Countering the terror menace

Published: January 1, 2015
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The writer is affiliated with Express TV and an editor at The Friday Times. Currently, he is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. Views expressed here are his own

The writer is affiliated with Express TV and an editor at The Friday Times. Currently, he is a senior fellow at the United States Institute of Peace. Views expressed here are his own

Ten days after the ghastly attack on the military-run school, Pakistan’s prime minister (PM) finally appeared on national television and announced a set of measures that reflect the civil-military consensus on the country’s counterterrorism strategy. After a national outpouring of grief, anger and global shock in the wake of the Peshawar attack, the government had no choice but to appear tough. The long list of measures announced by the PM relate to tackling the long-standing growth of domestic militancy and proliferation of extremist groups across the country.

In a rare expression of stoutness, the PM announced that violent militias would not be allowed to operate and shall face a crackdown. He also referred to regulating the madrassa network and arresting the sources of hate speech that create violent mindsets and provide the faux-theological basis for asserting sectarian agendas. One of the key announcements came in the shape of setting up military courts. Human rights groups have expressed concerns and reminded that even a remote chance of a miscarriage of justice will only lead to more brutalisation and radicalisation of society.

Pakistan’s justice system is heavily flawed and has been unable to respond to the enormous task of punishing those accused of terrorism. The conviction rates are no more than five per cent and the outdated prosecutorial system is clogged by severe capacity constraints. There is a consensus in the country that without major judicial reform and improvements in prosecution services, the regular criminal justice system cannot deliver.

This is not a new debate. In 1999, the Supreme Court (SC) in the Liaquat Hussain case declared military courts unconstitutional. The SC also provided guidelines to deal with the menace of terrorism, which remain unimplemented. Key guidelines issued were: keep anti-terrorism courts exclusively for terrorism cases and assign one case at a time; daily hearings; announcement of decisions in seven days. Directives were also issued that the challan of a particular case should only be submitted once the prosecution had ensured that all witnesses could be produced. High courts were asked to nominate judges who could review the speed and outcomes of the judicial process. The SC was also meant to appoint a judge who could review the implementation of its own verdict. And, the judgment also mentioned that the government could seek assistance of the armed forces under Article 245 to ensure the security of judges, advocates and witnesses.

Like Pakistan’s repetitive governance failures, this judgment was also forgotten. Fifteen years later, we are in the same situation, except that terrorism has grown beyond belief and extremist narratives have captured public discourse. This is a collective failure of Pakistani society. Deja vu, once again? General Musharraf in 2002 embarked upon a similar path to fight militancy and extremism. In January 2002, this is what the General said: “If any madrassa (religious school) is found indulging in extremism, subversion, militant activity or possessing any types of weapons, it will be closed. All madaaris will have to adopt the new syllabi by the end of this year …”

None of what Nawaz Sharif said is new. It was the agenda of his nemesis Musharraf, too, and the latter happened to be far more powerful than Sharif currently is. But even Musharraf’s resolve remained unimplemented. In fact, the country witnessed proliferation of private militias and the emergence of the deadly Pakistani branch of the Taliban movement right under the nose of the moderately enlightened general.

Musharraf failed because the establishment continued to view certain banned outfits as ‘strategic assets’ in its competition for regional dominance against India; and continued to treat Afghanistan as the strategic arena. Most of the banned outfits reappeared under new names. Few turned into ‘welfare charities’ with militant wings. An alliance with the religious parties in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa meant that madrassa regulation could not be achieved. By 2008, when a civilian government took over, the tide had reversed and the al Qaeda outpost — the Lal Masjid — had become a national symbol of resistance against US-allied Musharraf. Sections of the media played an irresponsible role in stirring up this storm.

This time again, it is the army that is in the driving seat. General Raheel Sharif has been leading the operation in North Waziristan and the recent measures announced have the endorsement of the military.

The government cannot deliver on its recent promise until it manages to engage in a dialogue with the establishment on revising the strategic security paradigm that governs the military-intelligence operations. Pakistan’s foreign and security policies remain ‘India-centric’ and the perceived threat of India encircling Pakistan via Afghanistan continues. Second, if the media commentaries are any guide, the Kashmir jihad militias are unlikely to be touched. Third, the autonomous actors within the intelligence outfits need to report to the civil-military authorities concerned. Fourth, the bail of alleged 2008 Mumbai attacks mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and the impending release of Malik Ishaq are signals that run contrary to the declared intent of the state.

