Pakistan’s lax prisons embolden terrorists

Published: August 22, 2012
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The writer is an adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC. He tweets at 
@pakistanpolicy

The writer is an adjunct scholar with the Middle East Institute and president of Vizier Consulting, LLC. He tweets at @pakistanpolicy

For some of Pakistan’s most notorious terrorists, the country’s prisons often provide a secure setting to work remotely and proceed with their lives, largely unhindered by the state. Consider the case of Adnan Rashid, a technician at PAF Minhas implicated in the 2003 assassination plot against then-president Pervez Musharraf and also suspected of involvement in the attack on PAF Minhas earlier this month. While incarcerated in various Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa prisons, Rashid is said to have not one but three mobile phones. One can imagine Rashid in his cell wearing a Bluetooth earpiece with a guard standing erect nearby, holding the boss’s phones and helping him switch through calls seamlessly like a Fortune 500 CEO.

Indeed, Rashid was a busy man. In prison, he was reportedly in contact with Dr Aqeel, the mastermind of the 2009 attack on the GHQ. He gave interviews and wrote letters. In addition to working hard, Rashid also found time for love. According to Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari, Rashid got married and fathered a child while in prison. I would be interested in the logistics of how that happened.

Apparently, prison was not a perfect paradise for Rashid. I’m not sure of the actual reason for his checking out — maybe the prison walls interfered with his wi-fi connection. Rashid escaped from a Bannu prison in April along with 200 of his friends. He made his way to North Waziristan, where I presume he added another mobile phone line or two, reunited with his Juliet, and is making more babies with her (while plotting the murder of other people’s children).

Rashid is not the only major terror suspect with unrestricted phone privileges. Omar Saeed Sheikh, accused of involvement in a number of plots, including the murder of Daniel Pearl, is said to have had access to three mobile phones, six batteries, and 18 SIM cards. In 2008, he called none other than General (retd) Pervez Musharraf — after obtaining his personal mobile phone number — and threatened his life. Sheikh outdid himself in 2009 when he successfully prank called President Asif Ali Zardari and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, pretending to be then-Indian external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee threatening to attack Pakistan. It is very strange that these men are given due process and manipulate the weakness of the system but Baloch separatists seem to be shot to death without much hesitation or regard for the law.

Countless Pakistani civilians, policemen, politicians and soldiers have died in the fight against these fascist murderers. Yet, when some of them are taken to prison, they are not punished as enemies of the state. They are instead given the red carpet treatment. The fear of terrorist retribution is the likely motivating factor for their lax treatment.

Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts have a notoriously high acquittal rate. The most glaring example of this is Malik Ishaq, a self-confessed culprit behind the murder of many Shias, who was acquitted on 34 out of 44 murder counts and released on bail on the remaining 10. Now free, Ishaq once again openly calls for the murder of Shias and rebellion against the government in public speeches. If an accused terrorist is likely to be out on the streets in a few years, why would prison personnel risk antagonising him? What reason does a prison guard have to sacrifice his life and leave his family without a breadwinner when the state fails to do its share of the deal?

Parliament should heed Kayani’s call and legislate judicial and police reform. Senator Raza Rabbani seems to have the magic touch so, perhaps, he can work with the law ministry and opposition to make this happen. But Kayani also has work to do himself. There are military fingerprints all over this mess, which Kayani vaguely acknowledged. The solution is not to balance out Hakimullah with Gul Bahadur, for if and when Hakimullah is killed and the US leaves Afghanistan, Gul Bahadur surely will not call it a day. He will hold North Waziristan hostage. And the ghost of Nek Muhammad tells us what happens in Waziristan does not absolutely stay in Waziristan.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 23rd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (9)

  • Sidewinder
    Aug 22, 2012 - 9:45PM

    He gave interviews and wrote letters. In addition to working hard, Rashid also found time for love. According to Syed Adnan Ali Shah Bukhari, Rashid got married and fathered a child while in prison.
    simply hilarious….

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  • Sidewinder
    Aug 22, 2012 - 9:49PM

    In 2008, he called none other than General (retd) Pervez Musharraf — after obtaining his personal mobile phone number — and threatened his life. Sheikh outdid himself in 2009 when he successfully prank called President Asif Ali Zardari and General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, pretending to be then-Indian external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee threatening to attack Pakistan.
    rolling on the floor…

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  • numbersnumbers
    Aug 23, 2012 - 12:09AM

    The Answer to this prison issue is to send these “special” convicts to a secure prison OUTSIDE OF PAKISTAN! There they would have no influence over the jailers, and cell phone jammers are in regular use. I believe that Pakistan could work out a deal with SAUDI ARABIA to take these few “special convicts” and keep them in a high security facility!

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  • Syed
    Aug 23, 2012 - 12:30AM

    Great article!!! Is there any system in Pakistan that actually works? the country is full of mess. Corrupt politicians, unreliable and untrustworthy agencies. aaway ka aawa hi bigra wa hai. Its absolutely a crime that Malik Ishaq who killed hundreds of Shias is out and still preaching to his people to kill innocents.

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  • Mirza
    Aug 23, 2012 - 1:29AM

    A great and truthful Op Ed fit to be published in ET. I agree with this except one line. He writes “They are instead given the red carpet treatment. The fear of terrorist retribution is the likely motivating factor for their lax treatment.” I would rewrite it like this:
    The fear of terrorist retribution is not the only motivating factor for their lax treatment. This ideology has been deeply rooted in all the establishment and judicial system. No wonder Qadri is having good, safe and comfortable life while being an admitted killer and the judge has to leave the country.
    “The most glaring example of this is Malik Ishaq, a self-confessed culprit behind the murder of many Shias, who was acquitted on 34 out of 44 murder counts and released on bail on the remaining 10.” This says it all about our judicial system. While these judges kept Zardari for the better part of two decades in jail without bail on charges nowhere close to 44 or 10 murders, this killer is out on the street. Even Qadri is not going to be punished and there is not a single terrorist that the establishment or judges did not like.

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  • Yuri Kondratyuk
    Aug 23, 2012 - 8:48AM

    Embolden you say?
    Try entice, tempt and attract.

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  • Selvam
    Aug 23, 2012 - 1:35PM

    Maybe Pakistan **does** need Sharia criminal courts like KSA: at least some culprit heads will roll. It might even fright extremist mullahs!Recommend

  • PM
    Aug 23, 2012 - 5:52PM

    good point raised , why kill the baluchis and red carpet treatment for taliban and extremist factions ? writer says its the fear of retribution i think its protecting and storing the asset in safe custody for future use.

    Not surpised why baluchis are so angered and calling for separation , these extremists are responsible for the death of thousands of civilians in the last decade.

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  • observer
    Aug 25, 2012 - 10:48AM

    Pakistan’s anti-terrorism courts have a notoriously high acquittal rate.

    If the ‘Terrorists’ don’t even reach prison, why lament the ‘laxity’ of the prisons?

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