s capacity and will remain below par.
It is required to receive and collate data or information, or intelligence and disseminate and coordinate between all relevant stakeholders to formulate threat assessments and prepare comprehensive national counter terrorism and counter extremism strategies and develop action plans against terrorism and extremism; it commands no tools for any of these functions. It also liaises with international entities for facilitating cooperation in areas relating to terrorism and extremism. Moreover, it is tasked to review relevant laws and suggest amendments to the Federal government. Indeed a tall order for this humble entity. NACTA started off as an Administrative Wing within the Ministry of Interior, under a National Coordinator. It was controlled administratively by the Secretary Interior Division. Ironically parent ministry created all obstacles in its way to growth. All the postings/ transfers within NACTA were made by the Interior Division. This is the only Authority headed by a Coordinator in lieu of Chairman. NACTA got its administrative and financial autonomy in 2013 and was legally created as a body corporate, answerable to a Board of Governors (BOG) headed by Prime Minister. BOG is supposed to provide strategic vision and policy oversight to Authority, but its meeting was never convened. Despite tall claims from here and there, practically nothing changed. BOG never met and NACTA continues to be in its infancy.
Prime Minister Imran Khan wants the committee to revisit the role and functions of NACTA to make it ‘a truly proactive organisation’ in line with the fast-changing ground realities. Decision came following an initial briefing over the working and performance of the authority given by the National Coordinator who criticised his predecessors and the past governments for their failures. Committee would submit its recommendations to the premier in a week’s time. Minister of State for Interior Shaharyar Afridi is most likely to head the committee; if so not much is expected. While chairing the BOG meeting, Prime Minister stated that Pakistan has come a long way in its fight against the menace of terrorism and countering violent extremism: “In this struggle, we have offered the highest sacrifices of the lives of thousands of our civilians and the security personnel.” Lauding services and contributions of the armed forces, intelligence agencies, police and other law enforcement and security agencies, the prime minister observed that improved security situation was a result of the combined efforts of all stakeholders. First BOG meeting also reviewed in detail the progress on implementation status of 20-point National Action Plan. Progress on NAP has been uneven and unsatisfactory. At least ten foundational points are in terrible lag.
Conceptually, NACTA is a good idea that has been poorly developed and executed. It has been mired in bureaucratic infighting, lack of cooperation across security institutions, dearth of resources and, for no clear direction or purpose. As Committee has prime ministerial backing, it may infuse the organisation with fresh energy and vigour. A revived and effective NACAT would in turn give a new push to waning National Action Plan. Since its inception, there has been a tussle between the Prime Minister’s Office and the interior ministry over operational control of NACTA. Prime Minister has reportedly decided to retain control over Authority. It is a good decision because countering terrorism is a multi-disciplinary activity and interior ministry alone cannot handle it. Other problem is that law and order is a provincial subject and NACAT neither has its provincial extensions nor has control over provincial counter terrorism departments. And unless rules of business are amended, in the role of authority, NACTA would invariably come in conflict with federal and provincial interior ministries.
Viable options are: have provincial extensions of NACTA and amend the rules of business governing working relationships between federal and provincial law ministries, create a provision to have countering extremism and terrorism as common responsibility of federation and provinces; Or, disband NACTA at federal level and devolve its functions to provincial NACTAs; Or, reconfigure NACTA from Authority to Commission format with a mandate to define horizons for counter terrorism effort and perform an advisory role to federal and provincial interior ministries. Whatever model is adopted, there is a need to change its composition from an extension of police department and give it a look of a body with national representation.
—The writer is a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.