Can the civilians drive these policy changes? Sadly not. Since July, Nawaz Sharif has lost his grip over power largely due to the protests and media-generated frenzy, which some attribute to the meddling of the famed invisible hand in Pakistani politics. The recent all-parties conference once again displayed the weaknesses of Pakistan’s compromised political elite and their lack of capacity, preparation and imagination. By signing on the military courts, they have effectively endorsed a 21st century coup. This follows the follies of Imran Khan, where instead of strengthening the democratic process, he has allowed for greater space for the “umpire” he had been keenly inviting to meddle. Decision-making with respect to security remains firmly in the hands of military commanders.

This is why the next few months are a test of General Sharif’s leadership. The public looks at him as the tough general who can deliver on the menace of terrorism. Given that they are in charge de facto, it might help the commanders to seek civilian input into their strategic worldview. The constitutional requirement of undoing all private militias may serve as a guide here. Dismantling the private jihad infrastructure — from feeder madrassas to education curriculum to militant networks — is the first step to secure Pakistan. The TTP are just the tip of the iceberg. Public hangings and military courts are akin to prescribing aspirin for a cancer that is consuming Pakistan.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2015.

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Reader Comments (23)

  • sabi
    Jan 1, 2015 - 1:14AM

    Can we win this war without making fundamental changes in constitution which supports only rightist groups, the real trouble makers? The answer is No.
    In 20 point agenda there is no clue about that.Pakistan Tera Allah hafiz.

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  • SV
    Jan 1, 2015 - 1:46AM

    Politics and religion are intertwined in Islam. What would the curriculum be at the madrasahs? What approach would convince the extreme religious organizations like LET/LEJ, that run most of these institutions, to come to the table? Their world view is shared by millions of Pakistanis.

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  • raider
    Jan 1, 2015 - 1:54AM

    but truth is effect of massacre is evaporating, politicians just to start the old game, this govt is habitual of being succumbed to pressure, but as they elicit that chair is again safe they trigger to game which they consider the only way to remain and linger in power, and it is not folly that people like these very tricks, so for they vote thses dynasties and their cronies it is too true that minset has turned to old perpetual politics difference is onyl partial muzzle on the stalwarts after incident which is going to be displaced soon, wait plz

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  • MSS
    Jan 1, 2015 - 2:13AM

    Mr Rumi, you are right about India specific groups will not be touched and it will give Liberty of action to those groups and cause the failure of present actions This action plan is doomed unless every single group is targeted. Pakistan is once again going to miss an opportunity to correct the wrongs of the past and risk its future.

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  • Sabi
    Jan 1, 2015 - 4:12AM

    Very happy New Years to ET members and all readers across borders.
    Wish we can give happiness to victims of terrorism in 2015 by cleaning Pakistan from all kind of terrorism.
    Stay healthy.

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  • wb
    Jan 1, 2015 - 5:07AM

    Pakistan’s policy hasn’t changed at all after Peshawar Attack.

    And we all had hoped for a genuine change of heart. But nope.

    Remember: Peshawar attack was nothing like 9/11, Peshawar attack was like 26/11, why? Because in both the cases the rich, upper middle class were targeted. Lives of 100 poor people means nothing in countries like India and Pakistan. They are taken on a daily basis. But lives of 100 rich or upper middle class means a lot.

    So, our hopes of some serious changes didn’t happen. Pakistan is back to blaming India for Peshawar attacks.

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  • Rex Minor
    Jan 1, 2015 - 5:29AM

    This is why the next few months are a test of General Sharif’s leadership. The public looks at him as the tough general who can deliver on the menace of terrorism. Given that they are in charge de facto, it might help the commanders to seek civilian input into their strategic worldview. The constitutional requirement of undoing all private militias may serve as a guide here. Dismantling the private jihad infrastructure — from feeder madrassas to education curriculum to militant networks — is the first step to secure Pakistan. The TTP are just the tip of the iceberg. Public hangings and military courts are akin to prescribing aspirin for a cancer that is consuming Pakistan.
    This kind of narrative coming from a self decalred liberal is a disgrce for the journalism. He is urging the COAS a military takeover and in the name of the public and should in any democracy be regarded as illegal.

    Rex Minor

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  • ahmed
    Jan 1, 2015 - 6:50AM

    A great article. Wonder why don’t people in Islo and Pindi get this common sense message. I hope ShariefS do read these well thought articles.

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  • Jan 1, 2015 - 10:54AM

    @Rex Minor:
    Coming from YOU an apologist for TTP, it is ridiculous.
    No need for civilian input. They have failed miserably.
    The military should go after your brothers in FATA.
    You should be glad you are safe in Germany.
    hoffen die Deutschen futtern Sie. [hope the Germans are
    feeding you]

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  • Jan 1, 2015 - 11:50AM

    I think one needs to revisit what the military cadres are being taught about the wars Pakistan fought – I think if the revision is made there – the schools and madrassas will follow.

