The enemy within

ONCE again, terrorists have struck, this time in Karachi, killing six people on the way to an Imambargah. The attack comes three months after a more gruesome incident in Quetta, where terrorists motivated by sectarian considerations gunned down 44 worshippers in a Shia mosque. It was also in Quetta a month earlier that 13 trainee policemen fell victim to unknown assassins. In Karachi, this is the second major incident of sectarian killings this year, the last one being on Feb 22 in Malir, when terrorists shot dead nine people outside an Imambargah. Seen against the background of bomb blasts and incidents of terrorism elsewhere in the country, Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies seem to be fighting a losing battle. After Friday’s carnage on Hub River Road, the police suspect the hand of the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi in the crime. That, however, leaves us nowhere. This organization, like many other extremist parties, was outlawed in January 2002, but the action has not meant an end to the Jhangvi and other groups’ murderous activities; they have gone underground and their ability to strike when and where they want remains unimpaired.

The killings on Friday coincided with President Pervez Musharraf’s statement that what Pakistan faced today was an internal rather than an external threat. Speaking at the annual dinner of the All-Pakistan Textile Mills Association in Islamabad, the president observed that religious and sectarian extremism could harm the country both internally and externally. Promising to root out terrorism, the president listed some of the agencies that are part of Pakistan’s security apparatus. These include an intelligence set-up, a special operations task force, “on ground and fully mobile”, and a “quick reaction force” to combat extremism. Impressive though it seems, these agencies have very little to show by way of success against sectarian terrorism. These agencies might have helped arrest Al Qaeda militants and, maybe, won laurels from our foreign partners in the war on terror, but where the domestic brands of terrorism are concerned, this panoply of law enforcement agencies seems virtually helpless.

Terrorist groups in Pakistan are well-entrenched. A carry-over of recent history, they came into being in the ’80s because of the US-backed jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. However, even following the Soviet withdrawal, they continued to exist and found new operational norms and targets. Encouraged by elements within the army, some of these organizations defied civilian governments, ran their own foreign policies, and developed a stake in Afghanistan. The Taliban owed their existence and their capture of Afghanistan to this fact. After 9/11, when the military government woke up to the need for cracking down on religious militancy, it realized too late how well-entrenched these forces were in Pakistan.

Not all religious parties are sectarian or extremist, but some of them most certainly are. It is this latter category that needs to be rooted out. Yet, astonishing as it may seem, all those agencies the president spoke of in positive terms have failed to unmask the faces behind these gruesome killings. What are their sources of funding? Where do they get their arms from? Where are their training centres and the secret headquarters and cells where they gather to plot their crimes? Surely, the intelligence agencies must have knowledge of these networks and can find answers to these questions. Given the president’s own realization that religious extremists could harm the country both internally and eternally, the war against domestic terrorism needs priority over the commitment we have to fight against international terrorism.

Immigration scams

THE Federal Investigation Agency’s decision to undertake a comprehensive exercise to track down and arrest those involved in running illegal immigration scams in the country is a step in the right direction. The FIA is understood to have constituted teams to hunt down notorious human traffickers who are operating within the country. The interior ministry has provided the FIA with a list of victims of this business who have since returned to Pakistan so that information can be collected about those running the manpower rackets. It is said that a number of travel agents are also part of the trade.

The business of illegal immigration is not a new one. What is new is that the government is finally waking up to a trade that entraps hundreds of young people from all over the country every year and cheats them of their money. The traffickers are known to charge exorbitant fees and make false claims about jobs and earnings in the West. In reality, many hapless young men are abandoned by their handlers at some point in their journey and eventually arrested by border officials of that country, put in prison and deported to Pakistan. There have been instances where would-be immigrants have died owing to the unsafe conditions in which they travelled and the dangerous routes they were made to take.

Today there are thousands of innocent Pakistanis who are in prison as a result of the rackless ways of the traffickers. According to details released to parliament in August, of the over 9,000 Pakistanis in jails abroad, the majority comprise job seekers. Dealing with traffickers should be the first step in a wider plan to break up the human smuggling rings that exist and include a number of operators, sometimes even immigration officials and other staff. It should also be hoped that the latest burst of energy of the FIA has not been prompted only by a couple of recent well-publicized cases and will be sustained.

Stranded in India

THE tale of 30-year-old Shahnaz Kausar is a telling example of how troubled relations between two countries can have a traumatic effect on the lives of some of their citizens. A resident of Azad Kashmir, Shahnaz had jumped into a river some eight years ago to escape the daily harassment meted out to her by her husband and in-laws. Swept by the waters to the Indian side, she was eventually picked up by the Indian army and handed over to the police. Despite her untold suffering, a local court convicted her of entering India illegally and sentenced her to 15 months in prison. In jail, a prison guard raped her and she eventually gave birth to a daughter. After her release in 1997, Shahnaz tried to return to Pakistan but could not because while immigration officials at the border were willing to let her in, they refused to admit her child, whom they said was Indian. Shahnaz had no choice but to stay on in India and was sent back to prison. She was eventually released in August 2002 and has since been trying to return to Pakistan.

Islamabad must take up the case of this unfortunate victim of circumstances without the least delay. A decision must be taken to admit her and her daughter back into Pakistan so that their miseries come to an end. She has already suffered far too much to be left wondering about what happens to her and her child next. Both must be spared the agony of being tossed back and forth at border points. At any rate, both countries have recently released dozens of each other’s citizens languishing in jail for similar kind of offences. A Pakistani boy who had accidentally crossed the border into India was released not too long ago as a goodwill gesture and allowed by Pakistani border authorities to enter his homeland. Several fishermen have also been mutally repatriated because it was realized that they had crossed into the territorial waters of the other country by mistake. Shahnaz Kausar’s case is of a similar kind and deserves to be treated in the same way.


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