Monday, February 27, 2017

Business Recorder Column Feb 27, 2017

Operation Raddul Fasaad Rashed Rahman Operation Raddul Fasaad has been launched countrywide to counter the resurgence of terrorism in recent days. The Punjab government having been forced to abandon its resistance to the deployment of the paramilitary Rangers in the province by orders from the federal government (literally big brother to little one), the Apex Committee that groups the provincial civilian leadership with the Rangers and military has decided on February 26 to expand the scope of the operation. This decision came after a review of the operations conducted jointly and separately by different security agencies last week. It may be recalled that the Rangers were initially meant to be deployed in south Punjab only, given the spectacular failure of the police to deal effectively with criminal gangs operating in the kutcha areas along the rivers in the south, but the operational review has now found their presence all over the province a necessity. While Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif wants the provincial boundaries secured against terrorist infiltration from the other three provinces, raids on February 26 alone have reportedly netted another 100 suspects from the four corners of Punjab to add to the 350 arrested from all over the country. In addition to these, over 100 ‘terrorists’ are said to have been killed so far. There is a worrying lack of detail about the suspects killed or arrested. This includes, with only a few exceptions, details regarding names, affiliations, charges and circumstances in which the dead were killed. Critics ascribe this high toll of deaths and arrests in just a few days after the operations started to the desire to show results. This smacks of a ‘putschist’ tendency and may be informed by scepticism about the possibility of convicting arrested terrorists through the creaking judicial system that still awaits the reforms promised two years ago when the National Action Plan (NAP) was agreed and military courts set up for two years. To understand the problem, one only has to take note of reports that few, if any, of those convicted by the mercifully short lived military courts have had their verdicts endorsed by the normal civilian courts on appeal. Whether death sentences or imprisonment, the military courts’ verdicts have almost universally been struck down on the grounds of failings in providing fair trials and due process. This makes the talk about a revival of military courts once again poignant, if not downright ridiculous. To add to the country’s woes, of the 1,500 terrorist suspects arrested over the last two years in Sindh alone, not one has so far been convicted by the anti-terrorism courts. This judicial black hole has subverted the efforts of the government/s and security forces, at great risk to officials’ life and limb. Impatience therefore may be behind the demand for a revival of the military courts, but it is questionable whether impatience or short cuts are the answer to the inability of our judicial system to cope with the demands of the counterterrorism campaign. The notable difference between the structure and functioning of the Apex Committee in Punjab and those elsewhere is the apparent harmony between civilian and military or paramilitary authorities, with decisions being taken with consensus and targets and operational plans chalked out with unanimity. Arguably, without similar arrangements in the other provinces and an overarching structure at the Centre, the counterterrorism drive may prove a long, hard slog. The fate of the scheduled Pakistan Super League cricket final in Lahore remains uncertain. The final decision has been left to the prime minister. Foreign players seem reluctant to take the risk, and security clearance is still awaited. Meanwhile the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA), otherwise not known for being publicly active, has issued a caution to the government to prevent the broadcasting or reporting of threat alerts issued by it as this can cause panic and disruption of normal life. No doubt the experience of the Lahore shutdown in the wake of an actual (still not definitively settled whether an accident or terrorism) and a false bomb alarm recently. The issue of profiling and harassing, arresting and repatriating Afghans and Pashtuns has become a bone of contention between the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and opposition on the one hand and the governments in the Centre and other provinces on the other. The temptation to cast the net wide to rope in Afghans and Pashtuns on the basis of ethnicity is already producing resentment and could sour the pitch of cooperation required amongst all the stakeholders to combat terrorism. A more nuanced and pointed operation may avoid such ruction. As it is the coordination gaps between the civilians and military, Centre and provinces, and amongst the provinces is already a major obstacle. It should not be added to by tarring any ethnicity with the broad brush of terrorism. And our political leaders must refrain from souring this necessary cooperation by targeting other rival governments merely for point scoring. Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar must curb his natural instincts in this regard, a point in case being his criticism of the PPP Sindh government over security at Sehwan, while ignoring the PML-N government in Punjab over the Lahore blast. All this does is evoke the Chandio retaliation in the midst of the country’s serious terrorism problem. Pakistan’s neighbourhood is rife with tension. On February 26, we achieved the unprecedented spectacle of shelling and firing across both borders, the Line of Control on the east and the Afghan border on the west. The nightmare of a two front ‘war’ is closer than ever. Our foreign policy needs recalibrating to reduce these tensions so as to be able to focus on combating internal terrorism. The closure of the Afghan border crossing points in the aftermath of the rash of terrorist incidents has only created difficulties for trade, legitimate movement of people and repatriation of Afghans stuck in Pakistan although travelling on valid visas. What it may fail to do is stop cross-border infiltration from Afghanistan since the terrorists can exploit, and probably do as a matter of course, the forbidding terrain on the western border. While Operation Raddul Fasaad must be pursued with vigour, it may prove counterproductive without transparency, restraint, and checks and balances to ensure it does not turn into a credibility nightmare later when the details of deaths and arrests do eventually become available. rashed.rahman1@gmail.com rashed-rahman.blogspot.com

1 comment:

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