Wednesday, December 31, 2014
Growing controversy While Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif is trying to keep the consensus of the All Parties Conference (APC) on setting up military courts to try terrorists intact, the chorus of dissidence is growing. Amongst the political parties, the PPP, and particularly its Senators have voiced grave reservations regarding the step. Now ex-Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, prominent lawyers and human rights activists have all added their voices to the dissidents. In sum, all the critics base their opposition on the following arguments or grounds. First and foremost, the critics argue that setting up military courts (which is what the euphemistically titled ‘special courts’ essentially are) in the presence of an independent civil judicial system goes against the basic structure of the constitution. Even if a constitutional amendment is passed (a prospect increasingly looking unlikely) to bring such courts into existence they say, such an amendment is likely to suffer a fate no different from that of the military courts set up in 1977 and 1999, which were struck down by the Supreme Court as contrary to the basic scheme of the constitution. Second, they voice grave reservations about opening the door to such courts, fearing their scope could end up being expanded against political and other dissidents (a fate not unlikely given that the anti-terrorism laws have turned out over time to be a convenient catchall for our ever-inventive police to lump any and all crimes in this basket for its own convenience and expediency). Although at the time of writing these lines the Senate has been graced with one of the PM’s rare visits to the upper house on the insistence of the opposition that he wind up the debate on the Peshawar tragedy, it cannot be assumed with any sanguinity that the government will be able to garner the two-thirds majority it needs in parliament to get any constitutional amendment passed. Particularly if parties like the PPP and ANP, initially supportive of the military courts in the APC but later voicing reservations do not support the measure in the upper house, the amendment could die a premature death. MQM is on the contrary now fully in support of the military courts proposal although it initially balked in the APC. Such is the state of consistency in our political landscape. PTI has yet to return to the National Assembly, and it has so far no representation in the Senate. All in all, a rather precarious scenario for the government’s efforts. The PM has presided over a meeting on Tuesday to review progress in the implementation of the National Action Plan. While addressing the meeting, the PM tried hard to reassure the critics, especially the political parties without whose support he cannot get the measure through, that the military courts would be confined to hardcore terrorists alone. He also emphasised that all institutions would scrutinise/examine cases thoroughly before forwarding them to the military courts. The PM dubbed it an extraordinary solution for an extraordinary problem, stressing the need for coordination between the federal and provincial governments to deal with terrorist financing. The sub-committee on this issue chaired by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar however found that the law enforcement agencies lack the wherewithal to track and investigate such financing channels. Mr Dar wanted the committee to look critically at charities that act as fronts for terrorist financing, focus on narco-trafficking and coordinate with international agencies to fulfil its task. The problem is that the government seems to have put all its eggs in the basket of the military courts without any fallback or alternative plan. If, as is being anticipated, the military courts cannot be set up through a constitutional amendment because of lack of sufficient support in parliament, the government could examine the option of amending other laws for the same purpose. But the problem with this option too is the likely legal challenges that may be mounted against any such measures, with the prospect of these too being struck down by the judiciary a distinct possibility. While conceding the need to take extraordinary steps to combat the terrorist menace, it must be pointed out that the threat did not emerge on December 16 as a result of the Peshawar attack. The country has been living with and suffering from terrorism for years (approximately 60,000 lives have been lost as a result) but successive governments have failed to realise the need to reform the civil judicial system, particularly the anti-terrorism courts, to deliver against terrorism. But why indulge in all this angst about what is a pattern in our national existence: always attempting to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted?
Tuesday, December 30, 2014
Military courts Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and COAS General Raheel Sharif were scheduled to meet on Tuesday to discuss, amongst other things, the 21st Amendment to set up military courts. The government is said to have done its homework on the Amendment, whose draft will probably be presented in the National Assembly and Senate on January 5. But whether the Amendment will have the smooth sailing that was earlier expected because of the consensus in the All Parties Conference (APC) is now open to question literally days after that unanimity. To illustrate, the Senate’s session on Monday produced a great many reservations on the very concept of setting up military courts. Senator Raza Rabbani of the PPP led the charge with some trenchant criticism of the idea, which he said would hit at the basic structure of the constitution. Quoting from the past history of military courts set up by civilian governments in 1977 and 1998, he underlined that in both cases they were struck down by the courts and ironically led to the overthrow of both prime ministers by military coups. Military courts’ summary procedures, Rabbani argued, while trying civilians, ran the risk of serious miscarriages of justice, referring to the issue of missing persons to illustrate his point. He said the flaws in the civilian judicial system vis-à-vis terrorism cases should not be placed at the door of the judiciary, since judges could not convict accused against whom the prosecution failed to provide clinching evidence. However, these flaws should not rush us into an ill-considered reliance on military courts. He roundly criticised successive governments, but particularly the present incumbents for their failure to implement laws that were already on the statute books. His reference was to the laws governing anti-terrorism courts, laws that remain unimplemented. Another example he gave was that the government in its National Action Plan had talked about curbing hate literature although laws to that effect existed but were never implemented. He said he looked forward to seeing how many printing presses spewing out such literature would be raided and taken to task by the executive in coming days. Rabbani also challenged the statement of Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar that 90 percent of seminaries were registered, quoting the number of unregistered seminaries in Islamabad alone, let alone the rest of the country. Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan, lent his weight in similar fashion, later dilating on television on his stance that setting up military courts should not distort the basic character of the constitution and must be confined to trying religion-based terrorists alone, and not, for example, Baloch nationalists. He was particularly at pains to emphasise that there must be no curbs on fundamental rights. In an interesting development while the debate about the setting up of military courts rages, reports say a proposal has been floated to hold an APC on the issues of Balochistan and Karachi. The proposal is said to have the backing of COAS General Raheel Sharif. The significance of the floating of this idea is that critics blame the heavy-handed tactics of the security forces in Balochistan for deepening the alienation and anger of the Baloch nationalists. In the wake of the Peshawar tragedy, some hotheads seem to have got carried away in lumping the Baloch nationalist insurgency with terrorism and demanding ‘all’ be wiped out. Even making concessions for high running emotions in the aftermath of the Peshawar massacre of schoolchildren, this lumping of all dissident movements in the basket of terrorism obliterates the significant difference between religion-based fanaticism and a political rights-based nationalist insurgency in Balochistan. No ‘one-size-fits-all’ concept, attractive for its ‘ease’ as it may be, will do. A nuanced approach to discrete problems is in our interest. The abortive attempt last year to negotiate with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan showed the virtual impossibility of negotiations succeeding with fanatics. However, the Baloch have long standing political and economic grievances that could be so addressed. Even if the state cannot concede the demand for separation of Balochistan from the country, there is some room for manoeuvre in the space between the insurgent position and the use of force by the state. That space has not so far been explored, largely because the moderate nationalist government of Dr Abdul Malik Baloch has failed in its attempts to kick start any process of talks with the angry Baloch leadership in exile, let alone with the insurgents in the mountains. If General Raheel Sharif has seen the chink of light between the approach to religion-based terrorism and the nationalist insurgency, this can only be considered a good portent and welcomed. We have argued in this space for a very long time for this considered approach rather than the knee-jerk reaction to the Peshawar tragedy that wants to obliterate the difference between the two phenomena the state is faced with. Whether the APC on Balochistan and Karachi can or will yield positive results is difficult to say, but its deliberations can do no harm and may even lead to solutions to these conundrums that can only help the country move forward.
Monday, December 29, 2014
The last trumpet A low key, secret ceremony on Sunday in a sports hall in the NATO headquarters in Kabul for security reasons marked the end of the US/ISAF combat mission in Afghanistan. After 13 years, the longest foreign war in the US’s history, the huge expenditure and loss of human lives leave behind a still precarious situation. Whereas NATO lost 3,485 soldiers in the war, of whom 2,300 were American, it is nevertheless difficult to share NATO Commander US General John Campbell’s rosy spin on what the intervention achieved. Superior force of arms allowed the US to relatively easily roll over the Taliban government in 2001 and, with the induction of NATO troops, reaching at its peak in 2011 130,000 troops belonging to 50 countries, the interventionists were only able to hold the cities and select areas of the countryside, particularly in the east and southeast strongholds of the Taliban. Of course the latter were able to take full advantage of the safe havens they enjoyed across the border on Pakistani soil all these years. The worry for policy makers in Washington as well as informed observers of Afghanistan is the possibility of a collapse of the carefully constructed regime in Kabul once the foreign troops leave in bulk in a few days, with a residual force of about 10,000 troops left behind on a training and support mission that has lately been upgraded to assisting the Afghan forces if they come under attack from the insurgents. The level of violence has reached unprecedented levels since the beginning of 2014, with civilian casualties up 19 percent to 3,188 and Afghan army and police casualties at 4,600 in just the first 10 months of the year. This figure of Afghan army and police casualties is higher for just 2014 than all the foreign troops killed in 13 years of warfare. That in itself is an indicator of the manner in which the Taliban have ratcheted up their attacks. Their spokesmen are triumphantly marking the formal end of the combat mission as a victory that has seen the foreign troops ‘fleeing’. The big question is what would happen if the Taliban decide to go all out on the offensive in 2015, a likely prospect given that they have given no indication of being interested in talks with the Kabul government. A reverse on the battlefield would create pressures on US President Obama to send troops to Afghanistan once again in a parallel with what has happened in Iraq after the emergence of Islamic State (IS). This political hot potato may not be easy to handle if public surveys and polls of American opinion are any guide. All of them show that from 90 percent support for the intervention in 2001, the figures of those still approving the invasion and occupation and optimistic about its eventual outcome have shrunk to about 30-40 percent, with a significant minority declaring the war a mistake and being pessimistic about its eventual results. Obama came to office promising to undo Bush’s two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whereas the latter one was wound up earlier, it proved a premature withdrawal, necessitating at the least an air power intervention in the Iraqi and Syrian civil wars against the rampaging IS. A return to Afghanistan would be politically unpopular in a US still struggling with economic recession and hardship for large numbers of its own citizens. The first democratic transition in Afghanistan, though not without hiccups, has brought President Ashraf Ghani to power in a unity government with his rival Abdullah Abdullah, accommodated as the Chief Executive of the country, a newly created post considered the equivalent of a prime minister. Ghani has attempted to reposition Afghanistan by signing the Bilateral Security Agreement his predecessor Karzai balked at at the last moment, reached out to important countries such as the US and its allies, Saudi Arabia, China and Pakistan. The last in particular is critical for cooperation on the porous Pak-Afghan border if terrorism is to be stemmed in either country. The prospects for such cross-border cooperation are better today than they have ever been, particularly after the massacre of schoolchildren in Peshawar. But there is little room for complacency. Apart from the political and security challenges on his plate, President Ashraf Ghani has to confront the reputation of Afghanistan as one of the most corrupt countries in the world and the leading opium producer. Afghanistan needs all the help it can get at this moment of the foreign troops’ withdrawal, and Pakistan is arguably the most important of its actual or potential partners in the struggle against terrorism.
