Monday, January 16, 2017

Business Recorder Column Jan 15, 2017

In denial Rashed Rahman In case anyone thought only Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar is in denial about the terrorist landscape in Pakistan, other voices indicate otherwise. First, the Chaudhry. The minister aroused a mini-storm the other day with a novel defence of the much criticised meeting (including in the Justice Qazi Esa Quetta bombing report) with members of a banned organisation as part of a Difa-e-Pakistan (an extremist religious grouping) delegation. Chaudhry Nisar’s mea culpa rested on the ‘distinction’ between ‘pure sectarian’ and ‘pure terrorist’ banned groups. The former, according to Chaudhry Nisar, could not be equated with the latter. Why? Because, Chaudhry Nisar reminded us, sectarian conflict has been a fact of life for 1,300 years and some members of banned sectarian outfits have been allowed to stand for elections by the Election Commission of Pakistan. The minister’s faulty memory and vision needs jogging. Sectarian organisations are well known to have trained with and fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), presumably categorised as ‘pure terrorist’ in Chaudhry sahib’s imagination, not only owes its origins and emergence to the Afghan Taliban (in a classic case of the unintended consequences of the Pakistani state playing with the double-edged proxy fire) but has been collaborating with the sectarian groups. While the TTP has carried out bloody attacks against the state and citizens in Pakistan, its comrades in the sectarian groups have massacred Shias, particularly in Quetta. Is this ‘distinction’ even worth taking seriously? Perhaps only by Chaudhry Nisar. The sectarian groups carry out massacres of Shias. The Taliban are virulently sectarian, as their attacks on Shias here and in Afghanistan prove beyond doubt. What then is the ‘distinction’ Chaudhry Nisar is trying to sketch? Chaudhry Nisar says everything should not be pinned on Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi of the proscribed Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ). Why is Ludhianvi worthy of special mention? Because the ruling PML-N is known to have collaborated politically with him in the past and it is reasonable to assume, continues to do so if he has access to the corridors of power. A man of such muddled thinking (if harsher comment is to be avoided) cannot lead the struggle against terrorism. The PPP has dubbed him a spokesperson of the terrorists. If that is going too far, perhaps the appellation ‘apologist’ would fit more neatly and accurately. The track record of implementation (or rather non-implementation) of the National Action Plan (NAP) bears this out. Not only are the consensus 20 points of NAP forgotten, even the reform of the judicial system to deal efficaciously with terrorism cases, the stated intent when setting up the military courts under the 21st Amendment, which have now expired under their two-year sunset clause, has gone abegging. There seems little chance of the controversial military courts’ revival. The consensus in support of them two years ago in the wake of the Army Public School Peshawar bloodbath has evaporated, not the least because the summary, non-transparent and falling short of due process practices of this parallel judicial system has exposed these courts, warts and all. Even if the government wants them revived under pressure from the military that seems to have thrown its weight behind the idea, it cannot muster the necessary two-thirds majority in parliament needed for the purpose of ushering in the necessary fresh constitutional amendment. Chaudhry Nisar has reflected the government’s thinking by proposing fast track courts to replace the defunct military ones, adding one more layer to an already overcrowded field of layers of courts. No one from the government has taken the trouble to explain why the ostensibly ‘fast track’ anti-terrorism courts have failed to provide the desired results. And whether they can be improved/reformed to fulfil their mandate. If there is one phenomenon that explains the political lay of the land, it is the practice of enforced disappearances. Starting from Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the extrajudicial disappearance and in many cases killing and dumping of dissidents’ bodies travelled to Sindh and has now reared its ugly head in Punjab. If the targets of this heinous practice were previously alleged terrorists in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and nationalists in Balochistan and Sindh, it is left wing secular bloggers in Punjab now. The disappearance of four bloggers in recent days in Rawalpindi-Islamabad and Lahore points to the deep state’s attempt to stifle dissident voices online. It seems attention has shifted to cyber space in this regard after the ‘taming’ of the mainstream media. In Bangladesh, a rash of secular and left wing bloggers’ barbaric killings at the hands of extremist fundamentalist religious groups contrasts with the disappearance of similar bloggers here at the suspected hands of the deep state. The difference perhaps is the difference in the two states’ declared ideology. But what is more invidious in our case is that their websites and blogs have been hacked since they disappeared and inappropriate and even blasphemous material has been posted on them, which jars when compared to their previous content. On the basis of this spurious ‘evidence’, an even more spurious and hitherto unheard of outfit calling itself Civil Society of Pakistan has petitioned the police to institute blasphemy charges against the disappeared bloggers. Verily, we too in Pakistan have arrived in the post-truth era. As to post-truth raised to a fine art (we have had years of practice as a state in this acquired skill), there is nothing to beat our state of denial vis-à-vis the presence of armed groups on our soil attacking our neighbours. As far as the Kashmiri groups are concerned, they seem to enjoy the status of holy cows that cannot even be dwelt upon, let alone criticised. This critical outlook regarding some of the religious fundamentalist leanings of these groups, which arguably works against the national liberation struggle of the Kashmiri people, does not imply that the Kashmiris’ self-determination demand is not worthy of support. Only that an indigenous struggle, like the one confronting the bloody repression of the Indian state since last summer, is the best way to conduct that campaign. But coming to the Afghan Taliban, the denial strategy continues. COAS General Bajwa has telephoned Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for the second time since assuming command. The call was placed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks in Afghanistan that killed, amongst the locals, some UAE diplomats too. General Bajwa was at pains to express Pakistan’s sympathies to the victims’ families and the Afghan government, while denying the presence of the Afghan Taliban in safe havens on our soil. Our foreign office too has been spinning this mantra since Operation Zarb-e-Azb. The argument being woven is that the clearing of FATA of the presence of local and foreign terrorists has ‘cleansed’ Pakistani soil of their presence. Of course the unmentioned elephant in the room remains the Afghan Taliban’s Quetta Shoora. This headquarters of the Afghan Taliban continues to exist, with the Pakistani establishment neither nudging the Taliban to the Afghan peace talks table, nor taking any steps to remove the Shoora from our soil. This denial mode has continued to earn the mistrust and condemnation of the US and its western allies. Now our government is gearing up to brief the incoming Trump administration on Pakistan’s policy vis-a-vis terrorist groups not being ‘selective’. FATA again is trotted out in proof of this ‘brief’, but the elephant stays hidden, mentioned only in whispers.

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