Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Daily Times Editorial Dec 24, 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.