Sunday, December 28, 2014
SCs concerns Concerns about the Special Courts (SCs) to be set up under military presiding officers continue to be voiced from diverse quarters. Co-chairperson of the PPP Asif Ali Zardari, in his speech at the seventh death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto in Garhi Khuda Baksh, expressed his apprehension regarding the misuse of the SCs against politicians like himself and Nawaz Sharif, who could find themselves s behind bars if such a development occurred. The constitutional amendment under preparation for bringing in the SCs should not, he warned, become a ‘black’ law, based on the experience of previous such steps in the past. He categorically rejected the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban binary. He reminded his audience that if the massacre of PPP’s jiyalas in Karachi in 2007 on Benazir’s return had been taken seriously, subsequent tragic incidents including Peshawar could have been avoided. While there is weight in this argument, it should not be forgotten that of the seven years since the tragic event in Karachi, the PPP was in power for five years. However, that government failed to either do much about the spread of terrorism itself or persuade the security establishment to do the same. In fact, the COAS at that time, General Kayani, after the military offensives in Swat and South Waziristan, dragged his feet over the necessary tackling of the terrorist safe havens in North Waziristan despite the fact that he had sufficient time to do this after he received an extension in his tenure to six years. Asif Zardari also tried to allay the apprehensions regarding his differences with son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, whose absence was keenly felt by the young workers of the party at the commemoration, which saw declining numbers this year as a reflection of the internal crisis of the PPP. Asif Zardari also attempted to scotch rumours of a falling out with Makhdoom Amin Fahim, the head of the PPP-Parliamentarians, asserting that Makhdoom would never betray the party and there were no cracks amongst the leadership. Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah wanted Benazir Bhutto’s trial to be conducted by the SCs, which he said were accepted with a heavy heart while accepting the exigencies of the present situation. Meanwhile MQM’s Farooq Sattar in a press conference in Karachi also added his voice to the concerns swirling around the SCs. He emphasised sticking to the sunset clause of two years for the SCs, and argued that local governments, citizens’ vigilance, community policing systems were necessary in the fight against terrorism. The SCs, he said, were only a temporary solution and that parliament should ensure the effective functioning of the so far moribund National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), He said his party only agreed to the setting up of the SCs after strong assurances from the government that their functioning would be restricted to terrorism-related cases. Farooq Sattar offered all the manpower of MQM to ensure the security of schools in the aftermath of the Peshawar massacre, pointing to the fears of school managements, parents and children in this regard. Lawyers in Karachi too expressed themselves in favour of strengthening the existing criminal justice system as the long term solution to the terrorist challenge, regarding the SCs as a temporary measure. The Peshawar tragedy and the steps announced by the government in its wake have not gone unnoticed worldwide. While the massacre has been widely condemned amidst a show of sympathy and solidarity with the victims and the people of Pakistan, concerns regarding the lifting of the moratorium on executions continue to reverberate. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif to urge a halt to executions. However, the PM argued that extraordinary situations required extraordinary steps while reassuring the Secretary General that legal norms would be respected while dealing with all terrorist cases. The PM consulted his legal aides on Saturday regarding options for setting up the SCs and asked that all parties be taken along in the constitutional amendment and other steps. He also emphasised that legal protection be provided to members of the armed forces in the context of anti-terrorist operations and sectarian terrorists be included in the ambit of the strategy. The PM has set up an umbrella monitoring committee and under it 15 sub-committees with timeframes for finalising their recommendations. While the government seems to be getting up to speed on the National Action Plan, no one should labour under the illusion that this will be a short war. Staying the course therefore is of utmost importance.
Saturday, December 27, 2014
BB remembered At the time of writing these lines, the PPP was commemorating the seventh death anniversary of Benazir Bhutto (BB) in Garhi Khuda Buksh, Sindh, her ancestral home where she lies buried along with her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB). The commemoration, despite being arguably the most important date in the party’s calendar since 2007, has been more or less reduced to an annual ritual of affirmation of loyalty to the party, but the content of the speeches and statements emanating from there leave more questions than answers. While co-chairperson and former president Asif Ali Zardari and other PPP leaders are treading furiously in the water to defend the party against criticism and continue to claim the mantle of its legacy of struggle for democracy, thoughtful souls both inside and outside the party are casting doubts about the present and future standing of the party. One fact that stands out undeniably is that the PPP, for all practical purposes has shrunk to Sindh, thereby losing its long standing mantle of the only federal party with support in all four provinces. How the party has been reduced to this pass bears reflection. First, a word about BB’s achievements. Amongst these must be counted first and foremost her long struggle against the Ziaul Haq dictatorship after the 1977 coup that overthrew ZAB and introduced the dark night of obscurantism that Pakistan has yet to fully recover from. Her suffering, imprisonment and eventual exile are all documented in her book Daughter of the East. That period experienced a historic turn with her return to the country in 1986, an occasion that mobilised all the anti-Zia dictatorship forces, not just the PPP, in what could be likened to the second edition of the unsuccessful Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in 1983. Zia’s unsolved assassination in the 1988 crash of his plane cleared the way for the restoration of democracy. BB was elected the first woman prime minister of a Muslim county at a young age. However, the continuing legacy/legatees of the Zia dictatorship turned the democratic throne into a bed of thorns, leading not only to BB’s government’s dismissal in 1990 after a series of conspiracies, but arguably laid the precedent for the same fate for Nawaz Sharif’s first government (1990-93) despite him being considered a blue-eyed boy of the establishment. The final defeat of this phase of BB’s struggle for democracy arrived in 1996, poisoned immeasurably by the murder of Murtaza Bhutto and the betrayal by then president Farooq Leghari. Time-honoured methods of harassment were then unleashed through politically motivated cases against her, finally forcing her to go into self-imposed exile. Meanwhile the ‘revolving door’ of 1990s politics brought Nawaz Sharif back to power with a two-thirds majority, which proved both a blessing and a curse. Blessing because it permitted his government to remove the notorious Article 58(2)(b) from the constitution, curse because that very (correct) removal motivated, amongst serious differences with the Sharif government over Kargil, the military to stage its coup in 1999. General Musharraf, our last (hopefully) military dictator had relatively smooth sailing till 2007, not the least because our liberal intelligentsia initially supported his coup in the mistaken belief that he was a ‘secular liberal’, spiced up beyond measure by 9/11 and the changed situation in Pakistan and the region. It was not until Musharraf dug his own political grave by creating the 2007 judicial crisis that his weakening indicated new space for political manoeuvre. BB in exile (now joined by Nawaz Sharif) produced the Charter of Democracy to end the manipulation of mutual differences between political parties by the establishment and spelt out clearly the break with reliance on any undemocratic forces/institutions. Before her final (and eventually tragic) return to Pakistan in 2007, BB also delineated her new paradigm of reconciliation, which idea arguably paved the way for the PPP’s (and PML-N’s in tow) re-entry into national politics. However, at the very moment of her greatest comeback and when she was poised to perhaps lead Pakistan to a brighter future, BB was cut down by cruel, dark forces whom even the PPP government of 2008-13 proved unable to unmask and bring to justice. That stint in power under Asif Ali Zardari’s leadership ironically sounded the death knell of the PPP as a party of the future, a fate now reinforced by the failure to reconcile the old and new culture of the party and allow Bilawal Bhutto Zardari to take charge. While it may be premature to sound the funeral dirge of the PPP, its current crisis does not inspire confidence in its present leadership’s ability to once again resurrect the party to somewhere near its former glory.
