Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Business Recorder Editorial March 20, 2018

Faizabad dharna revelations

The 20-day dharna (sit-in) by the Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYRA) in November 2017 at Faizabad in Islamabad came up for hearing in the Supreme Court (SC) on March 19, 2018. Notable in the proceedings was the ‘comprehensive’ report submitted by the ISI. In sum, it carried a description of the character of three central figures of the TLYRA: Khadim Hussain Rizvi, Dr Mohammad Ashraf Asif Jalali and Pir Muhammad Afzal Qadri. The last named escaped any adverse inference, but the first two were called unsavoury in more ways than one. The report went on to delineate the sequence of events during the dharna, the failed operation by the government on November 25, 2017, the role of the Punjab government and civilian intelligence agencies and the police. None of these escaped censure for sins of omission and commission, which the ISI said had been exploited by the TYLRA to spread unrest throughout the country. The ISI, the report states, recommended avoiding the use of force and seeking a peaceful solution through negotiations between the government and the TLYRA leaders. This advice was finally accepted after the botched police operation and the ISI was mandated by the Prime Minister’s Office to act as ‘mediator’ to defuse the situation, which it managed. While the report paints the ISI in positive colours, the federal and Punjab governments, the police and civilian intelligence agencies could not escape criticism. This may have served the ISI well but the SC was having none of it and trashed the report on the grounds that it had failed to enlighten the court about the profession and source of income of Khadim Hussain Rizvi and the other TYLRA leaders. Nor was the court satisfied with the generalised description of these worthies as corrupt without any flesh on the description how such corruption was being carried out and what was its source. So disturbed was the court at the inadequacies of the country’s top intelligence agency’s report that Justice Qazi Faez Isa was moved to say that he feared for the fate of the country if this was the state of affairs where the ISI could not enlighten the court on the TYLRA leaders’ source of funds and was unaware that millions of rupees of damage had been inflicted by the protestors.

While the SC was taking the ISI and other actors to task for their failure to explain adequately what had taken place in Faizabad, an Anti-Terrorist Court, losing patience with the non-appearance of Khadim Hussain Rizvi and other TYLRA leaders despite repeated summons, ordered non-bailable arrest warrants for the accused on the plea of various petitioners, including a father whose child died on the way to hospital because of the dharna blockade. However, the law enforcement agencies so far have been unable to lay their hands on the accused. This simply adds to the woeful lack of monitoring of the TYLRA before the dharna and the continuing neglect of this critical task even after it. Those of a suspicious bent of mind find all this highly dubious and the conspiracy minded find it smacking of collusion between the TYLRA and the deep state. Such allegations were rife at the time of the dharna. The reports submitted in the SC have done nothing to allay such suspicions and conspiracy theories and may even have deepened these perceptions. The people of Pakistan deserve to know the truth behind the curtain of half-truths and obfuscation that has continued to cloak the whole affair in smoke and mirrors. If the highest court in the land cannot get the intelligence agencies and authorities to inform it of the facts, what hope for ordinary citizens befuddled by this latest of a series of events befalling the polity that defy meaningful explanation.

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