RATHER than increasing confidence, the report on Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata presented to the Supreme Court on Tuesday on behalf of Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence gives cause for greater concern. In January, the attorney general had conceded that some 700 suspected terrorists were confined in internment centres established under the Action in Aid of Civil Power Regulations 2011, a time-bound and area-specific law that legalises the detention of suspected terrorists. In trying to defend such detentions, the report for the SC exposed worrying details that many had suspected but the agencies had not officially revealed before now: that there is a fear of increased terrorist activities in several border agencies because of a nexus between the Tehreek-i-Taliban Swat and the Afghan government, and that the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan is merging with violent sectarian outfits that operate in the country at large, with the implication being that if detained members of the latter were removed from internment centres they would slip away into other parts of the country, including urban centres, and carry out further violence.
This leaves a lot of questions to be answered. Why did it take a legal petition against the AACPR to bring these issues to light? This information ought to have been shared much earlier with parliament and the people, because the mergers being talked of have very serious repercussions. In particular, the information about the TTP-sectarian nexus and the ability of any freed militants to carry out attacks in major cities and other settled areas constitutes an official admission that the militancy issue is not confined to the tribal belt, which is more of a hub from where violence is being exported to the rest of the country.
If reality is as presented in Tuesday’s report, this necessitates a rethink in Pakistan’s approach to the militancy problem. The authorities argue that the AACPR helps keep the peace in the restive tribal agencies, given the well-known issues, such as the lack of witnesses, with prosecuting terrorism suspects captured in the area. But if the problem is not restricted to Fata, are we to see the scope of the law expanded to other parts of the country too? Now that this information is public, it needs to be recognised that detention of the kind permitted by the AACPR is a short-term response rather than a real solution to the problem. Pakistan delays the creation of a comprehensive strategy at its peril.