Saturday, February 4, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Feb 4, 2017

Chaudhry Nisar’s defence Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan has, through his counsel Makhdoom Ali Khan, deposed before the Supreme Court his reply to the damning findings of the Quetta Inquiry Commission, which have been described as “unnecessary, uncalled for and violative of natural justice”, with a plea that all such adverse remarks and observations against the minister and his ministry be expunged. The legal argument placed before the apex court revolves around the commission’s coming to conclusions without the full facts at its disposal and not following due process by depriving the minister of the right of explanation. A long argument about the results achieved by the ministry under Chaudhry Nisar with the help and collaboration of other state institutions follows, and the decline in terrorism in the last two years is quoted as proof of the efficacy of the steps taken to overcome the malign affliction. On the minister’s meeting with Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi on October 21, 2016, the minister has been at pains to explain that the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat leader was not scheduled to meet him but arrived unexpectedly as part of a delegation of the Difa-i-Pakistan Council (which incidentally includes, as part of 35 religious parties, the Jamaat-ud Dawa, whose chief Hafiz Saeed has just been put under house arrest). Although the subject of the commission, the suicide attacks on the lawyers’ community in Quetta, was a national tragedy, it was part of the wave of terrorism in the wake of 9/11, the minister asserted. The minister’s defence ends with the argument that the commission had accepted reports and claims from the social and mainstream media emanating from proscribed organisations, which had no evidentiary value, and arguably arrived at conclusions beyond the scope of its terms of reference. It may be recalled that the Justice Qazi Faez Isa one-man commission of inquiry into the attacks on the Quetta lawyers’ community that virtually wiped out a whole generation of the cream of the community had castigated in its report the interior minister and the ministry for a ‘monumental failure’ to combat terrorism, follow the protocols prescribed in the National Security Internal Policy, and move with alacrity to ban terrorist organisations. Chaudhry Nisar has his arguments in his defence, but the deposition in the Supreme Court gives rise to the question whether it is the ‘person’ of Chaudhry Nisar that is on ‘trial’ or the failure of the government to properly implement the National Action Plan. It is obvious by now that Pakistan’s long flirtation with armed extremist proxies for foreign policy objectives in the region has by now spawned a home grown terrorist movement. On the counterinsurgency front, success was possible and has been achieved in a relatively short time by the use of overwhelming military force to clean out FATA of the long standing presence of terrorists, foreign and local. However, it was obvious that when deprived of their operating bases in FATA, the terrorists would hit back in the rest of the country through terrorism. This was explicitly recognised when the civil and military leadership came together to frame the National Action Plan. However, Chaudhry Nisar cannot be absolved of at least some responsibility for what is by now perceived as the failure of the Plan. Despite a decline in terrorism, no one should be under the illusion that the problem has been overcome entirely. Asymmetrical warfare, with terrorism as one of the weapons in its arsenal, employs trading space for time. The terrorist will bide his time, waiting for the opportunity to strike. These strikes may be more or less intense, depending on the organisational health of the terrorist outfit/s, but to fall into complacency in periods of a lull is precisely what the enemy relies on and is prepared to wait for. Second, counter-terrorism is different from counterinsurgency. The weapons that proved so effective in actions such as Operation Zarb-e-Azb, air power, tanks, artillery and finally foot soldiers, are no good for counter-terrorism. Usually located in urban areas, terrorism cannot be quelled without reliance on intelligence-based and -led essentially ‘police’ operations. And to make that campaign effective, a central umbrella platform with a centralised data base and intelligence sharing by all intelligence organisations, civil and military, is a sine qua non for victory over the terroirists. The National Counter Terrorism Authority was envisaged as that platform but arguably for narrow partisan reasons, Chaudhry Nisar took it under his ministry’s wing (it was originally intended to report to the prime minister) and in the process reduced it to a toothless wonder. That may well prove the most telling indictment of the interior minister, the Quetta lawyers’ carnage simply being a manifestation of his inability to see the wood for the trees.

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