Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Business Recorder editorial July 19, 2016

Timely recovery Barrister Awais Ali Shah, the son of the Sindh High Court (SHC) Chief Justice (CJ), has been recovered and returned home after a dramatic operation in which three kidnappers were killed. According to the media briefing of DG ISPR Lt-General Asim Bajwa, Awais was recovered after a shootout when the vehicle in which he was being transported was challenged at a check point near Tank in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). When the vehicle did not stop, the driver was shot dead and then the two other terrorists who came out of the vehicle firing their weapons were also killed. Awais Shah was found bound and gagged in a burqa in the vehicle. He was then transported by a special plane to Karachi and reunited with his family under tight security. Lt-General Bajwa said the successful rescue was made possible through an intelligence-based operation (IBO) conducted by the ISI. Lt-General Bajwa also revealed that a splinter group of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and al Qaeda were responsible for the kidnapping. It is being speculated that the purpose may have been to exchange Awais Shah for some incarcerated militants. It may be recalled that Awais was kidnapped in broad daylight from Clifton, Karachi, on June 20. Both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and COAS General Raheel Sharif called the SHC CJ to congratulate him on the safe recovery of his son. They also had high praise for the intelligence and security services for the safe and relatively quick recovery of Awais Ali Shah. The recovery of Awais Ali Shah bears consideration. For one, it must be considered fortuitous that he escaped unscathed in the exchange of firing between his kidnappers and the security forces since he was immobilised inside the vehicle. Two, he was rescued by an IBO just one month after being kidnapped and then spirited across Sindh, Punjab and part of KP. ISPR says he was being conveyed to Zhob in Balochistan on the way to Afghanistan. This has long remained the modus operandi of kidnappers belonging to criminal gangs or militant outfits. The other option of secreting kidnapped victims in the militants’ safe havens in FATA is no longer available after Operation Zarb-e-Azb cleansed the tribal areas of this malign long standing presence. The remnants of the TTP and other militant groups were forced to flee across the border into Afghanistan under the pressure of the Operation, where Mullah Fazlullah’s TTP is said to be enjoying the hospitality of the Haqqani network. Although the effect of this cleansing is palpable in the decreased incidence of terrorism all over the country, so long as these remnants are alive and well, and receiving the support of the Afghan Taliban in the shape of the Haqqani network as well as al Qaeda, there is no letting our guard down, as the Awais Shah incident indicates. It also highlights the need for better security coordination amongst the provinces and the federal authorities. Three, the IBO to rescue Awais Shah was facilitated by the clearing of the ground in the tribal areas and KP, leading to better and more timely intelligence. The tracking of the vehicle carrying Awais Shah in KP, far from the start of the journey, is a reflection of this new reality. We only need to cast our mind back to the kidnappings of late Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer’s son Shahbaz Taseer and former Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani’s son Ali Haider Gilani to see how things have changed. Shahbaz Taseer was kidnapped in broad daylight on his way to office in Lahore, and it took more than four years and the declining fortunes of his kidnappers in Pakistan and Afghanistan for him to return unharmed to his family. Equally, it took three years for Ali Haider Gilani to return to his familiy’s bosom. Compared to barely one month for Awais Ali Shah’s return, the coefficient of kidnappees’ families’ mental and emotional torture has improved beyond description. However, these happy outcomes, eventual earlier, quicker now, should not lead us into complacency but point us in the direction of redoubled efforts to cut the ground from under the feet of those indulging in this notorious ‘trade’ and eliminate their ability to inflict such suffering.

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