Thursday April 18, 2024

Shock after shock

By Shireen M Mazari
March 31, 2016

It all began well last week with a senior RAW operative, Kulbhoshan Yadev, being nabbed in Balochistan and the Indian government admitting he was not only an Indian citizen but also an officer of the Indian navy. In fact, as he confessed, he was in charge of a clandestine network in Karachi and Balochistan. His confession says nothing new but it substantiates what Pakistan has been saying all along – the role of RAW in Balochistan and Karachi.

But even in his confession, a serious question arises as to how Yadev was allowed to visit Karachi in 2003 and 2004 – as he admitted in his confession. Another concern that now arises and must be factored into our security calculations is the use by India, not just of Afghan territory but also of Iranian soil for fomenting terrorism in Pakistan.

After the confession of Indian Prime Minister Modi about Indian involvement in the breakup of Pakistan, which unfortunately Pakistan failed to take up internationally – for reasons best known to the government and state – this major arrest should allow Pakistan to expose Indian involvement in state terrorism in Pakistan. Under international law and the UN Charter, a member state cannot intervene in covert activities in another member state to undermine it. Let us hope this time round pusillanimity will not overwhelm the government and state.

Cooperation on Pathankot is good but it cannot simply proceed while RAW continues to indulge in state terrorism in Pakistan. This message must be made clear not just to India but also to the international community that indulges all excesses by the Indian state.

Sadly, the success of this major counterterrorism action was short lived since what followed were days of deathly follies by the government and state – stretching from Lahore to Islamabad and touching Karachi also. The terrible tragedy of the suicide attack at Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park in Lahore on Easter Sunday, taking the lives of 74 innocent Pakistanis showed how the terrorists can still strike at the heart of the country with impunity. The gaps in our intelligence gathering/sharing and the reluctance to start an operation against militant groups in Punjab to a large extent allowed this terror attack to happen.

But it was not simply these factors. The government of Punjab, knowing that Easter Sunday would lead to larger than usual crowds going to public places like parks, should have ensured heightened security; but nothing was done at all. Clearly no meetings were held to enhance security for a Sunday that was also a major Christian religious festival.

The Lahore tragedy was barely being absorbed when the extremist mob attending Mumtaz Qadri’s chehlum went on a destructive rampage from Rawalpindi to Islamabad’s Red Zone. How the Punjab government allowed the chehlum to be held in a public place in the heart of a heavily populated area boggles the mind, but to assume nothing untoward would happen shows a dangerous lapse of judgement on the part of the Punjab and federal governments. To aggravate the situation further, the crowd camped outside parliament was fed fiery speeches advocating violence and hatred towards our non-Muslim citizens. Seeing the apparent success of the vandalism and Red Zone occupation in Islamabad, the followers of this extremist, hateful mindset blocked various choke points in Karachi also.

As I write this, the citizens of Islamabad continue to be without cell service so emergency messages cannot be conveyed unless there is some wi-fi service available or land lines which hardly anyone has these days except in offices. Ironically, while the ordinary citizen cannot check up on his/her child or sick relative, the Red Zone messages of hate are being uploaded regularly on the net for all to access. So what the suspension of cell services for over two days has achieved is questionable.

Even more disturbing, the government has now revealed that the extremists had with them women and children whom they are using as human shields and so their leaders have been given an opportunity to simply walk away with their followers if they do not want to face an operation. Clearly, despite the National Action Plan, no action will be taken against those spouting hate speeches and advocating violence. The interior minister, who surfaced finally, did insist that the government would clear the area by Wednesday morning but one is still mystified as to what the negotiations are on. Will there actually be give and take on the list of demands? Apparently some arrests were also made but the picture will begin to emerge more clearly over the next couple of days.

To add to the citizens’ sense of helplessness over the last few days, our prime minister’s much-awaited address to the nation on Monday turned out to be a short speech signifying nothing. What we expected was some resolute policy and leadership to comfort the nation reeling under grief and shock, but that expectation was quickly and abruptly negated.

However, what has been of greatest concern over this period is the apparent disconnect between the civil and military leadership. While the civilian leadership was relying on platitudes rather than putting forward a firm course of action after the Lahore terrorist attack, the COAS announced the commencement of operations in Punjab with the military, Rangers and intelligence agencies.

What was missing was any role of the police in these operations. Hours after the ISPR announcement of this long overdue operation, the government gave out that there was no new operation in Punjab while visuals of the action were being seen across national TV screens and updates were available on the ISPR website and General Bajwa’s prolific tweets. It was even more ridiculous to hear Rana Sanaullah insist, a day later, on a TV channel that there were no militant groups in Punjab.

And so the pattern that has been unfolding since the APS tragedy and the subsequent NAP, continues today – with the government abdicating its responsibility in implementing NAP and relying on the military to keep taking actions to counter terrorism. The government has failed to arrest those making hate speeches and advocating violence; it has not even begun to move on reform of the criminal judicial system despite the sunset clause for military courts; Fata reforms remain a distant dream, although in the aftermath of Zarb-e-Azb these reforms are essential if militants are to be denied space; a counter-narrative to the extremist one has yet to get off the ground – to name just a few critical but neglected points of the NAP.

All this bodes ill for the strengthening of democracy in Pakistan, with the civilian government seemingly confused and the military showing clarity and resoluteness of purpose. The leadership that should come from the civilian PM and his cabinet is simply not there in times of crises when the nation needs decisive leaders. If the government appears in fear and awe of the extremists and militants, how can the nation resist their tyranny? The government seems to be ceding space, but vacuums will always be filled, especially when the nation is under siege from terrorist forces spewing hate and killing the innocent.

The writer is DG of SSII, a private think tank, and a PTI MNA. The views expressed are her own.