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  • ishrat salim
    Jan 1, 2015 - 1:49PM

    @SV:

    Sorry ! the answer to your part comment quote ” their world views are shared by millions Pakistanis ” unquote. Their world views are as distorted & misinterpreted to suite their own selfish end & millions of those Pakistanis who are mostly un-educated get influenced due to the food & shelters provided to their kid & kith who otherwise are a burden on those millions poor Pakistanis. The distorted ideology that these mullahs present to the world by their act & action is far away from what Islam teaches us. You may be from those millions Pakistanis who are influenced to favor the distorted Islam. Unless, this distorted ideology is correctly interpreted & presented to the public, extremist mindset people will remain a source of concern & will keep on churning out ” terrorists ” from within us….this is the source of all problems inflicting our society TODAY & no amount of military action, military courts, hue & cry, passion, compassion, emotions etc; can wipe out this menace. This has to change NOW or NEVER….

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  • Rex Minor
    Jan 1, 2015 - 3:35PM

    @P wala:
    Democracy does not grow on trees, nor can be learnt in universities, it is the very basic in human freedom. Your country has a long way to go if you have jounalists of RR kind who seek military rule and soldier protection?

    Rex Minor

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  • Jan 1, 2015 - 9:34PM

    @Rex Minor:
    As usual, you are dead wrong. With maundering feeble diatribes.
    Democracy CAN be learned in Universities. It is an idea, a concept
    that CAN be taught in schools, colleges and universities. Very simple:-
    All men and women are created equal,…and have inalienable equal rights…
    Then expand on that. Yes it is taught, can be done, even in a home,…
    Now was that hard to understand? Or to teach in one of YOUR madrassah?

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  • shouvik mukherjee
    Jan 1, 2015 - 10:30PM

    Perhaps one of the most forth-coming OpEds which hits the nail on the head by asking the establishment to target ALL the terrorists and rooting out the hate preaching schools.

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  • Parvez
    Jan 1, 2015 - 11:22PM

    Excellent over view of the situation…….but it looks like a task that our senior political / legal / bureaucratic lot are not serious about as they really are not effected ( Dubai, London, New York await them } and its a job too big for the military to do alone.

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  • TAKhan
    Jan 2, 2015 - 12:31AM

    @Rex Minor: It happens so that by chance, I came across your comments quite often. Frankly, most of them ( and this an understatement) are particularly moronic and clearly show your level of education and understanding of the meanings of words. Just for your information, I am not pro-military.

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  • Rex Minor
    Jan 2, 2015 - 12:31AM

    @P wala:

    All men and women are created equal,…and have inalienable equal rights!!
    Your premse is dead wrong Sir; some are created more equal than others! This indeed you learn in a Madrassah, a school where theology lessons are given and the padagogy of how and why is taught ! All leading Universities were set up originaly as Madrassas including the Oxford and Harvard besides others in several. European cities.
    Democracy is a form of Governance which allows peoples participation in choosing the members of SHURA who represent them, but its success depends more or less on the peoples themselves and their choice. Both yours and the authors choice of army does not give any hope for Pakistan and calling those as apologists who have different opinions does not speak very much of your enlightenment as well, a key feature of a Madrassa education!!.

    Rex Minor

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  • Jan 2, 2015 - 5:48AM

    Amazed at comprehension of a few readers (or lack thereof). The article clearly states the Army has de facto powers and driver’s seat – this is neither constitutional situation nor desirable..

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  • bahadur khan
    Jan 2, 2015 - 3:45PM

    this artucle is one more article of the type ” i am a neutral observer” i am pained, The more painful issue is tolerance of gangs being sent to kill and main indians, with all sort of warfare training, by serving defence staff.

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  • Rex Minor
    Jan 2, 2015 - 4:46PM

    @TAKhan:

    Now read your own comments and tell me if it contains any substance, other than that you are not pro- military?

    Rex Minor

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  • Peshawar wala
    Jan 2, 2015 - 10:29PM

    @Rex Minor:
    You need some help. Perhaps a consultation with a mental health
    practitioner. tun die Deutschen zahler fur geistige Auswertungen?
    [do the Germans pay for mental evaluations] Please check with the
    Germans health ministry.

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  • Jan 3, 2015 - 1:53AM

    Also amazed why why some readers so totally misunderstood this article . I wonder why!
    Our Indian friends should watch with patience. Things will work out for us and them . .

    Recommend

  • z lodhi
    Jan 3, 2015 - 9:25AM

    Nawaz Sharif has lost his grip over power largely due to the protests and media-generated frenzy

    Sorry but b4 any protest started how many timed PM went to parliament, how many bills were passed, who stopped the government from improving police n other departments n who asked them to jack up power prices abnormally – inaction is worst than wrong action. Take ownership of being the executive

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