Friday, December 26, 2014
National Action Plan The National Action Plan (NAP) prepared by the All Parties Conference in consultation with the military has now to be launched by the latter, at least as far as the parts of NAP the military is charged with implementing. A top level meeting of the military high command on Thursday under COAS General Raheel Sharif decided that the Special Courts (SCs) to be set up to try terrorists would be headed by Brigadier-level officers. These courts would function under the Field General Court Martial. Apart from this, the meeting addressed the other tasks assigned to the military and intelligence agencies and took decisions regarding their implementation. These tasks include training the law enforcement agencies’ personnel in anti-terrorist operations. The military will help raise another 10 wings of the Frontier Corps (FC), intensify the Karachi operation and aid efforts for political reconciliation in Balochistan. The COAS instructed the meeting to initiate actions on an urgent footing for speedy and effective practical implementation. General Raheel reciprocated the tribute paid by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in his address to the country on Wednesday in which he praised the role of the military and underlined its leading role in the struggle against terrorism. General Raheel in turn praised the spirit and ‘unwavering’ resolve of the national political leadership in this struggle, for which he has repeatedly said political ownership is a sine qua non. The government has committed and seems to be preparing the draft of the constitutional amendment that will have to be passed to give legal cover to the SCs as the present provisions of the basic law of the land do not permit what will effectively translate into a parallel justice system. Interesting sidelights are being reported about how the ‘reluctant’ political parties were finally persuaded to go along with the setting up of SCs under military officers and working under the Field General Court Martial. Apprehensions regarding the misuse of these courts against political workers were allayed by the government and military, but no one thought to raise the possibility of other dissidents such as human rights advocates and journalists not belonging to any political party being targeted through such an extraordinary judicial dispensation. For the moment, the assurances of the government and military on the narrow focus of the SCs on terrorists has to be taken on faith, but careful monitoring should be conducted to ensure no misuse of the SCs’ powers occurs. Some parties only agreed to the SCs reluctantly, after the guarantees offered and in consultation with their leaders (some of whom were no present in the meeting. These parties, such as the Jamaat-i-Islami, Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam, PPP, etc, have been presenting their justifications for agreeing to the decision (explanations that sound more like mea culpas than reasoned argument). It would not do for these parties and the country generally to let our collective guard down regarding the functioning of the SCs, especially given the track record of disappearances, kill and dump and other such extrajudicial practices of the security agencies that have been evident for some years now. It is a matter of some regret that the general perception has taken root that the civilian government, instead of leading the biggest current internal challenge to state and society, has more or less abdicated its role to the military. Some wags are even inclined to view this as a ‘soft’ coup without any announcement to this effect. There may or may not be weight in these apprehensions. The fact remains that such perceptions are fed by the recent past record of the government and political forces wanting to settle matters with the terrorists through talks, an abortive effort that achieved nothing except a delay in military operations by almost a year. Reportedly, this became a source of frustration for the armed forces that had concluded force had to be used or even the possibility of some groups amongst the militants suing for peace through talks would remain a pipedream. In any case, the matter was clinched by the Peshawar massacre of schoolchildren on December 16, and earlier by the attack on Karachi airport six months ago. Those indulging in ifs and buts argue that if this period had not been wasted in eventually fruitless attempts at talks, perhaps tragedies like Peshawar could have been avoided. It is not useful to indulge in such speculation. The country needs to rally behind the counterinsurgency and counterterrorism drive, not uncritically, but with solid determination and the spirit of seeing this difficult, tortuous, protracted task through to its logical and desirable end.
Thursday, December 25, 2014
Military courts The daylong deliberations by the All Parties Conference (APC) in which the military top brass participated, produced a consensus action plan comprising 19 points. Many of these are reiterations of what has long been known to be necessary and on which agreement was therefore relatively easy. The ‘new’ amongst them could be seen to be the continuation of executions of convicted terrorists, establishment of special trial courts for two years to be manned by military personnel after a constitutional amendment, a commitment not to allow any armed militias to operate in the country, countering hate material and speech, choking terrorist financing, ensuring banned organisations do not reinvent themselves with different names, registration and regulation of madrassas, ban on coverage of terrorists in the media, proscribing the use of the internet and social media by terrorists, zero tolerance for militancy in Punjab, the Karachi operation to be taken to its logical conclusion, empowering the Balochistan government for political reconciliation, and dealing firmly with sectarian terrorists. This alone is quite a hefty agenda, never mind the need to beef up the anti-terrorism regime’s architecture. Apart from the sheer volume of tasks the political forces and the government have set themselves in this action plan, about which reservations about implementation capacity still linger, many troubling questions refuse to go away. To start with, ‘special courts’ manned by military personnel is only a euphemism for military courts. Pakistan’s experience of military courts is not positive. Their summary procedures run the risk of convicting innocents and producing widespread miscarriages of justice. Unfortunately, the civilian judicial system has failed to come up to scratch, hence even parties that had objections to the idea were finally persuaded by the sunset clause of two years and assurances they would only deal with terrorism-related cases. The Chief Justice of Pakistan’s meeting with all the chief justices of the high courts and ordering day-to-day hearings in anti-terrorism courts, monitoring of progress, etc, can only be considered too little too late. The civilian judicial system came in for a bit of stick in the APC’s deliberations for having failed to deliver. After all the ATCs were supposed to conduct day-to-day hearings ab initio and deliver verdicts in seven days, but that wish has gone abegging. Executions in the wake of the lifting of the moratorium on hangings has evoked concerns amongst a wide section of society, including lawyers and human rights defenders, as well as the European Union (recall GSP+). The US, on the other hand, has taken the ‘diplomatic’ position that this is an ‘internal’ matter of Pakistan (the US retains the death penalty and is accused of having one of the highest rates of executions in the world). When the action plan proscribes banned organisations re-emerging with new names, does this imply outfits like Jamaat-ud-Dawa would also be taken to task? That will be one of the litmus tests of the new policy. Grasping the nettle of registration and regulation of madrassas firmly will require will and determination that has been conspicuous by its absence over decades. The recognition of Punjab as a ‘safe haven’ for many terrorist and sectarian groups is a late dawning of wisdom, but better late than never. In the wake of the Peshawar tragedy, our usual cast of suspects who think every problem can be resolved by handing it over to the army have been increasingly crawling out of the woodwork. The history and track record of the disasters called military regimes are forgotten. It is not unusual for states and societies in crisis, as we surely are, to see loud calls for a ‘strong man’ (usually on horseback) to take charge and ‘sort out’ whatever mess is on display. This is a shortsighted and erroneous effort to seek a shortcut to what is a complex task, challenge, and existential struggle requiring the mobilisation of political and civil society, the people and all anti-terrorist forces. Military courts by any other name are bad enough. MQM’s Altaf Hussain’s call for martial law takes the cake though. An interesting sidelight on the APC is the ‘confession’ by a PTI spokesman that they agreed to military courts because ‘the army asked for them’! The less said the better. All these reservations and questions may seem like quibbling when the ‘whole’ country seems to be united behind the newfound anti-terrorism resolve. But it is often when everyone around you is losing their heads that it is time to take a deep breath, consider carefully and not get carried away by emotion. Scrutiny of what is planned and how it is carried out, in the interest of an efficacious and correct policy against terrorism, remains a duty.
Committee proposals The experts working group of the Anti-Terrorism National Action Plan (ATNAP) Committee has presented its report after due deliberation. The group has forwarded 17 recommendations to ATNAP, which was discussing them in Islamabad within the fold of the All Parties Conference (APC) at the time of writing these lines. The APC has representation of all the political parties, the military, and intelligence agencies. The gist of the recommendations revolves around ensuring a strong military, a raft of administrative and legal measures ranging from the setting up of military courts in FATA to reforms in religious seminaries, banning hate material, setting up an anti-terrorism council to be chaired by the prime minister and having representation from the interior ministry, army, intelligence agencies and other organisations. The National Counter-Terrorism Authority (NACTA) should be made effective. A special task force should be set up for the fight against terrorism. It is proposed that it number 5,000 strong, including retired military personnel, 1,000 to be deployed in Islamabad and 1,000 each in all the provinces. The Internet and social media should be monitored for terrorist propaganda. The media should be restrained from offering the terrorists the oxygen of publicity. Any violation should be declared a criminal offence. The religious minorities should be protected. Explosive licences should be cancelled. Last but not least, the intelligence system should be reinvigorated. If these proposals and the thought process behind them seem familiar, this should not surprise us. Counterinsurgency and counterterrorism does not involve reinventing the wheel. Rather it must rely on past experience, domestic and global, and address the areas locally that are found wanting. This is more or less what the proposals recommend. From the latest reports, the APC session is ongoing, which indicates some degree of differences. Reports say the APC has found agreement on 16 of the experts working group’s recommendations. Reportedly, the contentious issue of military courts seems to have invited differences and controversy. The initial recommendation of the experts working group that military courts be set up in FATA alone aroused the ire of the FATA representatives as to why FATA alone was being considered for this step and not the rest of the country. The Jamaat-e-Islami was opposed to military courts per se and more or less echoed the PPP’s Leader of the Opposition in the Senate Chaudhry Aitzaz Ahsan’s (fond?) hope that some way could be found to keep the setting up of military courts within the confines of the constitution and law. The proposal seems to be informed by the current knee-jerk impulse to hang anyone considered a terrorist, and if due process be hanged along with this, so much the worse for due process. Military courts by their very nature are summary courts that fail to satisfy the requisite of due process. The other day, the Lahore High Court and Sindh High Court suspended executions of civilians on the grounds of their not being triable by military courts and questioning whether the proceedings of such courts satisfy the requirements of due process and the right of the accused to a sound legal defence. If military courts are agreed to by the APC and set up throughout the country, such controversies (and perhaps conflict between the civilian judicial system and the military one may be unavoidable) could arise often, defeating the purpose (presumably) of quick ‘disposal’ of terrorism cases. It may be recalled that the anti-terrorism courts were set up for the express purpose of fast tracking terrorism cases and ensuring quick disposal. So much so such courts were required to conduct hearings on a day-to-day basis. If that has not occurred or has lapsed over time, the judicial system has failed to correct this flaw. Now the Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Nasirul Mulk has ordered the anti-terrorism courts to conduct day-to-day hearings. This should have happened much earlier rather than as a response to the December 16 tragedy. It would be jumping the gun to pronounce judgement on whether the deliberations of the APC will yield fruit in the shape of a determined and well thought through strategy against terrorism. However, given the mood in the country and the focus of minds after December 16, one must remain optimistic that the seeming show of unanimity (differences notwithstanding) of the political forces and security establishment will lead to a holistic and comprehensive approach to the cancer of terrorism.