Changing Titanic’s course

Published December 27, 2014
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

EVEN if the current resolve to finally tackle terrorism is military-led, is that reason enough to doubt it or, in a more extreme case, reject it? The answer has to be a resounding no.

No, because for long, many have believed that since this particular form of ‘jihad’ originated in a mostly Saudi-funded laboratory jointly run by CIA-ISI, the genie could only be put back in the bottle by one, or more, of the creators.

The international partners who helped midwife this ideology don’t seem to be in a position to deal with it or lacking in desire because of their own narrow, regional interests. Therefore, the burden would remain squarely on ISI and its parent institution more so because it was fine-tuned by them to serve their own ‘strategic’ goals.

NAP seems like a sensible document. The only reservation is that it calls for the setting up of military courts.

When now, after seemingly an eternity, an army leadership has emerged which doesn’t appear plagued by what one former general calls ‘paralysis by analysis’ or a lacking in guts or worse still ideologically aligned to this form of toxic and eventually self-destructive ideology, scepticism was bound to follow.

After all, who hadn’t heard the ‘good Taliban, bad Taliban’ mantra for years. This scepticism was also in evidence at the meeting this week at the Prime Minister’s House where, according to a well-informed commentator: “The army chief on hearing the narrative from the civilian leadership about the past duality of approach reportedly said ‘bury the past, now it’s different’.”

From most accounts of the meeting, it is clear that the participants were extended every assurance that each and every militant group will be dealt with even-handedly and the ban on outlawed groups be enforced and a mere name change won’t enable such entities to operate as before.

In recent years, the environment may have been hardly conducive to humour but many Pakistanis retain their cutting wit. The acronym of the National Action Plan (NAP), therefore, immediately generated jokes such as the suggestion that nothing had changed if the wise men/women of the nation had decided to counter terrorism with a ‘nap’.

But on a serious note NAP seems like a sensible document. The only reservation I may have with it is that it calls for the setting up of military courts. For this, it was said, a constitutional amendment will need to be approved. Given the extraordinary security threat being faced by the country, if the Supreme Court finds this exercise acceptable, people like me might hold their peace too.

Under NAP, military courts will function for two years. If this time is used up to initiate and complete a root and branch reform in the judiciary; passing of laws that allow judges to hear evidence from behind screens in terrorism cases and video-link testimonies etc. then perhaps the respite won by speedy dispensation of justice via military courts would have been worth it.

If the governing party and other signatories to NAP go back to doing nothing then they’ll have themselves to blame for the erosion of the civilian writ over the affairs of the state. Also, these two years need to see exceptional governance, including freeing the police from any political pressure.

The scale of the challenge is evident from just a couple of examples. Look at the published statement in court of the main accused (executed earlier this month) in the GHQ attack case: The arms for the GHQ attack were brought from Jhang. The huge truck-bomb that all but destroyed the Islamabad Marriot Hotel in 2008 was also driven in from Jhang. The threat comes as much from Fata-based militants as it does from groups harboured for long by the security establishment such as Jaish-e-Mohammad whose membership has always intertwined with Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan in southern Punjab.

Southern Punjab is readily identified for elements who have bought into the takfiri ideology. Recent developments in Gujranwala suggest TTP is active in central Punjab too. If the number of Shia killings in Karachi is an indicator, sectarian killers are active and well-organised in the city like nowhere else.

Frankly, the scale of the challenge we are taking on can be gauged each Friday as semi-literate preachers spew hate from the pulpit across the country or from the fact that the spectrum is represented by outright adherents of the takfiri ideology to those seen as following a relatively softer approach but who still celebrated Governor Salmaan Taseer’s murderer or who call daily for the elimination of Ahmadis.

That the civilian leadership and the military hierarchy finally say that the Peshawar school carnage was the red line for them, even if the mass murder of Hazara Shias or the lethal attack on praying Ahmadis in Lahore or the bombing of the church in the same city as the school mayhem may not have been, is good enough for me. If they mean it, that is.

In any case, it would be foolish to expect miracles and hope that Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the murderous assault on Mumbai civilians in 2009, would be dealt with in any significant way in the first phase. But for Pakistan’s anti-terror resolve to be credible, the trial of the Mumbai accused must proceed apace.

All we see now is a major effort to ‘mainstream’ the group, even as it retains its capacity to wreak havoc on regional peace prospects. Who wouldn’t recall how it mourned for its Salafi brother-in-arms Osama bin Laden. It needs to be told any criminal misadventure like Mumbai won’t be tolerated. I suspect this is how far anyone will go for now.

Admittedly, my perspective is that of a beggar’s. As it is, the task before those at the helm, in the words of a Scottish journalist friend, is like changing the direction of the Titanic in the moments before it hit the iceberg. One lives in hope that the Sharif-Sharif combine will be able to do it.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2014



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