Saturday, June 7, 2014

Daily Times Editorial June 8, 2014

Anti-terrorism landscape Amidst all the talk about an impending military operation in North Waziristan (NW), the authorities have opened the door to a resolution of the presence of foreign fighters in the Agency through the efforts of a tribal jirga. The 64-member jirga led by Haji Sher Muhammad, a grandson of the legendary anti-colonial fighter the Faqir of Ipi, comprises elders of the Uthmanzai Wazir and Dawar tribes of NW. The jirga had meetings on Friday in Peshawar with the Governor and Corps Commander on the issue. The authorities have reminded the jirga of the 2006-07 peace agreements between the government and the tribes, in which militant and of late estranged commander Gul Bahadur was included, and which laid the responsibility of ensuring no foreign fighters found refuge in NW. The charge against the tribes is that they had failed to fulfil their obligations on this count. The jirga pleaded with the authorities to hold off on the impending military operation, which they said in the past had never yielded the expected results, until they had had a chance to right the situation by expelling the foreign fighters, securing government installations and putting an end to attacks on the security forces’ convoys. They were given 15 days to implement the sense of the meetings, after which, the corps commander emphasized, all bets were off. The jirga told the governor that they would also try to intervene in the infighting between factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan to pacify the situation. It may be noted that tit-for-tat killings and attacks are continuing between the rival Sajna and Shehryar Mehsud factions. Meanwhile the National Assembly on Friday passed the Anti-terrorism (Amendment) Bill 2014 with amendments. The most significant of these was rescinding the original bill’s provisions of shoot-on-sight powers to the security forces of terrorist suspects. The forces would have to seek the permission of a Grade-17 officer or magistrate before opening fire on suspects. The question whether such an officer or magistrate would be available in real time to seek such permission in engagements where seconds count remains unanswered. In this context, the declared intent of the government to restore the executive magistracy abolished by the Musharraf regime is a step in this direction. The amendments also lay emphasis on further legislation to make the law enforcement agencies more effective, including empowering the Rangers to conduct investigations, which at present is not within their purview. Statements of witnesses could be recorded in-camera to provide protection to them, whereas suspects could be held in detention for 90 days. While the provision that any officer found guilty of arrest of a suspect on false allegations could face two years imprisonment and a fine is intended to provide protection to the innocent, what is still missing from the bill is access to family and lawyers for the detained suspects. Given our culture of torture at the hands of the security forces, there are grave fears of the miscarriage of justice by extracting confessions under torture. In the Upper House on the other hand, the opposition Senators, led by the PPP, interrogated the government about its policy on the Taliban, given that two military officers were killed in a suicide attack the other day not far from Islamabad and the fact that the government’s policy still appears in a “state of flux” without clarity whether the talks process still had any steam left in it, and if not, what would be the next policy posture to be adopted. ANP Senators drew the attention of the house to the terrible conditions in which internally displaced persons from FATA were living and how Peshawar had become such an insecure city that traffic wardens had been instructed to don bulletproof vests. No one, they complained, could come out of their house in the evening in the capital city of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). There are reports that extortion has arrived in full force in Peshawar, forcing many well off families to flee to the relative safety of Islamabad and elsewhere. When surveying the anti-terrorism landscape, it seems clear that the ambiguity in the government’s policy on the Taliban and related issues has caused at least partial paralysis. KP is particularly sensitive, not only because of adjoining FATA, the hotbed of terrorism, but also because the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf provincial government appears friendly to the terrorists and has thereby hamstrung the law and security enforcement agencies. No one is suggesting the federal government should run amok like a bull in a china shop in the province, but discussions with the KP government may yield cooperation. But even before that, the federal government itself needs to pluck its head out of the sand and firmly grasp the nettle of tackling terrorism.

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