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Dubious drive Since the Peshawar tragedy, the security and law enforcing agencies have become hyperactive. All through the length and breadth of the country, reports speak of raids, encounters and the killing or arrest of alleged terrorists. Thus on Monday, 15 ‘terrorists’ were gunned down in Afghan Basti near Al Asif Square, Karachi, and one captured in a raid claimed to have been conducted on a meeting of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s (TTP’s) Khan Zaman Group. Another suspect in the Peshawar attack was picked up in a raid on Mohalla Khursheed Abad, Karachi. At least 120 suspects were rounded up in the Mansehra district, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Amongst the 117 suspects arrested in Islamabad in a ‘search’ operation, 20 are said to be Afghans. In contrast with this flurry of raids and arrests, Malik Ishaq of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is being freed after the Punjab government withdrew its application to extend his expired detention, raising questions about the consistency of approach of the anti-terrorist drive and whether the judiciary’s penchant for sticking to the letter of the law needs appropriate legislation to deal with the special exigencies of the terrorist challenge. One anomaly that has already arisen is the staying of executions of five convicts by the Lahore High Court and two by the Sindh High Court. Both sets of suspensions of executions were based on the defence questioning whether trials by military courts of civilians were kosher, and whether their proceedings met standards of due process. The prosecution has been instructed by Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif to appeal the suspensions in the light of the current hanging spree the authorities seem bent upon as a deterrent message to the terrorists. Even if all the ‘successes’ of recent days of the anti-terrorist drive are taken at face value, the question lingers what miraculous improvement has occurred overnight in the security and law enforcement agencies’ capabilities to lead them unerringly to the alleged terrorists. Or is it the case that these elements were already known but the requisite political will and ‘go-ahead’ signal from the higher authorities was missing till now? Given the track record of our police and security agencies, it would not come as a complete surprise if the pressure from on high to ‘show results’ is leading to sweeps and dragnets that are more interested in numbers killed and arrested rather than the credibility and provability of any and all charges against those killed or detained. In other words, are our police and security establishment genuinely laying hands on the enemy or simply indulging in karwai (action for show)? The question is critical to the success or failure of the seeming newfound determination to root out terrorism and, as PM Nawaz Sharif put it, their facilitators and defenders in the cities and villages throughout the country. The Senate in its debate on the Peshawar incident has come up with some interesting arguments. Demanding practical steps to counter the internal security threats, the members of the upper chamber of parliament asked the government to ensure not only the hanging of terrorists but also those who kill people in the name of religion, pointing in particular to the murderer of Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer. They were of the view that the Peshawar tragedy was a total failure of the federal and provincial governments and intelligence agencies. They demanded an effective and meaningful operation against the terrorists and their supporters, apologists and all those who mislead people by misusing the name of religion. Meanwhile a new controversy has broken out about reports that the threat of an attack like Peshawar had been intimated months ago by the intelligence agencies but it seems there was no one in charge of following up on the information and taking necessary pre-emptive steps. And that is the glaring hole in the current counter-terrorism regime: the lack of a coordinating, decision making centre that can bring together disparate agencies and data to mount an effective riposte to the terrorists’ plans in a proactive manner rather than simply react (and that too in knee-jerk fashion) to actual attacks and atrocities. Pakistan is at a moment of truth. How we go forward from here will determine if this is also a history changer or one more hiccup along the road of our confusion as a state and society. Without a consistent policy against all forms and manifestations of terrorism, whether outward facing or internal, the country cannot find the badly needed salvation from this threat that it craves.
Monday, December 22, 2014
People’s role Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan unloaded a great many thoughts and ideas during his press conference on Sunday. The gist of his remarks revolved around the following proposition: a repeat attack like the one in Peshawar could be expected as revenge for the hangings of convicted terrorists. Four more were hanged on Sunday in Faisalabad, bringing the total so far to six. Kot Lakhpat Jail Lahore is said to be preparing to hang four convicts within the next 24-36 hours, Sukkur Jail is reportedly awaiting the death warrant of two, another 17 are expected to swing this week. According to Chaudhry Nisar, in all about 500 hangings are due. The minister wants some out-of-the-box solutions to tackle the terrorist threat, without enlightening us what the ‘box’ has represented so far. Chaudhry Nisar wants the people to act as the eyes and ears of the state by reporting suspicious persons, objects, activity in their localities. This is of course a capital idea, one we have been advocating for long in this space, given that the state’s eyes and ears, the intelligence agencies, cannot be everywhere at once. Further ‘out-of-the-box’ ideas of the minister involve hotels and house owners being careful who they accommodate and being held responsible if their guests or tenants are found responsible for any terrorist act; mobile telephone companies ensuring they do not issue illegal SIMS and also being held responsible if such SIMS are used for terrorism, and media to deny the oxygen of publicity to the terrorists or their sympathisers, preferably through a voluntary code of ethics, through proposed legislation if they do not. All these measures are justified by the argument of the minister that we are in a state of war. That there is no denying, but one may be forgiven the quibble why all this was not found necessary until the Peshawar wake up call. After all, terrorism did not begin here on December 16. Not to put too fine a point on it, one should perhaps be grateful realisation has dawned: better late than never. However, what is missing in this wish-list is the mobilising power of a counter-narrative that demolishes the appeal of the extremists and terrorists beyond their actual ranks, first and foremost their attempt to monopolise the pristine name of Islam for their skewed and unacceptable worldview. And speaking of Islam, the worthy minister quoted intelligence reports to argue that 90 percent of religious seminaries were not involved in terrorism. For the sake of argument if the minister’s statement is taken at face value (although he did qualify it by adding that even this 90 percent needed to be investigated as to their sources of funding, which implies dubious connections may be revealed thereby), the logical corollary that suggests itself is what successive governments, including this one, have done about the remaining 10 percent, whose involvement in terrorist activities seems implicit in Chaudhry Nisar’s analysis. While praising the ulema’s role in standing with the citizenry in condemning the Peshawar atrocity (apart from loonies like Maulana Abdul Aziz of Lal Masjid, who too has had to retreat from his original outlandish positions under public pressure and protest), Chaudhry Nisar needs to explain why the 10 percent implicitly involved in terrorism-related activities are untouched so far and continue to function. The Peshawar attack and massacre has proved indefensible, even by forces that could have been expected to mumble some defence, justification or excuse. Take the fact that al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (a newly formed entity) felt compelled to condemn the Peshawar incident, although it hedged its position by reference to its interpretation of Islam, sharia, and jihad. Even our closet Taliban sympathisers such as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf has been forced to trash the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and other terrorist groups. Truly, circumstances do the man make. Given the almost universal consensus rejecting the TTP and other such johnnies in Pakistan (and outside it), there has never been a better moment to mount a narrative that rescues state and society from the blind alley and cul de sac of active participation in or passive sympathy for the inhumane, barbaric fascism of the terrorists. That is the surest way to mobilise the people of Pakistan to take on this monster in our midst, without which the state will be hard pressed to achieve its goals of eliminating what has finally come to be recognised as an existential threat to state and society.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
Considered approach The Peshawar massacre of schoolchildren by the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) monsters has evoked a revengeful frenzy throughout the country bordering on hysteria. Perhaps it is the nature and scale of the atrocity in Peshawar that can be held responsible for this collective outburst. But calls for hanging convicted terrorists en masse, even in public, and demands for blood for blood, an eye for an eye cannot be described as a cool, calm, considered response to the challenge posed by the TTP and other terrorist groups. Since the Peshawar bloodbath, the military and security agencies have sprung into action on an unprecedented scale throughout the country. This intense activity has yielded, according to reports, 62 killed in ground action, 57 in air strikes on Friday, 45 on Saturday through the length and breadth of the country. This increased enemy body count raises the troubling question why this kind of outcome has not been possible before, when the terrorists of all hues have taken the toll of civilian and security forces’ lives to above 50,000. Critics are wont to ascribe this surprising uptick in enemy casualties on the possibility that now that the existential threat from the terrorists has come closer to home in the shape of the massacre of military personnel’s children on such a large and barbaric scale, the military and security forces are going after their former protégés with a vengeance. If this view is correct, it suggests that the terrorist community in all its various shades and hues was known to the security establishment, which was nurturing some for strategic depth objectives and perhaps turning a blind eye to others’ sectarian atrocities. Whatever the truth of the matter, no sensible person having the interests of the country at heart could possibly object to the higher body count amongst the enemy’s ranks, provided the claim that they are all terrorists is correct, a proposition difficult to prove independently. More executions are now on the cards after the two carried out in Faisalabad the other day. But some have had to be deferred out of security concerns. Those concerns do not stop at the immediate threat of attacks by the terrorists on jails to free their colleagues on death row. They include the possibility of retaliatory further atrocities and terrorist actions, particularly on soft targets, in the days ahead. The country must therefore brace itself for more tragedies and sorrow. We are in a state of war, a fact denied for far too long by too many on the wrong side of the divide in our society. Such elements, whether in the media or elsewhere, are now under scrutiny and even verbal attack. However, what is still missing is a concentrated counter-narrative to challenge not only the terrorists, their sympathisers and defenders’ views, but educate the general public about how the holy name of religion has been misused by the terrorists to justify their bloody trade. For years we have been warning of the blowback from our proclivity to create and nurture proxy forces to project power in the region, east and west. That blowback has been around for some years but it is only now that the Peshawar tragedy has focused minds as never before across the board and negated the naysayers. Wisdom dawning is better late than never, but knee-jerk reactions and revengeful tendencies are no substitute for a considered, holistic approach to the problem of the growth and proliferation of all sorts of terrorist johnnies on our soil. The self-inflicted affliction of terrorist groups, whether for foreign and strategic policy purposes or because space was allowed sectarian terrorism, now requires the physician to heal himself. No partial or discriminatory approach, along the lines of the thoroughly discredited by now ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban narrative will do. Domestic terrorist groups such as the TTP and its ilk, sectarian groups such as the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and its tribe, proxy warriors against India like the Jamaat-ud-Dawa and their extremist allies must all be put out to pasture (to put it euphemistically). Pakistan must now also revisit its Afghan Taliban policy and make sincere efforts to bring about a rapprochement between Mulla Omar and company and Kabul if Afghanistan, Pakistan, the region and the world are to finally turn the page on jihadi terrorism.
