Pakistan agrees on new antiterrorism plan, pledges to 'eradicate Taliban'

Pakistan agrees on new antiterrorism plan, pledges to 'eradicate Taliban'
Pakistan’s leadership overnight agreed on a comprehensive antiterrorism action plan. They will revamp the criminal system, crackdown on terrorist hideouts, communications and sources of income, and establish a 5,000-strong counter-terrorism force.

The nation is still reeling from the terrorist attack on a Peshawar school on December 16, which claimed 149 lives, 133 of them children. The atrocity underscored the urgent need for the special meeting and the formulation of a political and military strategy.

Officials deliberated overnight, coming to a unanimous agreement on the 20-point National Plan of Action, which Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called a “defining moment” in the fight against Taliban insurgents. Parts of the new plan have already taken root with the lifting of a six-year moratorium on executions, which is to see 500 prisoners executed in the coming weeks. They are set to continue, as other points are implemented, including a special force of several thousand that will be deployed throughout Pakistan to track down and eradicate the armed insurgents.

READ MORE: Pakistan to execute 500 convicted terrorists 'within weeks'

Speaking to the nation in a televised address on Wednesday night, following an 11-hour meeting of parliamentary heads, Pakistan’s leader was resolute. He said that the terrorist act had drawn a line between, on the one hand, “coward terrorists”, and on the other, the Pakistani nation, and swore that the groups will be eradicated and not allowed to re-appear.

“The Peshawar atrocity has changed Pakistan. We need to eradicate the mindset of terrorism to defeat extremism and sectarianism.”

"This horrendous attack has shaken the nation... the terrorists struck the future of this country, when they murdered those children,” he added.

According to the strategy, every volatile corner of the country will become a battle ground, especially Baluchistan, Punjab and Karachi, where zero tolerance for terrorism will be given. Baluchistan province borders Afghanistan, and has seen a surge in militant attacks in recent months. Terror has been notoriously difficult to root out in this tribal region, as militants operate across borders, which include southeastern Iran. There is the question of regional independence, but also a fight for supremacy among the many groups operating there. With the new strategy, a program of political reconciliation will take place with the aid of Baluchistan’s regional government. Sharif sees everyone’s participation as the only way to wipe out extremism.

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The new strategy will also ensure all the insurgents’ sources of income and charity work will be cut, and their affiliations with any outside organizations targeted.

On the social media side, the abuse of the internet for any subversive work will be treated harshly. Punishment will be dealt out for the glorification of terrorism and any organizations sponsoring it.

A ban on religious persecution will likewise be put in place, while comprehensive policies will be set up to deal with the issue of registering all Afghan refugees and the return of any others to their homes.

The criminal justice system will be reformed with a view to strengthening the counter-terrorism initiative agreed on by the leadership.

"Special courts, headed by the officers of armed forces, will be established for the speedy trial of terrorists," the prime minister said later in the midnight address, adding that the courts will operate for a period of two years. That question was among the sticking points of the meeting, with some leaders worried that the trials might be used for eliminating political opposition. They say their concerns have been alleviated now: “Only terrorists would be tried in these courts and these would not be used for political objectives," opposition leader Syed Khursheed Shah told AFP.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif (AFP Photo)

In the immediate aftermath of the school attack, Sharif emphasized that there will be no distinction between “good Taliban and bad Taliban” - the militants will be wiped out.

The country is in a volatile state. The drawn-out battle with the Taliban in the militant strongholds of North Waziristan and Khyber provinces has been ongoing since June. But efforts to smoke the militants out have been stepped up recently - a series of air strikes after the Peshawar attack took out dozens of alleged militants, while seven Pakistani Taliban died on Wednesday in the southern port of Karachi, where the government hopes to conclude the operation soon.

The Pakistani military spoke to Afghan and ISAF colleagues, who say they are onboard and will offer their full support in the continuing efforts.