Saturday, November 17, 2012

Daily Times Editorial nov 18, 2012

Blaming parliament Interior Minister Rehman Malik had a bad hair day on Friday. First, his order banning motorcycle riding and suspension of cellular phone services in Karachi and Quetta ran into heavy criticism by the public. Then the Sindh High Court (SHC) overturned the ban on motorcycle riding on the grounds that this would have inconvenienced millions of commuters. The cellular phone suspension in the two cities lasted about 10 hours and was then gradually lifted. Appearing in both houses of parliament on the day, the interior minister showed his frustration by lashing out at parliament for having failed to bring in legislation to help the counter-terrorism effort. An amendment bill to the Anti-Terrorism Act, the minister argued, had been lying in parliament for three years but nothing had come out of it. Rehman Malik said his decision was taken after intelligence reports indicated the threat of terrorist actions on Friday, the first day of Muharram. He said he had consulted all the stakeholders, including the Sindh government and the prime minister before imposing the restrictions. He went on to point out that 96 blasts in Karachi and 438 throughout the country during this year had used motorcycles as bombs, apart from the use of mobile phones as detonators. According to the SHC’s order, the ban on motorcycle riding per se was unconstitutional, but the court upheld the ban on pillion riding. The minister faced dissent from his own party’s Senators Babar Awan and Raza Rabbani in the upper house. The gist of their objections was legal and constitutional, but Raza Rabbani’s criticism also included the argument that no viable counter-terrorism strategy had been framed to date. The minister on the other hand referred to the lacunae in the laws that allowed terrorists caught and presented before the courts to walk free or on bail to carry on their nefarious activities. He vowed to go in appeal to the Supreme Court against the SHC’s order. There were claims from the Sindh police that Karachi was peaceful because of the ban on motorcycle riding and suspension of cellular services, but this is not conclusive, and does not negate the inconvenience to citizens and the losses suffered (once again) by the cellular service providers. The minister’s obvious frustration and irritation aside, one can sympathise with the arduous task he has on his plate. Decades of encouragement of jihadi extremists, initially for projection of power in the neighbourhood, has backfired spectacularly in recent years by subjecting the mentor state to the unwanted (violent) attentions of the jihadi extremist groups of all shades and hues. Not only do some if not all these groups enjoy support from the insurgents waging guerrilla warfare in FATA and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, by now they have a network spread throughout the length and breath of the country, especially the big cities. Combating this malign presence is never going to be easy. The lacunae in the laws pointed out by Rehman Malik and the lack of witness protection programmes undermine the counter-terrorism effort, as does the lack of an overarching intelligence/counter-terrorism body that can pool all the information and data scattered over many agencies, military and civilian, and coordinate actions against a shadowy and elusive enemy. But there is also weight in the PPP and other legislators’ objections to blunt tools such as blanket bans on this or that means of transport and/or communications. Whatever temporary results this kind of action may bring, and that too is open to dispute, it should not be forgotten that the terrorists by now have many more means of delivering death and destruction than just motorcycles and cell phones. Blunt instruments have to be replaced by far more focused and targeted intelligence-based pre-emptive actions against the terrorists. A case in point is the arrest, with weapons and explosives, of two sectarian terrorists in Gujrat on Friday. This is the kind of intelligence-based action that may go much further in combating terrorism than blanket bans that are at best temporary palliatives and of course a source of great nuisance to the public.

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