Friday, January 23, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Jan 24, 2015

Consistent policy? The struggle against terrorism that ostensibly everyone from the military to the political class and the public are now united behind, requires at the very least consistency in policy in a departure from the duality that attended our approach in the past. It was therefore of great interest to everyone when reports started circulating that the Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Haqqani Network (HN) had been or were in the process of being banned. These two groups are the focus of particular attention because they represent, if the reports are true, the first signs of a change of policy from ‘strategic assets’ and ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Taliban to treating all terrorist groups by the same standards. The routine briefing by the Foreign Office (FO) spokesperson Ms Tasnim Aslam on Thursday therefore turned electric when the issue of the reported ban on the above two organisations came up. One would not have been remiss in expecting a clear and unequivocal statement on the issue. Instead, either the spokesperson’s words, or the way they have been reported, have confounded confusion even further. All the FO spokesperson was willing to say was that in conformity with Pakistan’s international obligations, the country had to place restrictions on any organisations proscribed and on the UN list of terrorist groups worldwide. However, although the JuD has been on that list since December 2008, Ms Aslam ‘announced’ that JuD’s bank accounts had been frozen (now?) and restrictions placed on JuD leader Hafiz Saeed’s travel abroad. The HN somehow got lost in the welter of confusion this FO statement produced. What was not clear is whether the two organisations have been proscribed or not. There is no official notification to that effect. And even if there were, no one would know since according to the Supreme Court (SC), the government has failed to provide any list to the public of the proscribed organisations. An SC bench hearing a case regarding inaccuracies and errors in law books and publications was taken aback when, having instructed court officials to examine if such a list existed on any government website, they were informed that no trace of such a list could be found. Justice Jawwad Khwaja was interested to know how a citizen was supposed to know that the ‘charity’ to whom he was donating money was not a proscribed organisation in this situation. The SC reminded the government that the country was in a state of war against terrorism and admonished it to produce the required list of proscribed organisations, make it public after translating it into local languages and ensure it became public knowledge. But to return to the issue at hand, the FO spokesperson failed to state categorically that JuD and HN were proscribed organisations and reports revealed that the freezing of the bank accounts of JuD and travel restrictions on JuD had only now been carried out. This is borne out by the JuD statement in response, in which it has stated it will challenge the freezing and restrictions in the SC since it is ‘only’ a charity. At the time of writing these lines therefore, we are no wiser whether the freezing of bank accounts and travel restrictions on the JuD mean it is proscribed or not. And even less wise regarding the HN’s status. Ambiguity rules okay, as usual. The world is already wary of Pakistan’s past duality of policy of ostensibly being an ally in the war on terror but in practice supporting groups that fall within the rubric of ‘terror’. The airing of views after the Peshawar attack from the military through the political class to citizens seemed to suggest that we had turned a corner from the past and were now firmly wedded to a non-discriminatory drive against all groups classifiable as terrorist. That, it would now appear, was a premature hope. The FO needs to clarify the confusion it has created by unequivocally declaring whether these groups and all of their ilk are proscribed or not and the government needs to follow the SC’s advice to so inform the public. Ambiguity may or may not have had its utility in the past, but now it can only weaken the credibility of our ringing declarations against terrorism per se.

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