IN the wake of the attacks against the Hazaras in Quetta, accusations have been levelled by a section of civil society, media and human rights organisations that the armed forces and its intelligence agencies have some links with proscribed militant outfits like the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LJ).
There is also a widespread general perception that our security establishment calls the shots on internal security issues, especially those pertaining to Balochistan and Fata.
This criticism against a publicly respected institution of the armed forces resulted in an emphatic denial by none other than the chief of the ISPR, the military’s media wing, at a specially arranged media briefing last month.
At the same time the secretive and powerful ISI formally told the Supreme Court that it had conveyed prior information about the transfer of large-scale chemicals from Lahore for preparation of explosives in Quetta to be soon used against the Hazaras.
It conceded that formal counterterrorism operations were not part of the ISI’s mandate, implying that the Frontier Corps (FC) and the police had failed to prevent the carnage even after being given clear information.
A military spokesman stated clearly that “the armed forces were not in contact with any militant organisation, including the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi”. This realisation is welcome, especially after a change in the military doctrine recently when the army chief unequivocally declared on Independence Day in 2012 that the Pakistani state was pitted against an internal enemy in the form of militant organisations that were planning to unravel the country through terrorism and religious extremism.
The very public and categorical denial by the army command should also result in the institution’s own soul-searching and internal accountability about the patronage of certain militant organisations by the military and the intelligence agencies, especially during the Zia and Musharraf eras.
The present army command knows and understands that security-handling and political engineering by the Military Intelligence (MI) in Balochistan led to the woes of that unfortunate province that continues to bleed due to the unresolved issue of the missing persons, the Baloch insurgency, targeted killings of Punjabi settlers and sectarian terrorism, especially against the Hazara Shias.
While ruling out any collaboration at any level, the army spokesman stated that there was “no reason to think about the army’s involvement” with the LJ. He vociferously added that “there is no way the army can afford this. If such a thing comes to notice it will be sorted out”.
The record shows and all Hazaras know that there was not a single incident of sectarian terrorism in Quetta or the entire province in 2007 because high-profile LJ terrorists like Usman Kurd and Dawood Badini had been apprehended and incarcerated in a high-security, anti-terrorism police force-guarded prison in the military cantonment in Quetta.
Will the army command and intelligence agencies honestly probe the circumstances under which the LJ desperados escaped from a secure facility in January 2008? Is it not a fact that the LJ Balochistan regrouped under these fugitives and since then has unleashed a reign of terror, not only in Quetta but all over the country?
In my view, the armed forces now have a responsibility to come up to the expectations of the victim Shia community of Quetta and leave no stone unturned to re-arrest the LJ fugitives.
No army operation is required for this challenging task. All it requires is for the Crime Investigation Department, the Special Branch, Intelligence Bureau, and the ISI to pool their resources, share information and help the police, FC and the armed forces for a targeted raid in an area which is outside the jurisdiction of the police.
It is now time to address the civil-military disconnect to resolve the issue of internal security fault lines and stop blaming each other. Sectarian violence is now the biggest threat to our national cohesion and peace.
The timing is also crucial because the next national elections are around the corner.
An inept and corrupt government failed to muster the political will to tackle the security challenges facing Balochistan during the last five years.
A truly representative new political leadership elected as a result of fair and transparent elections will hopefully be chastened by the previous misrule and try to deliver peace and progress to the hapless citizens of a province crying for the healing touch of reforms.
Meanwhile, our security establishment led by the armed forces and intelligence agencies, who have been part of the problem, has to become a very active part of the solution to combat sectarian terrorism, resolve the issue of missing persons, guard our vast frontiers, and actively support the police, Levies, and civil armed forces such as the FC and Coast Guard.
It must do so not only to protect our vital national assets in Balochistan but become part and parcel of good governance and service delivery for citizens of the hinterland of our nation. I wish it Godspeed.
The writer is former IG police, Balochistan.