Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Business Recorder editorial Sept 20, 2017

Alternative narrative Members of the Senate on September 18, 2017 emphasised building an alternate national narrative as envisaged in the National Action Plan (NAP) to root out the menace of militancy otherwise the counterterrorism plan may turn out to be a ‘non-action plan’. Some Senators also expressed grave concern over allowing banned terrorist outfits to attempt mainstreaming themselves through contesting elections under new names. The reference no doubt was to the newly formed but not yet registered Milli Muslim League, believed to be a front for the Jamaat ud Dawa, a.k.a. Lashkar-e-Tayyaba. Its candidate stood in the recent NA-120 by-election as an independent candidate since the Milli Muslim League has yet to be accorded legitimate status by the Election Commission of Pakistan and managed to get almost 5,000 votes. The Senators wanted the noose around the proscribed militant outfits tightened to prevent them reinventing themselves under new banners and even striving for electoral legitimacy. While the members of the upper house were all praise for Operations Zarb-e-Azb and Raddul Fasad, which have largely flushed out the terrorist groups from their long standing bases in the tribal areas, they contrasted this success with what appeared to be the shelving of the NAP. Further, that the remnants of Ziaul Haq’s so-called jihad must be erased from minds and memory. PPP’s Senator Farhatullah Babar, the mover of a motion on the subject on September 11, said this could not be accomplished by guns and bullets alone without addressing the mindset associated with terrorism. He pointed out that it is educated elements who are involved in such activities, in sharp contrast with the popular image of terrorists as wild-eyed fanatics. The next generation of terrorists, it was underlined, would emerge from academic institutions. During Ziaul Haq’s regime, he went on, jihad was ‘privatised’ (in direct contradiction with Islam’s teaching that jihad could only be waged by the state) and religion used as a tool for retaining an illegitimate grip on power. It may be ventured at this point that not much has changed in this regard since, except perhaps that Ziaul Haq is no longer around to lend support to the ‘privatised’ jihad by non-state actors, who have morphed from an externally pointed weapon into an internal threat. Balochistan National Party-Mengal’s Senator Dr Jahanzeb Jamaldini said his party workers were receiving death threats and as a result, 27 workers had left the party. It remains to be seen whether a Senator from Balochistan’s complaint in this regard will be addressed satisfactorily or simply add to the litany of long standing complaints and grievances of the people of that province, including, but not limited to, the scandal of ‘missing’ persons. Meanwhile the MQM’s Senator Mian Mohammad Ateeq Sheikh innocently inquired of the house why the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) had not been made fully operational yet. It may be recalled that NACTA fell prey to former interior minister Chaudhry Nisar’s wanting to monopolise the counterterrorism turf by refusing to allow NACTA to be under the prime minister, as envisaged in the NAP, and instead took it under his wing and virtually strangled it. Many Senators dilated on the malign effects on society of Ziaul Haq’s narrative’s inclusion in our textbooks and curricula. Almost three decades later, this narrative could still not be removed and replaced, as PPP’s Senator Sherry Rehman argued, by Mr Jinnah’s August 11, 1947 speech to the Constituent Assembly. Fond hope that given, as the honourable Senator herself dilated, the treatment of suppression that speech suffered from for years. Perhaps even more alarmingly, she pointed out that 70 percent of our proliferating private satellite TV channels have internalised and are parroting Ziaul Haq’s unfortunately abiding narrative. It is not as though only the Senators are aware of the shortcomings of the counterterrorism effort. Witness the very public exchange of statements between former and current ministers of the government on the issue of ‘getting our own house in order’. First Chaudhry Nisar fulminated against Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif regarding his remarks on these lines. Then Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal and now Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi have chimed in in support of Khawaja Asif and indirect refutation of Chaudhry Nisar’s fulminations. Whether Chaudhry Nisar is trying to defend his record in office over the last four years or is simply purblind to the threat the homegrown terrorists represent, his attacks on his own government betray a state of disarray in the ruling party after the Panama verdict. A chink of light is represented by Ahsan Iqbal’s revealing that the government is contemplating a set ‘curriculum’ for Friday sermons to take the sting out of the scorpion’s tail and help reshape the national narrative away from extremism in a healthier, more positive direction. More power to the elbow contemplating such a long overdue move.

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