Saturday, December 20, 2014
Hangings, et al As expected, the executions of convicted terrorists have begun. On Friday, two were hanged in Faisalabad District Jail amidst tight security. Mohammad Aqeel, alias Dr Usman, and Arshad Mehmood were sent to the gallows for the attack on GHQ on October 10, 2009 and the attempted assassination of former general and president Pervez Musharraf in late 2003 respectively. Both were convicted by military courts. The government has given the go-ahead to all Inspector Generals of Police to execute 22 more terrorism convicts on death row. This brings the total likely to be executed to 85. In addition, the interior ministry is examining 378 more such cases. These convicts have exhausted their appeals procedure. Some of them had filed mercy appeals to the president, which are now likely to be rejected, clearing the way for them to have their date with the hangman’s noose. Prisons all over the country have been placed on high alert in anticipation of possible Taliban attacks to break their colleagues out of jails, as happened in the past in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), not unexpectedly, has threatened revenge for these hangings. The list of executed or to be executed terrorists reveals once more the extent to which the armed forces had been infected by jihadist ideology, the explanation for why so many former armed forces personnel fell under the sway of al Qaeda and the Taliban’s worldview. The attacks on Musharraf and GHQ, for example, could not have been carried out by such elements without insider help. In many other instances too, suspicion persists that attacks on highly guarded military bases and installations could not have occurred without collaborators on the inside. Reports say the armed forces have been purged of all such elements over the years. One hopes so, since now that the armed forces are fully engaged in a fight to the finish against the terrorists, they should not have to keep looking over their shoulders. Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif chaired a high level meeting on the renewed security strategy in GHQ on Friday, where it was decided that there would be no leniency towards terrorists and tough steps would be taken against them. COAS General Raheel Sharif urged the government to speed up executions of convicted terrorists. The PM extended an assurance in this regard. He also promised all necessary resources and cooperation to the drive against terrorism, and all the required amendments to anti-terror laws. It was decided that civil-military intelligence sharing would be strengthened. General Raheel briefed the PM on his recent Afghanistan visit. The meeting decided to enhance security on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. The ongoing operations in North Waziristan and Khyber Agency will be expanded to the Tirah Valley and other tribal areas in the next stage. Already, ground and air forces have hit the terrorists hard in Khyber and Kurram Agencies, inflicting 62 deaths on the terrorists, a foreign Taliban commander and his colleagues have been killed in Ziarat District in Balochistan, and several have been captured during all these stepped up operations. Military courts are being set up to try terrorists in an effort to speed up disposal of their cases, although many have reservations about the less than satisfactory due process in such courts. Trilateral US/Afghan/Pakistani operations on either side of the border are planned, although there will be no hot pursuit across the border from either side. Meanwhile the committee of political parties’ representatives charged with creating an action plan decided on Friday to set up an experts group to provide input into the new strategy. This experts group was supposed to meet on Saturday, forward its recommendations to the committee on Monday, to be reviewed by Tuesday. Those criticising the seven day period given to the committee to prepare what many thought should have been done years ago may be surprised to note that the committee is moving with extraordinary dispatch. Judgement on its final outcome must await its final proposals. The galvanisation of the political class, the military and citizens at large in the wake of the Peshawar massacre of schoolchildren is unprecedented. In the middle of all this positivity to rise to the challenge of terrorism, Lal Masjid Islamabad’s khateeb Maulana Abdul Aziz (of the fleeing in a burka fame) sticks out like a sore thumb for his effort to defend the TTP and refrain from condemning the Peshawar tragedy. Civil society and ordinary citizens, appalled at this blatant insensitivity and unacceptable partisanship for the terrorists have taken the Maulana to task. Given Lal Masjid and the Maulana’s role in creating the whole fracas that led to the formation of the TTP in 2007, at the very least he should be removed as khateeb, at best he should be put away where he can do no further harm.
Friday, December 19, 2014
Chinks in our armour An unprecedented unity attends political and public opinion throughout the country after the dastardly attack on the Peshawar school. There is hardly a dry eye or light heart in the country after the deaths of so many children at the hands of the ruthless terrorists. The situation requires rethinking on the part of state institutions as well as all those who have been or still are apologists for or defenders of these barbarians. It is exceedingly strange therefore to contemplate that while the government and the military are moving towards carrying out executions of convicted terrorists after lifting the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorism acts, and the military is intensifying attacks on the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan in FATA, that an Anti-Terrorism Court (ATC) in Islamabad has seen fit at this exact moment to allow bail to the main accused in the Mumbai attacks of 2008. Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was so favoured by the court despite the prosecution’s objections. The government is expected to appeal against the decision, otherwise Lakhvi is poised to walk free. The development should be seen in the context of the complaint many have been voicing and which was forcefully underlined by COAS General Raheel Sharif to Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif in their meeting immediately after the Peshawar carnage. The COAS complained that the courts were lax in convicting terrorists and even when they were convicted and their appeals process had been exhausted, the informal moratorium on executions meant the deterrent effect of the death penalty had been reduced to a toothless tiger. This situation, General Raheel argued, could only encourage the terrorists since they feared no retribution. The PM responded by lifting the moratorium on executions of convicted terrorists. The first executions are on the verge of being carried out (and some may have been by the time these lines appear in print). The PM has briefed the president and asked him to expedite the final decision on the mercy appeals pending with his office or now being forwarded. The COAS in the meantime has signed the death warrants of six terrorists convicted by military courts. On the other hand, Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Nasirul Mulk has stated that a meeting of High Court judges is to be convened shortly to expedite trials of terrorism cases. In the light of this response to the massacre, the decision of the ATC in Lakhvi’s case is all the more inexplicable and unwelcome, sending as it does the wrong message at the wrong time. India has predictably reacted negatively to this development, which is made sadder by the fact that our neighbouring country, from the government to ordinary citizens and particularly students, has shown exemplary sympathy and solidarity with Pakistan and the victims of this tragedy. Talk about bad timing. But apart from the failure of the ATC to be sensitive to the obtaining situation, the judge in question has merely followed the ‘business as usual’ approach of the courts to what are extraordinary cases requiring more application of mind. Simply sticking to the letter of the law has led our courts in this direction. But what the courts need to realise is the threat and menace such accused pose to society when released. There are innumerable reports that those charged with terrorist offences, when released on bail or even acquitted, go back to their deathly ways. One report says that in the last four years, 14,115 persons have been acquitted in terrorism-related cases. Now purist legal minds may argue that this is not the courts’ fault and they simply follow what is laid down in the statute book. The real culprit, according to this view, is the poor state of our investigating and prosecution agencies that are unable to convincingly prove in court that the accused are guilty of what they are charged with. Even if thus argument is taken on board without prejudice, surely there is a case here for bringing in extraordinary legislation to meet the exigencies of an extraordinary war situation to deny such accused bail or lightly acquit them to return to freedom and continue to wreak havoc on state and society. The other categories of those who badly expose the chinks in our armour where terrorism is concerned are those who in the past have been apologists or defenders of the terrorists. This category of people may have been temporarily silenced by the scale and brutality of the Peshawar bloodbath, but there is no evidence that they have changed their views. Voices are now being raised that such people should be categorised as terrorists too, since they bring comfort and grist to the mill of the terrorist monsters. Food for thought if we are serious about getting serious about crushing the hydra of terrorism.
