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Quetta inquiry report

December 17, 2016

The catalogue of errors, mistakes, oversights, criminal wrongdoing, hubris and policy misguidedness is so overwhelming that it is scarcely possible to read the report of the inquiry commission on the Aug 8 Quetta bombing of the legal community.

Surely no state apparatus in a country and in a province so wracked by violence for so long can be allowed to be so utterly incompetent in so many ways. Yet, the report of the inquiry commission led by Supreme Court Justice Qazi Faez Isa lays bare such sweeping failures as to call into question the very edifice of the country’s counterterrorism and counter-insurgency strategies.

To be sure, there are no easy, readymade solutions to what is destined to be a long war. By its very nature, the fight against militancy is not something a conventionally oriented state security apparatus can do automatically and immediately.

But Balochistan has had a militarised security policy for more than a decade, military campaigns have been waged in every one of the seven agencies of Fata and counterterrorism operations have been conducted for years from Karachi to Peshawar. By now, the stunning failures laid bare by Justice Isa should have been addressed to a great extent.

Two things stand out in the panoply of wrongs catalogued in the report. First, a meaningful policy change can only be built on an explicit rejection of past policy. From the Afghan jihad in the 1980s to the state redirecting militant energies towards India-held Kashmir in the 1990s, Pakistan’s problem with militancy is rooted in deliberate choices that became self-inflicted wounds, but the state has never acknowledged this.

Even today, responsibility for choices made willingly and egregiously is largely deflected towards external factors. The Cold War and Pakistan’s alignment with the US is blamed for the original embrace of armed jihad. The proxy wars between oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Iran are blamed for the rise of violent sectarianism in the country. But through it all, it was the state’s complicity with militant groups for parochial agendas that allowed the creation of an infrastructure of jihad that the country is now struggling to dismantle. The denial of the past must end.

Second, the state needs a zero-tolerance approach towards militancy. No more prioritisation of the fight against anti-Pakistan militants while tolerating the growth of other groups. No more treating some banned militant groups as more deserving of punitive action than other banned outfits. No more asking the world to be patient while demanding it do more to help Pakistan fight selective battles.

Yes, tactics and strategies against different groups will necessarily have to be different, and different regions will need different approaches, but in principle and in philosophy there must be clarity that all militant groups will be dismantled and that Pakistan will be cleansed of militancy, terrorism and extremism. Total clarity, total commitment — there is no other option.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2016