A scathing indictment

It is clear from the report that the law enforcement agencies are deeply deficient in a variety of ways

Editorial December 16, 2016
Residents light candles for lawyers killed during the Monday blast at Civil Hospital during a candle light vigil in Quetta, August 9, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

The 16th December 2016 marked the second anniversary of the attack on the Army Public School (APS) in Peshawar which killed 141 people, 132 of them children. There has yet to be a judicial enquiry into the attack, unlike the attacks in Quetta of 8th August 2016 into which the judicial report has been published. The one-man judicial commission that investigated the attacks in Quetta that saw the deaths of at least 70 people, most of them lawyers is a model of clarity and perception, as well as a forensic dissection of the failings of virtually every state entity or service, be they law enforcement or investigation, or health, federal ministries and their ministers and both state and privately owned media outlets.

The report describes the ‘monumental failure’ of the interior ministry as being a contributory factor in the attacks, and the ‘irresponsible’ post-attack comments by the Balochistan Chief minister and home minister which taken together undermined the credibility of the provincial government and were misleading to the media — which itself was irresponsible in the way it responded in the first instance.

With very few exceptions agencies and individuals singly and collectively failed in their duty on the day of the attacks, a single and notable exception being named in the report as Dr Shehla Sami whose courage and dedication undoubtedly saved lives. The same cannot be said for many of her colleagues at the Quetta civil hospital many of whom were absent from their duty. The hospital itself was found to be dirty everywhere, poorly equipped lacking even the most basic items and badly led.

It is clear from the report that the law enforcement agencies are deeply deficient in a variety of ways. Crime scenes were not secured, there was no attempt to forensically examine the scenes and it was not until the commission itself intervened that there was any forensic examination. At a wider level the state had not established a bank of forensic information on past attacks which would have been a valuable resource in investigating the Quetta attacks.

At the highest level of the federal government the chronic failure of the Interior Ministry and its minister to produce a coherent response to terrorism and its countervailing, or implement basic protocols leaves the state as a whole wide open to those determined to see its overthrow. Hypocrisy is evident in the failure to ban organisations that are sectarian or even claim responsibility for terrorist attacks. The minister himself is called to account for meeting the leader of three banned organisations - and then denying that he ever did despite photographic evidence to the contrary. The National Action Plan (NAP) is revealed as being no such thing. It has no timelines or reporting structures and amounts to little more than a wish list. The Interior Ministry’s own National Security Internal Policy is not being implemented and the National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA) is revealed as the lamest of ducks.

The Quetta report is an indexed catalogue of everything that ails the state at federal and provincial level when it comes to battling the beast that is terrorism. The principal civil hospital in Quetta is exposed as a filthy and badly managed facility with staff that have a lackadaisical attitude to their work and who sabotaged the system that was supposed to record their on and off duty times. The list goes on. It is rare for a report such as this to arrive in the public domain — albeit in English, it needs to be in Urdu as well — and it is a matter of profound sadness and some anger that we have no confidence whatsoever that anything will come of it. Pakistan may not be a failed state but there are parts of it that have failed miserably.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 17th, 2016.

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