The Peshawar APS terrorist atrocity struck an emotional chord through the broad swathes of the country, the unspeakable crime against humanity succeeding in what our leaders across the board have failed to do for decades: unite the nation. The mass revulsion for the terrorists themselves and their acts notwithstanding, their known sympathisers came under severe pressure from the public. While from Karachi to Khyber spontaneous tears filled millions of eyes, the Lal Masjid’s Abdul Aziz refused to condemn the heinous crime. Civil society’s daily vigil in front of the Lal Masjid forced this hypocrite into making a contrite apology. Can anyone preaching violence under the name of religion be tolerated as a preacher?
The terrorists achieve their objectives by instilling fear in the psyche of the population, misinterpreting religion to romanticise and legitimise their existence. The media is an inadvertent but important tool for disseminating both, their pervasive fear and warped message. Some give these monsters time and space only to boost their ratings, highly irresponsible and making the media culpable as accessories to murder. Other than the media exercising self-accountability, the corporate social responsibility of advertisers should be to boycott print and electronic media glorifying terrorism. The terrorists are not ‘Talibs’ by any stretch of the imagination, the schoolchildren they brutally murdered were. One must not call these murderers ‘Taliban’; these devils must be called by their real name ‘Shaitan’.
The federal interior minister’s warning of a blowback must be taken for a fact. Driven pell-mell from most of their sanctuaries in North Waziristan by Operation Zarb-e-Azb, the terrorists not only lost their hideouts, arms caches, stores, vehicles, etc. but more importantly, their freedom of movement. Deeply embedded in urban areas, they can only retaliate by speeding up their campaign of death and destruction against soft targets like public and private educational institutions (like the APS) within the Pakistan heartland, tailor-made for the evil and callous designs of the Shaitan. The state is responsible for the overall security of all its citizens but individuals and organisations must come out of their comfort zones of passing on all responsibility to the state and take effective steps to secure themselves.
We should be prepared to bear recurring pain over the short-term rather than allowing these brutal monsters to influence and dictate our destiny over an extended period. Enacted by parliament more than 10 months ago, the National Security Policy must be implemented, making pragmatic changes wherever necessary. Sensing the mood of the nation, the committee crafting the National Action Plan thankfully did not go the usual tea and sympathy route. Fortunately, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan got his selection right, mostly men of integrity and competence not inclined to compromising on merit.
The lessons learnt from the Karachi Airport, Wagah Border incidents and dozens of such others include: 1) unity of command; 2) coordinated intelligence gathering and sharing with actionable intelligence acted upon immediately, interdicting terrorists before they can embark on their deadly missions; 3) need for adequate weapons, equipment, communications, vehicles, light helicopters, etc.; 4) trained manpower dedicated to tackling terrorism and protecting sensitive sites; 5) eliminate duplication of effort; and 6) stop bureaucratic interference and insensitivity to LEAs’ financial requirements. Also, judicial activism must not cross the fail-safe line between enhancing rather than containing clear and present danger. Our esteemed judges need to read Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.
In an earlier article, I had maintained that “critical assets such as ports, airports etc. must come under a unified command dedicated to organising, planning, training, equipping and implementing both, protection and counterterrorism response. The mission statement for protecting public and non-public assets (airbases) remains the same, the criteria for actual deployment of protection may differ. Presently, our protection, response and rescue efforts remain fragmented, the army’s fighting formations being denuded of infantry units for makeshift security protection arrangements.” Look at the myriad number of disparate units responding to crises and the resultant confusion due to lack of a cohesive command during actual conduct of operations. This must stop.
Counterterrorism needs a single, dedicated and effective single command and control mechanism. Internal security forces protecting strategic assets and countering terrorism must come under a Homeland Security Command headed by a senior, three-star general, preferably someone with actual combat and internal security experience. The re-organised entity should immediately take over security of ports, airports, air, army and naval bases etc. A counterterrorism force (CTF) can be developed from within this command. Given its present mandate and inherent capacity, the ANF is virtually a CTF, so why waste crucial time setting up a new entity? Legislation should convert the ANF into a CTF by amending the ANF Act, fleshing it out with special operations and intelligence personnel, arms and equipment, air mobility etc. Our parliamentarians must not vacillate on a mechanism for regulating madrassas and giving necessary powers to the army under Article 245 of the Constitution for setting up summary military courts to ensure speedy justice.
Those who remain insensitive to the murder and mayhem inflicted by the Shaitan on the APS schoolchildren must remember the recurring refrain “when will they ever learn?” of the age-old song, “Where have all the flowers gone?”. When will our Parliamentarians ever learn?
Published in The Express Tribune, December 25th, 2014.