Banned groups and empty questions

For banned outfits to gain acceptance politically makes nonsense of banning them in the first place

Editorial September 16, 2017

It is now well established that terrorist groups and extremist ideologies evolve far more swiftly than the agencies that are tasked to counter them. This is a worldwide phenomenon but a particular problem for Pakistan. There is a long history of groups being banned, and an equally long history of the same groups simply reinventing themselves under a different name, often with the same leadership, and carrying on business as before. Speaking to the Senate on Thursday 14th September the Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal said it was the responsibility of provincial governments to maintain a watch on banned groups and to take action against them as appropriate, this including those that have resurfaced under a different guise.

There followed a circular exercise in futility as question after question was referred elsewhere, dodged or simply not answered at all. Circumlocution was the order of the day, and answers denied on the thinnest of technicalities by those that might be expected to know the answers but were not going to have them wrung out in a public forum. Where answers were given they mainly contained information already long in the public domain and did nothing to further our understanding of how the terrorist/extremist nexus was being managed.

Whilst we accept that there are sound operational reasons why it is not prudent to disclose some details, we do not accept the laissez-faire attitude adopted by some provincial governments as to how they respond to banned organisations. There are examples of those holding extreme views attempting to gain footholds in mainstream politics, a move that if successful shifts the political fulcrum even further to the right. For banned outfits to gain acceptance politically makes nonsense of banning them in the first place. Most already operate openly anyway with blind eyes being turned by those in power who harbour a sympathy to them. There is a long-overdue job to do which is as important as ridding ourselves of banned organisations and that is ridding ourselves of the mindset(s) that allow them to flourish and prosper. A circular mutuality is ultimately cancerous, and the oxygen of tolerance only allows the tumour to grow.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 16th, 2017.

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