Bloodbath in Lahore — where does the fault lie?

Little attention is paid to improving their professional competence in providing security to ordinary citizens

Rustam Shah Mohmand March 30, 2016
The writer has served as ambassador to Afghanistan and is a former interior secretary

The explosions in Lahore that killed more than seventy people, including children and caused injuries to hundreds, would be a watershed in Pakistan’s continuing battle against insurgency. The Lahore tragedy has caused deep anguish throughout the country. A defining moment has arrived. Will Pakistan adopt the stereotypical approach i.e., round up a few hundred innocent citizens while the leaders will focus on rhetoric and make tall promises? Or will there would be a restructuring of the state machinery into robust organisations, capable not only of preventing such attacks, but also vigourously safeguarding the lives of the citizens? The latter is necessary in creating a secure environment, free from fear and intimidation.

For a reappraisal to happen, there has to be a dispassionate evaluation of the faults in the system that allows such attacks to take place. The federal and provincial government institutions have either succeeded partially, or failed to deliver. For although it has been acknowledges that the threat exists, what steps have been taken to prevent such attacks or to reach those who sponsor, train and finance the perpetrators of such atrocities? There is a wide gap between what the institutions could do and what they have done. After all, despite tall claims, what concerted action has been taken against the Punjabi Taliban, who have reportedly accepted responsibility for the Lahore carnage? Why has the Punjabi Taliban network, operating in the heart of Punjab, not been broken?

Institutions or departments of both, the federal and provincial governments, continue to suffer from that fundamental malady that has afflicted them — the inability of departments to coordinate or share information with other law enforcement organs of the state. This lack or absence of an integrated approach lies at the bottom of the systemic failures of our administrative machinery. This passion to pass on information vertically, has gravely impacted on the performance of the country’s institutions — especially those concerned with security, peace, and law and order.

One major reason for the lack or absence of such lateral coordination is the non-existence of any team captain at the district level. The dismantling of the institution of district magistrate by the Musharraf regime, has dealt a death blow to the concept of an institutionalised accountability of the police — affecting not only the output of the police but also generating umpteen administrative problems in the execution of policy for maintenance of peace, and law and order in the district. Indeed in the absence of a captain of the team, the police performance has nosedived over the last 14 years.

The lack of unity of command continues to exact a heavy toll, not only in a district but also in the province. It is shocking that in the basic administrative unit i.e., a district, no one has the responsibility of maintaining peace and no one has complete authority to administer the district.

The government’s inability to enforce its writ in accordance with the law, is at the core of the lingering violence, attacks and insurgency. The credentials of the government — with regard to its resolve to punish those who are involved covertly or overtly in attacks on public places — are tested by the miscreants repeatedly . A classical example is Karachi, where scores of people, indeed in hundreds, have confessed to having carried out murders by the dozens, at the behest of party leaders, who are sitting members of parliament. Scores of criminals have confessed to having killed people, burnt buildings, burnt people alive on orders from ‘party’ bosses. Scores have been sent abroad for training to India. And yet the state is so awfully helpless in the face of such glaring, shameless atrocities!

Political expediency is at the heart of the government’s indifference towards such abominable crimes. Lack of professionalism in the police poses a formidable challenge. In a country where the main focus is on ‘VIP’ duties, escorting and protecting ministers, judges, politicians — little attention is paid to improving the professional competence of those who are entrusted with the job of providing security to ordinary citizens. Lack of accountability for lapses, incompetence, or lack of motivation for improved performance, lack of opportunities for training and, of course, corruption, continue to impinge negatively on the performance of the main law enforcement organ of the state.

The inability of the state to address issues that cause mayhem and deaths every now and then is manifested in its lack of determination to address issues that cause alienation in Balochistan and the tribal areas. There was a time when the tribal areas were more peaceful than the rest of the country. To this day, the state has not been able to identify the causes of the current turmoil and insurgency in the tribal areas. Before 2002-03, there were no signs of any rebellion in the area. When causes of insurgency cannot be identified, it is not possible to design appropriate measures to restore complete normalcy.

It is pathetic to observe that no government, over the last two decades, has been able to engage the angry Baloch nationalists with a view to addressing and resolving the long simmering discontent amongst the Baloch people. It is not realised that such lack of capacity to respond to serious issues and seek ways to find durable solutions would have a hugely negative impact on such issues as development, education, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor projects, pipelines and so on.

Finally, in a climate where the culprits operate under a belief that getting away with crimes is no big deal in a society or culture where the emphasis is more on symbolism than substance, horrendous crimes would continue to be committed. There is no better mechanism than the institution of penalties and retribution, in accordance with law, to prevent the occurrence of attacks and bomb blasts.

The malaise has deep roots — social, administrative, religious and economic. An integrated approach, that will incorporate the factors listed here as well as many others, will have to be evolved. But more importantly, lessons have to be learnt from past failures; lapses have to be identified; clear responses worked out for a coherent policy that is not based on any political agenda or compromises, but on the objective of elimination of the scourge of insurgency. 

Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st,  2016.

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Parvez | 5 years ago | Reply Excellent summary of the situation.
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