Thursday, December 18, 2014
Political will The committee headed by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, charged with producing an action plan to combat terrorism within one week by the All Parties Conference (APC) in Peshawar will also have representation of the military and intelligence agencies. This is a positive sign of the military and civilian sides converging on the national task of eliminating terrorism. Even more important, the consensus amongst the political class in the APC indicates that ownership of the anti-terrorist struggle by the civilians has finally arrived. It may be recalled that last year’s APC concluded with a call for talks with the militants to find a peaceful solution to the conflict that is tearing Pakistan apart. The dialogue proved abortive after the attack on Karachi airport. What followed was Operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan and, as a follow up, Operation Khyber-I soon after. Although the government gave these operations the nod, it seemed later that it was at best a half-hearted assent, given that the National Security Policy (NSP) announced by the Interior Minister last year was left to wither on the vine. Paradoxically, just when its implementation was most needed in the light of the apprehension that the terrorists, under pressure in FATA because of the military offensives, would logically strike back in the cities, it was left dangling in the wind. That prognosis came true with a vengeance in the attack on the school in Peshawar. Since the NSP was first aired, nothing seems to have been done to implement its provisions to activate and make effective the moribund National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) as the umbrella organisation under which all stakeholders would work together, nor did the proposed Joint Intelligence Directorate to pool all intelligence agencies’ data see the light of day. Of course, as claimed by Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Omar Khorasani, the Peshawar attack and massacre of children was a riposte to the military operations in FATA, but the question lingers in the air whether such an attack could have been prevented if the purported aims of the NSP had seen practical implementation. In a war of this nature, there is little room for complacency regarding the claimed successes in the military operations, which are being hailed variously as having ‘broken the back of the terrorists’, ‘sent them on the run’, etc. By its very nature, this will be a protracted war, with twists and turns, successes and setbacks, as much a contest of will as of arms. The burning question then remains: despite the sound bites of determination and unity, does the political class have the will to see this national task through, no matter how long it takes, what the costs are, etc? On that count, there is still room for misgivings. Imran Khan may have announced he is giving up his sit-ins (a welcome development in terms of removing a major distraction to the focus required against terrorism), but he will continue to demand his pound of flesh in return in the shape of the judicial commission to investigate alleged election rigging. The government must not lapse into complacency and should take steps to give Imran what he wants, both to indicate it has nothing to fear, as well as to prevent the distraction rearing its head once again. In their grief and anger, wide sections of society are shouting themselves hoarse that the informal moratorium in place since the previous PPP government on executions of those awarded the death penalty should be removed. The government has already moved halfway in this direction by lifting the moratorium for those convicted of terrorism. Their hanging may assuage some people with the sweet taste of revenge for Peshawar, but caution is required that we do not slide into a witch-hunt. Who does not know that our judicial system’s flaws often end up condemning the innocent and letting the guilty go free? As it is, the other side of the coin is the inability of our courts, including anti-terrorism courts, to hand down convictions in even the cases of well known terrorists. This lacuna is owed as much to poor investigation and prosecution skills as the ability of known terrorists to intimidate witnesses and even judges. The moratorium on executions won Pakistan GSP+ enhanced access to European markets. Although the outpouring of condemnation of the Peshawar massacre and expressions of sympathy and solidarity from all over the world may help us avoid any adverse impact of lifting the moratorium for convicted terrorists, this should not be allowed to become the thin edge of the wedge of a wholesale hanging spree of the over 8,000 convicts on death row. Many of them have been convicted, at least in non-terrorism cases, on flawed due process and deserve better. Only the political will to see the task of the anti-terrorism struggle through to its bitter end can save the country from adding immeasurably to the over 50,000 civilians and military and security forces personnel killed since the TTP emerged in 2007. And only that political will can see the flaws in our judicial system replaced by a regime that convicts efficiently but fairly as the necessary foundation of a successful outcome by a state demonstrably acting within the law and not resorting to mere revengeful frenzy.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Response to tragedy The whole country is in mourning after the tragic events in Peshawar on Tuesday. The government in turn has announced three days of official mourning. The sense of shock and grief that gripped the people of Pakistan when news of the dastardly attack on an army-run school/college in Peshawar started pouring in was so profound that people struggled to put their feelings into words. Yesterday was still gripped by the fog surrounding events. As the details have become clearer, it is possible to piece together a picture of what occurred. Nine terrorists reportedly wearing military uniforms managed to access the premises through a back gate and started shooting indiscriminately. Three of them reportedly also exploded suicide vests, which resulted in further casualties. A counter-operation by the security forces, including SSG commandos, managed to kill all the terrorists after a protracted eight hour gun battle, during which seven commandos were injured. As to the intended victims, the toll was 132 students and nine staff members killed, 121 students and three staff members injured. On the other hand, 960 people were evacuated from the premises by the security forces. The sad news on Wednesday was that three of the injured had also succumbed to their wounds. It cannot be said with certainty at this point whether the death toll will rise further, given that some of the wounded were brought to hospital in critical condition. While the whole country grieves along with the parents and families of the dead and wounded, this grief must now be turned to strength to combat the menace of terrorism without any ifs and buts. One reflection of the manner in which this tragedy has changed the national mood is the All Parties Conference (APC) called by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in Peshawar, where he had rushed soon after receiving news of the disaster. What was notable about this APC as opposed to the one last year that decided to hold eventually abortive talks with the terrorists was the consensus across the board that the time had come to firmly grasp the nettle of terrorism and crush it. After all, no people can allow this kind of wholesale massacre of its children to go without an adequate response. The APC took the decision to pursue the war on terrorists without discrimination between so-called ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban until the complete elimination of the terrorist phenomenon. A committee headed by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar and comprising representatives of all the parliamentary parties has been formed to produce a counter-terrorism strategy and action plan within one week. The attack in Peshawar has united the political class behind the national agenda of combating the existential threat of terrorism. Even Imran Khan has changed his tune, as was evident in the press conference held after the APC by all the heads of parties, in which Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan sat side by side. While sticking to his guns on alleged election rigging and the need to have it investigated by a judicial commission (whose results he said he would accept whichever way they turned out), Imran Khan argued that this was a moment for the whole country to come together. Imran Khan and his coalition allies the Jamaat-e-Islami must be appreciated for their sense of responsibility in attending the APC and putting their weight behind the consensus of all parties. Meanwhile COAS General Raheel Sharif, who had cut short his visit to Quetta to rush to Peshawar after the news of the attack broke, has travelled to Kabul to meet Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the US commander of ISAF General John F Campbell, reportedly to coordinate ‘hammer and anvil’ actions against the TTP of Mullah Fazlullah sitting on Afghan soil just across the border. Unlike in the past, this cooperation has better chances of coming through after the Peshawar tragedy. The whole world has expressed sorrow, sympathy and solidarity with Pakistan in the aftermath of the horrendous loss of so many children. Even our neighbours, India and Afghanistan foremost, have expressed their horror and sympathy. In India on Wednesday, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sent a message of condolence and sympathy, schools throughout the country maintained two minutes of silence in memory of the slain students of Peshawar. These are good sentiments and reactions to an event that has horrified people all over the globe. The political class and the military have come together as never before after being woken up by the brutality of the terrorists. In this fight, there is no longer any room for mercy, equivocation, or fumbling. The snake must be scotched for good.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
PTI’s ‘naya’ media An unfortunate trend in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) protests was repeated in the Lahore manifestation. Journalists of one media group in particular, and other media groups the party considers not toeing the PTI’s line, have been targeted time and again. Reporters, anchormen and even women anchorpersons have not been spared. In Lahore, that particular media group’s woman anchorperson was reduced to tears on live television by having water bottles and stones launched from slingshots thrown at her. A DSNG van of the same media group was pelted with stones at Chungi Amer Sidu. One reporter was injured badly elsewhere by one such missile that struck him on the head. If anyone thinks such treatment was reserved only for that particular media group, another media group’s DSNG van was also attacked. The ‘favourite’ target of the PTI rowdies however, remains the media group that ran into a fair controversy after one of its anchorpersons was ambushed in Karachi and almost killed. Immediately after this incident, when the group fell out of favour with the security establishment, Imran Khan turned his verbal guns on the group and its top management. This has acted as a catalyst for PTI protestors to target the group’s women reporters in the Islamabad and Karachi protests. Whether there is a link between the media group’s falling out of favour with the powers-that-be and Imran Khan’s verbal attacks on it, which have translated into physical attacks on its journalists, must be left in the realm of conjecture. Nevertheless, the development gives pause for thought why the weapon of language if the PTI or Imran Khan disagree with the reportage and analysis of the group has been increasingly replaced by the language of weapons. Could it be that this is an indication of the PTI and its leader’s lack of argument to refute any criticism that may have come their way from the group? Naturally, these acts have been roundly condemned by the journalists’ bodies, including the PFUJ, PUJ, KUJ, and Press Clubs throughout the country. On Monday, after these latest incidents, these bodies had announced a series of countrywide protests against these physical attacks on the media. At the time of writing these lines, it is not known whether the planned protests could be carried out or were overtaken by the horrendous and tragic attack on a school/college in Peshawar. Even if that was the case, the issue is not going to go away so easily since there appears by now to be a pattern to the attacks on the media: anyone who does not praise Imran Khan and the PTI to the skies or dares to criticise it will be taken to task (physically). After the Lahore events, Imran Khan issued a mealy-mouthed statement instructing his supporters not to target the media. But this may prove insufficient or even be ignored by the hotheads in the PTI’s ranks who have not heeded similar appeals in the past. The journalists’ bodies are threatening to boycott the PTI unless such attacks stop. In its own interests, if not those of freedom of the media and a democratic attitude, the PTI’s leaders need to rein in such elements before things get out of hand and some new tragedy is played out.
