Thursday, December 18, 2014

Daily Times Editorial Dec 19, 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.

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