Thursday, January 12, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Jan 12, 2017

Chaudhry Nisar’s wisdom Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s contributions in parliament are seldom short of interest. However, the redoubtable minister excelled his own record on January 10. Speaking in the Senate, Chaudhry Nisar attempted to draw a distinction between banned terrorist and sectarian outfits. This logical legerdemain earned him the ire of the Opposition, which proceeded to stage a walkout. The minister was responding to the objection to his meeting with a delegation that included members of a banned outfit. He argued that outlawed sectarian organisations should not be equated with terrorist outfits, since sectarianism had been around for 1,300 years. If this was intended to justify his controversial meeting with members of a banned outfit as part of a delegation, the mea culpa had the opposite effect. MQM Senator Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, who led the walkout, said the banned outfit whose head had been accorded the hospitality of the minister was responsible for this violence. He went on to elucidate that some sectarian organisations were more dangerous and crueller even than the Taliban. He accused the government of promoting sectarianism by trying to draw a distinction between sectarian outfits and other terrorists, demolishing the divide by arguing that sectarian organisations were equally terrorist. As to Chaudhry Nisar’s other defence that sectarian organisations had been allowed to contest elections, it is necessary to point out that the responsibility for this anomaly cannot just be dumped in the basket of the Election Commission, as Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah tried to do the other day in a press conference, but that the executive too has the responsibility and duty to point this out to the Election Commission. On the disappearances of internet and social media activists that has the country abuzz in the last few days, Chaudhry Nisar attempted to hide behind a bland statement that disappearances were not his government’s policy. Empty assurances of finding the disappeared activists as soon as possible aside, the minister cannot just shrug off the government’s responsibility for recovering the disappeared activists and getting to the bottom of who is responsible for the wholesale import of this phenomenon from Balochistan and increasingly Sindh to now Islamabad and Punjab. The minister trotted out an array of statistics regarding the number of security meetings he had chaired since taking charge three and a half years ago, including high level meetings chaired by the prime minister, to defray criticism against him regarding his stewardship of the National Action Plan. Activity of this intensity needs to translate into meeting the challenge of the terrorist blowback from the military operations in FATA, otherwise the criticism is unlikely to abate. There was a self-congratulatory note in the minister’s assertion that terrorism was increasing in the world, but had gone down in Pakistan. Chaudhry Nisar at least conceded the point that military operations alone cannot quell terrorism. For the security czar of a country battling the malign effects of terrorism to be attempting to draw fine distinctions between sectarian and other terrorism, in a pale mirror image of Musharraf’s good and bad Taliban binary, beggars belief. Sectarian terrorism’s toll is as horrendous, if not worse, than ‘pure’ terrorism. And is the worthy minister unaware of the nexus between sectarian and other terrorist organisations? Terrorists are terrorists, period. If one set attacks the state and its functionaries and the other citizens on the basis of their beliefs, is the former to be ‘privileged’ with a higher status than the latter? What after all is the state for? Is it not charged with protecting itself and its citizens against all those who would bring them harm? Chaudhry Nisar seems to be in harmony with his party’s government in Punjab, which is accused of turning a blind eye if not harbouring a soft corner for the array of terrorists, predominantly sectarian, that teem in the southern reaches of the province. The country may still be struggling with the good/bad Taliban binary, but it certainly does not need the dubious distinction being applied to those whose bloody trade is based on sectarian notions from those who do not profess such a bent but are equally bloodthirsty. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif should reconsider having a man of such controversial and arguably damaging views to head the anti-terrorist drive.

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