Monday, December 15, 2014
PTI’s real agenda Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) mobilised for its protest in Lahore yesterday by selecting 18 sites in the city to station their cadres. These points controlled the entry and exit points of the city, as well as the main roads and arteries. The PTI leadership had been at great pains on the eve of the protest to assert that the protest would be peaceful so long as the ‘Gullu Butts’ (goons) of the government were not unleashed on them. They had also promised that Lahore’s citizens’ life would be disrupted as little as possible, appealing for support from ordinary citizens as well as the traders for one day’s sacrifice for the sake of ‘freedom’. As the day turned out however, this peaceful scenario did not quite transpire. Mercifully the government had drawn the correct lessons from the contrasting outcomes of the protests in Faisalabad and Karachi and wisely decided to convey to their PML-N cadre to stay off the streets and avoid a repetition of the clash between the supporters of the two parties. Apart from a minor clash in Chungi Amer Sidhu, no major conflict was reported. However, the blockade of the main roads and arteries was imposed through burning tyres, blockages manned by PTI cadres, etc. This led to scuffles and even the thrashing of ordinary citizens such as rickshaw drivers plying their trade or motorcyclists travelling to work, home, etc. The Metro bus system was brought to a grinding halt through stone throwing and other such ‘peaceful’ means. Along the blocked main roads and arteries, the markets seemed almost universally shut. However, the side streets feeding into these arteries were open, as were the markets located on them. This leads to the surmise that the traders along the blocked routes considered discretion the better part of valour for fear of damage at the hands of the PTI crowds, while the traders along the side roads/markets voted with the opening of their shops and places of business as on any normal working day. The shutter down therefore could only at best be described as partial. In any case, the traders and transporters bodies had clearly opposed the PTI call for a shutter down. That by no means implies that the denizens of Lahore did not experience difficulties and inconvenience. In fact, at the time of writing these lines, it was reported that four people had died in ambulances while being transported to hospital because, despite their pleading and begging, the PTI cadres manning the blockades refused to give them passage. This tragedy does not reflect well on the discipline of the PTI. The question now is, where does the PTI wish to take this campaign? Imran Khan says if the government gives a date for the setting up of a judicial commission to probe alleged rigging in the 2013 elections, his party will consider giving up its intended countrywide shutdown, otherwise December 18 will remain D-Day. While talks between the government and the PTI have restarted, there remain grave misgivings about whether the process can lead to a solution of the political standoff that is taking its toll of the country’s nerves and well being. In fact some observers are of the view that the PTI is precisely waging a war of nerves. The strategy appears to be to continue ‘talking while fighting’. Imran Khan has proved again and again that he does not say what he means and does not mean what he says. There is no guarantee that he will hold to his promises and stated positions. These stances seem purely tactical in nature, and as soon as they are conceded, Imran Khan raises the bar. Through such incremental demands, the PTI seems clearly embarked on making things so difficult as to lead to the overthrow or collapse of the government, clearing the way, so Imran Khan believes, for his ascent to power. Other than that, the content of Imran Khan’s politics, as reflected in his speeches, is full of sound and fury, signifying not much (with apologies to the Bard). The government on the other hand, because of this strategy of the PTI, seems caught in a cleft stick: damned if it represses the PTI protests, damned (politically) if it doesn’t. With no clear end in sight therefore, trepidation about the future of the country mounts with each passing day of the impasse.
Sunday, December 14, 2014
SC on polls results The Supreme Court (SC) has delivered its detailed judgement on the petitions seeking an annulment of the 2013 polls on the basis of systematic and widespread rigging. The three-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice Nasirul Mulk observed that election results could not be challenged in any other way except by approaching the Election Tribunals (ETs). The petitions were dismissed on the grounds that no evidence was presented that could form the basis for notices to the impugned respondents. These respondents would have included the government, election commission, NADRA and the Pakistan Council of Scientific and Industrial Research. The court pointed out to the counsel of the petitioners that he was only relying on printed news items. In the absence of naming specific authorities deemed responsible, no direction could be given. The counsel was confronted with the non-maintainability of the petitions since Article 225 of the constitution generally ousted the purview of the high courts or any other court except the ETs in election matters. There are only a few exceptions to this general rule whereby the courts’ jurisdiction can be exercised under Article 199, but election results could not be challenged anywhere else except before the ETs. The SC further inquired of the counsel whether the entire elections could be annulled under any provisions of the law or constitution. Since the counsel had nothing to assist the court on these questions, the SC put the lid on the matter. Now that the SC has clearly enunciated the law on the subject of challenging election results, it beggars the mind why Imran Khan has been banging away at the doors of the SC for ‘justice’ in the matter of the alleged stolen mandate in the 2013 elections. The PTI has many capable legal brains in its ranks. A bare reading of Article 225 (even by a layman) makes the constitutional and legal position more than clear. Similarly, why has the PTI been as tardy as it has over the last year and a half in pursuing its cases before the ETs? Apart from the (by now) famous four seats’ results it challenged soon after the 2013 polls, a total of some 30 cases were instituted by the party before the ETs. Not all of them have reached conclusion yet (partly because of the PTI’s failure to pursue them, partly the inherent slowness of our judicial procedures), but the few that have been finally adjudicated indicate that not all of them will go the PTI’s way. And even if they did, the logic of numbers suggests they may cause a minor dent at best, but would not overturn the PML-N government’s majority. What is all the hullaballoo about then? It should be recalled that initially, with the possible exception of the four seats mentioned above, Imran Khan had accepted the results and even congratulated Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on his victory. Why then, did Imran Khan suddenly seem to have had an epiphany this summer? The whole country has been held hostage to the PTI agitation since August, with nerves frayed by the long drawn confrontation, the economy disrupted, business confidence flushed down the sink hole, and no end in sight. Now, after all these perambulations, the two protagonists are once more poised to return to the negotiating table. If the talks are held in good faith and not as merely a tactic to prolong the crisis, the government has practically and in its statements (repeatedly) conceded the demand for a judicial commission to probe the elections and set up a parliamentary committee to recommend electoral reforms. In line with its half-in, half-out stance on the Assemblies (with the exception of course of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), the PTI has not participated in these deliberations in parliament. What remains, and hopefully will transpire when these talks get to grips with the terms of reference of the judicial commission this week, is for the process to move forward and give the suffering people of Pakistan a breather from the tension that grips the country. After a peaceful rally in Karachi the other day (in contrast with what happened in Faisalabad), the PTI is all set to show its political muscle in Lahore. The governments at the Centre and in Punjab seem to have imbibed the lessons of Faisalabad and Karachi and ordered PML-N workers not to confront the PTI and allow the protest to proceed peacefully. Such an outcome is very much within democratic and legal norms. Both sides need to take a step back and calmly see through the protest in Lahore today while getting down earnestly to the task of rescuing the country and the democratic system from a continuing, and arguably fruitless, state of siege.
Saturday, December 13, 2014
PTI’s Karachi show Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s (PTI’s) ongoing circus of protests and sit-ins rolled into Karachi on Friday amidst fears of violence a la Faisalabad and the reservations of traders and citizens about the disruption of normal life as a result. Fortunately, the fear of violence appeared misplaced as the day passed without any major incident. However, citizens’ lives and business were profoundly disturbed by the blockage of many points on the main roads leading to Shahrah-e-Faisal, the main route of Imran Khan’s caravan from the airport. While these central districts of the city were shut down, the rest of the city appeared to get on with life without too much of a ripple. Perhaps the biggest two factors in this peaceful outcome were that the PPP Sindh government not only did not try to stop the protests and sit-ins, it positively facilitated them, while the biggest and strongest party in the city, the MQM, made no attempt to intervene despite the fact that the PTI emerged in the 2013 elections as the first real challenge to the MQM’s iron grip on Karachi. MQM chief Altaf Hussain had set the tone on the eve of the protest by stating that the PTI had the right to stage peaceful protests. Since Altaf Hussain’s word is law for the members and supporters of the MQM, that sealed the deal. The manner of handling the protest by the PPP government and the MQM holds many important lessons for the PML-N governments in Islamabad and Lahore. It may be recalled that before he joined hands with Imran Khan earlier this year, Tahirul Qadri had made his first foray into ‘containerised’ agitation in Islamabad during the PPP government’s tenure. The peaceful handling and final dispersal of that sit-in was credited to Asif Zardari’s astute political handling. The PML-N on the other hand, has arguably shot itself in the foot twice at least, once in Lahore when the Punjab government’s out-of-control police shot and killed Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehreek workers in Model Town, Lahore, and then the other day when PML-N workers were let loose to confront the PTI in Faisalabad, leading to the murder of at least one PTI supporter. As to the rally/sit-in in Karachi itself, there is not much new to report. Imran Khan made his usual case regarding the need for a judicial commission to inquire into alleged rigging in the 2013 election, which he believes stole his mandate. Not only has he reversed himself on some of the more unsavoury remarks he has been making against the judiciary, a trend that, according now to Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed, may well have been responsible for the Supreme Court’s seeming reluctance to respond to the prime minister’s letter of August 13 requesting the apex court to set up the judicial commission desired by Imran Khan, the PTI leader is now expressing his unequivocal confidence in the Supreme Court (and by implication any judicial commission set up by it). In his usual display of premature overconfidence though, Imran Khan states that those found responsible for rigging must be punished for the first time in the country’s history if a new Pakistan is to emerge, after fresh elections, based on the rule of law and merit. The government on the other hand is saying it has no objection to the judicial commission and its audit of the 2013 elections. The question lingers whether, based on his track record of u-turns, Imran Khan will commit to accepting the findings of the judicial commission even if they do not deliver what he hankers for. PTI leader Asad Umar says there is no deadlock between the PTI and the government, who are once again engaging in talks on the issue, of the PTI demand for an Ordinance to make the judicial commission’s report binding on the government. In that case, in all fairness, what is good for the goose must also be good for the gander. Will the PTI accept the Ordinance as binding on it too?
