While eliminating extremists’ sanctuaries in Fata is vital, the effort to uproot terrorism cannot fully succeed unless the militants’ foot soldiers and networks in Pakistan’s cities and towns are neutralised.
One of the key ways to achieve this is to prosecute and punish those involved in acts of terrorism. However, as numerous examples have shown, the state has failed miserably on this count.
For example, as this paper reported on Friday, probes into two major terrorist attacks in Rawalpindi are going nowhere: both in the case of an attack on a Muharram procession in 2012 in Dhoke Syedan and the R.A. Bazaar bombing in January this year, the police have been less than enthusiastic about tracing the culprits and bringing them to justice.
In the R.A. Bazaar bombing, Rawalpindi’s regional police officer considered the case solved as “the TTP had claimed responsibility” and the banned outfit’s leaders had been named as the main accused. He added that if the whereabouts of TTP leader Mullah Fazlullah and the group’s spokesman Shahidullah Shahid were known, the law enforcers would nab them.
As for the Dhoke Syedan case, it has been termed ‘untraced’, which means there is hardly any likelihood that those involved in the crime will be punished.
The police’s claim that since some terrorist masterminds had owned an attack, further investigation was not required is whimsical.
Even if a militant leader is calling the shots from some remote or untraceable location, the organisation surely has foot soldiers on the ground that serve as the eyes and ears of the central command and are instrumental in planning and carrying out new attacks.
Hence leaving key incidents untraced or investigations pending opens the door for further atrocities as perpetrators melt into the background in order to plan the next attack.
Identifying a suicide bomber or militant leader as being responsible is not enough. If the police and intelligence agencies — all 26 of them — fail to uncover and bust active militant networks, how can terrorism be eliminated? In this regard, the National Counter Terrorism Authority, which is supposed to be the central actor in Pakistan’s counterterrorism efforts, still seems to be in hibernation.
Also, if the police are unwilling or unable to pursue and investigate suspects though legal means, unsavoury extrajudicial methods such as enforced disappearances and custodial killings will become the norm. For long-lasting counterterrorism results, the investigation system needs to be vastly overhauled.
Published in Dawn, August 2nd, 2014