Friday, December 12, 2014
Fidel recognised While we in Pakistan are still conflicted about Malala Yousafzai’s Nobel Peace Prize, there is another world beyond Oslo. China’s version of the Nobel Peace Prize has this year been awarded to revolutionary icon and former leader of Cuba, Fidel Castro for his “important contributions” to world peace. Castro, who retired from office after a near fatal illness in 2006, enjoys enormous prestige and respect all over the world. Since his retirement, he has contributed regular articles to the press and written books, apart from campaigning with leaders and groups worldwide to eliminate nuclear weapons, still the greatest threat to the future of mankind. Fidel bested more than 20 nominees, including South Korean President Park Guen-Hye, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. He was selected by nine judges out of a group of 16 experts and scholars. China’s alternative to the Nobel is the Confucius Peace Prize, awarded since 2010 to those who have made contributions to advancing world peace. Cynics in the west are dismissive of the Confucius Prize as merely China’s response to the Nobel being awarded in the past to political dissidents in China. Such cynicism also attended the Lenin Peace Prize in the past, an award instituted by the former Soviet Union. The problem lies in one’s definition of ‘peace’ and how certain contributions have either enhanced or retarded the achievement of this desirable goal. The uninformed may be inclined to question how a revolutionary leader like Fidel Castro, who overthrew the Batista dictatorship in 1958 through leading a guerrilla struggle initially based in the Sierra Maestra Mountains of Cuba to usher in the country’s new path and journey to socialism, could be ‘elevated’ to the status of a peace campaigner. But the fact is that fighting and winning against the forces of dictatorship, repression, exploitation and imperialist interests was and still is the best way to contribute to a peaceful and progressive future for mankind as a whole. The fact that the Soviet Union imploded after 74 years of communism, taking Eastern European socialism with it and plunging its allies such as Cuba into deep economic and social turmoil, takes nothing away from oppressed humanity’s desire for freedom from exploitation of man by man, and progress towards the full flowering of the individual as the necessary condition for the full flowering and liberty of society as a whole. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and what some label ‘actually existing socialism’ in 1991, the received wisdom from the dominant west has been, ‘There is no alternative’ to neoliberal capitalism, the free market and bourgeois democracy. Francis Fukuyama and others have sealed the fate of mankind forever by positing the triumph of capitalism as the realisation of Hegel’s ‘Idea’ in the form of the present political, economic and social dispensation. Ah, but there’s the rub. The system so beloved of the west’s rulers has proved tricky and unmanageable, much like it was even before its global triumph. The 2008 economic collapse and current recession have destroyed all the utopian claims of this being the best of all possible worlds when billions, even in the west, are jobless, hungry, and without shelter. Capitalism’s inherent contradictions, as critiqued by the founders of socialism, and as they are on display currently, promise a dark and uncertain future for the billions of people all over the world who are not part of the super wealthy one percent. Fidel Castro may have come to power through the barrel of a gun, but the Batista dictatorship left him and his comrades no choice. For years, Fidel, a lawyer by training, fought within the political system in Cuba for democracy and rights. When it became obvious that the dictatorship was unyielding, brutal and rapacious in alliance with US interests, Fidel and his comrades were forced to pick up the gun and through the twists and turns of the armed struggle (in which they faced annihilation more than once), they succeeded in freeing Cuba from local dictatorship beholden to big business interests in the US. This breach of Washington’s control of its ‘backyard’ (Latin America) changed the history of the region, and arguably the world, in ways that endure despite the difficulties faced by the Cuban people because of the embargo and sanctions imposed by the US on the tiny island nation for over 50 years. Fidel’s record in office speaks for the solidarity he and the people of Cuba exhibited in the past in coming to the aid of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and in their present devotion and dedication to the highest principles mankind can aspire to by being in the frontline of help to struggling and stricken people all over the world. Cuban doctors were the first to come to Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake, and are today in the forefront of the fight against Ebola in Africa and elsewhere. Cuba’s contributions under Fidel to the peace of the world, defined as opposition to domination by the big powers and their rapacious habits, shines loud and clear above the global horizon and provides inspiration still to new generations striving for a better, more peaceful world.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Celebrating Malala Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi received their joint Nobel Prize in Oslo on Wednesday in honour of their work for children’s rights after two days of celebrations in a ceremony at the City Hall watched by millions around the world. Malala is the youngest Nobel laureate by far. She was shot in the head at point blank range by the Taliban in 2012 in her native Swat after conducting a campaign for education for girls. The attack almost killed her. She miraculously survived after critical surgery and treatment in Birmingham, UK, where she has continued to live since with her family. Satyarthi was honoured for his contribution in freeing children in his native India from slave labour. Some 83,000 children have been rescued by him over the years, often in violent confrontations with the perpetrators of such abhorrent practices. Although the modest Satyarthi said he felt overshadowed by Malala, he also revealed in his address that he considered her his daughter and Malala reciprocated the sentiment by saying that Kailash was now her second father. Such sentiments underlined the linking symbolism of a17-year-old girl from Pakistan and a 60-year-old man from India sharing the prize. Malala said she had hoped the prime ministers of the two countries would respond to her call to attend the ceremony and was disappointed that they did not respond. In fact, the federal government of the PML-N and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial PTI government were criticised in a civil society celebration of the Nobel Prize in Peshawar for not owning Malala. In their respective speeches at the ceremony, the two laureates reiterated their message of hope. Malala argued for building schools not tanks, and Satyarthi asserted that the shackles of slavery could never be stronger than the quest for freedom. While Pakistan can justly be proud of this daughter of Swat, it is amazing our capacity for distorting things through the lens of conspiracy theories. Thus some misguided people have been criticising and castigating Malala for being a western agent and part of a conspiracy to malign Pakistan and Islam. How can we take such drivel seriously or even engage with its authors at any rational level? Contrary to such extremist ravings, Malala has put Pakistan on the world map with her courage, vision and exemplary advocacy of the cause of education, first and foremost girls’ education. It is not enough that we have wiped out the very memory of Pakistan’s first Nobel laureate, Dr Abdus Salam merely because he was an Ahmedi. Now some amongst us are engaged in seeing western conspiracies under every bed and behind every bush. Such paranoia needs serious professional help. In Malala’s words, the Nobel Prize shows Pakistan in a completely different light from what most people all over the world may associate the country with: intolerance, extremism and terrorism. It shows that Pakistanis want peace and progress like all other peoples of the world. Perhaps few people deserve it more or are more afflicted by their distance from it due to the activities of antediluvian forces in our society. What sets Malala, the ‘Gul Makai of Swat’ as she was described in her secret BBC blog with which she first launched her campaign for girls’ right to education aged just 11, is that although she is a victim of the Taliban’s reactionary worldview, she refused to be reduced to just a victim. Instead, she chose to speak up again as soon as she was able to and has in the process become an iconic figure worldwide. With the Nobel Prize in her grasp, no doubt Malala will proceed to greater heights and achievements in the future. Pakistanis should shed their blinkers and celebrate this brave daughter of the country who stands firmly for the best in our society, all too often hidden or blighted by the obscurantist forces that afflict us.
Saturday, December 6, 2014
Sindh alarm For many years now, enforced disappearances and the infamous kill and dump policy has been in evidence in troubled Balochistan. Despite civil society and human rights groups’ efforts, buttressed by the (unsuccessful in the end) efforts of the Supreme Court and High Courts to bring an end to the heinous practice, it has not abated. Balochistan does not receive its fair share of attention from the political class of the country nor the powers that be. But in case anyone thought this was an aberration confined to Balochistan alone, they have another think coming. For many months now, Sindhi nationalists have been agitating against the extension of the kill and dump policy to their province. Perhaps for similar reasons, their complaints have not found the traction hoped for and deserved. Now the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has added its voice to this issue. In a statement, the HRCP has expressed grave alarm at the rapid rise in enforced disappearances in Sindh, with the victims turning up dead. HRCP says those taken away are young men, mainly activists of Sindhi nationalist parties, picked up from various parts of the province in the past few months. Their dumped bodies show signs of torture and mutilation. HRCP has demanded immediate steps to put an end to the ghastly trend and to bring the killers to justice. The list of victims compiled by HRCP is as follows (all dates relate to 2014): Shakeel Sindhi, a Sindh University student, abducted from his house in Karachi on October 6, whose body was found on October 11. Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz (JSMM) activist Paryal Shah was abducted from a bus headed from Dahrki to Kashmor on November 7. His body was found the same day from a village on the Sindh-Punjab boundary. The bullet-riddled body of Roshan Brohi, a resident of Larkana and a JSMM activist, was found in a gunny bag near Malir, Karachi on November 12. He had been picked up on October 26. Sindh University student and JSMM activist Asif Panhwar’s body was found in a village of Larkana district on November 26 with multiple bullet wounds. He had been picked up by security agencies from Jamshoro on August 15. On November 27, the bullet-riddled body of Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) activist Waheed Lashari was found in a sewerage pond in Karachi’s Malir area. He had been abducted 29 days earlier from Qambar Shahdadkot from a transport van. Allah Wadio, first year university student, was abducted on August 13 from Karachi. On December 2 unidentified persons threw him in a critical condition near Hub Chowki. Police informed his parents who had him admitted in the Civil Hospital Karachi. He was reportedly picked up from there by security agencies’ personnel. On December 3 his dead body was found from the Hyderabad Bypass. HRCP says in several cases the involvement of security forces’ personnel has been established by witnesses while in some their role has been actively suspected. Such suspicion is not misplaced as those familiar with the authorities’ penchant for dealing with dissent (especially in Balochistan) through such methods are inclined to place the blame squarely on the security agencies. HRCP reminds us that such tactics have never yielded any positive results anywhere in the world. All they have reaped is a growth in anger and hatred and led to pulling people and regions apart (and that too, in our case at least, on an ethnic basis, to add to all the other polarities our society suffers from). Leader of the Opposition Syed Khursheed Shah is one of the few voices to raise the issue in the National Assembly to warn against creating a “Balochistan-like situation in Sindh”. HRCP goes on to remind us that it has long called for the bringing to account of those responsible for such atrocities because the continuing impunity of the perpetrators merely encourages the powers that be to continue down the same path without fear. The laws and judicial system of Pakistan having failed to halt these practices and bring the responsible individuals and state institutions to justice, HRCP urges the government to ratify and immediately implement the International Covenant for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Further, Pakistan should seek help from other countries all over the world who have suffered similar outrageous practices but have turned their back on them (Latin America is a shining example in this regard). Civil society and the media are advised by HRCP to firmly train the spotlight on this disturbing trend. Balochistan has been suffering from this affliction for many years. Its spread to now victimising nationalists in Sindh shows that it has become a favourite tactic of the deep state. The victims are not involved in the nationalist insurgency in Balochistan or are nationalists striving openly for Sindh’s rights. While civil society and the media should play their role despite the risks of retaliation, political society needs to stir from its slumber and take up the issue. Otherwise who will save peaceful dissidents seeking to exercise their democratic rights of opinion and its advocacy?