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Opinion

January 9, 2015

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Fight terror with terror?

Dubai eye
The recent carnage in Pakistan targeting innocent children at an army school in Peshawar shocked and shook one to the core. Indeed, ‘shock and anger’ are inadequate words to capture the universal outrage and revulsion expressed over the Taliban horror show. Understandably, everyone, in and outside Pakistan, wants swift and effective response to terror.
And the redoubtable Pakistan Army –p erhaps the only institution that all Pakistanis take seriously – and the government have indeed promptly responded to the national mood.
While the army lost little time in unleashing overwhelming force on the militants in the tribal region, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has come up with a ‘National Action Plan’ to tackle the challenge.
Meanwhile even before NAP could be exhaustively debated and put into play, the government went ahead and promptly executed a number of militants. The summary executions, denying the condemned men a final appeal before the Supreme Court and the president, came soon after the government lifted a six-year-old moratorium on the death penalty. Indeed, we are told, some 500 militants are to be executed in the days and weeks to come.
Understandably, the hangings have outraged international rights groups and raised questions among many EU nations. UN chief Ban Ki-moon called up Nawaz Sharif urging him to stay the executions.
Another gem of the government’s ‘action plan’ to deal with terror has been the decision to constitute special military courts, obviously a move dictated by the powerful men in khaki. On January 6, the National Assembly (parliament) and Senate approved by two-thirds majority the 21st Amendment Bill, setting up military courts to try terrorists.
The fact that the country’s main opposition, Imran’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jamiatul Ulema-e-Islam (F) abstained from voting speaks volumes about the divisive nature of the new legislation.
And it is not just the

Islamists who have lashed out against the new anti-terror law (for associating extremist violence with religion); there has also been serious dissension within Zardari’s PPP as well as the PTI over the amendment.
PPP leader Khursheed Shah said his party had voted for the amendment “with a heavy heart”. Another PPP stalwart Raza Rabbani described the bill as the “death of parliament”. PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari himself tweeted: “The parliament cuts its nose to spite its face”.
Distinguished jurists like former chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who while presiding over the highest court in the land had dealt with numerous terror cases, disappearances of thousands and the whole gamut of related complexities, trashed the talk of military courts saying no court outside the judiciary can exist. Justice (r) Tariq Mehmood seconded him saying military courts undermined the judiciary.
Leading Pakistani newspapers share these apprehensions about the new law and the extraordinary powers it gifts to powers that be. “Time and again, we have been dragged down into an ocean of troubles. The setting up of military courts would appear to be yet more evidence of that. There is no reason to believe such courts can mete out the kind of justice we need. People need justice and they need it to be fair and without bias. It will be almost impossible for that to happen in the presence of military courts”, argued this paper’s editorial.
‘Dawn’ described the new legislation as a “great disservice to the democratic project.” And rightly so. Pakistan does not have to look far to know that the use of excessive, blind force, draconian laws and military courts seldom succeed in reining in militancy or violence.
Over the past couple of decades, India has toyed and experimented with several anti-terror laws, from TADA to POTA – each progressively worse than the other. Then there is the infamous AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) which is applied selectively in volatile Kashmir and the restive northeast, often allowing the security forces to get away with murder – and worse.
These laws have been massively abused and exploited, targeting thousands of innocents and the usual suspects from a particular community. As Roman lawgiver Cicero warned, the strictest law often causes the most serious wrong. India today remains as vulnerable to terror as ever – like any other country.
Following the 9/11 attacks, the US Congress took little time to come up with a new legislation arming an already powerful president to the teeth. It virtually gave Bush junior global licence to kill and invade and bomb any country he wishes to as part of his simplistic, with-us-or-against-us war on terror.
Not that America needed any special laws or powers to bomb any nation back to the Stone Age, as it did in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. It didn’t need any special laws to drone, kill, maim, torture, abduct and lock away ‘enemy combatants’ in legal hellholes like the Guantanamo Bay.
More important, after all the shock and awe of the past 14 years, not to mention more than a million lives lost in Iraq alone, is the global hegemon any closer to winning the terror war? Far from it.
Indeed, America’s war has not just inflamed and turned the whole of the Muslim world, including Pakistan, upside down and created monsters like Isis, the west itself is now beginning to feel the heat of the ‘far war’, the latest example being the attack on an Islamophobic Paris rag.
Is Pakistan looking to go down that road? Has it drawn no lessons from the war next door? Don’t get me wrong. I am all for fighting extremism. Whatever its causes and whoever sowed the seeds of strife, terrorism has emerged as an existential threat to Pakistan and the Muslim world. Indeed, Muslims have been its chief victims. Extremism needs to be dealt with firmly and effectively.
But hanging people casually by the dozens and hundreds ignoring the due process of law and setting up military courts – notorious for their perfunctory approach to law and requisites of justice – is not the best way to deal with the problem.
More important, military courts are synonymous with colonial rule, often set up to dispense summary ‘justice’ to a hostile population. No wonder Groucho Marx thought military justice is to justice what military music is to music. Pakistan is not an occupying power nor is it dealing with foreign fighters. These are all home-bred, wholly indigenous men.
Doubtless, those who perpetrated the shame of Peshawar and other crimes of such magnitude deserve no mercy. Pakistan must go after everyone who is responsible for this and other such ghastly crimes against humanity.
However, in this pursuit of justice, the state must not lose sight of the basic demands of justice. Innocent people must not be made to pay for crimes they did not commit, as has been the case in much of the west’s war. That will only exacerbate the problem and create many more desperate men willing to kill and die for nothing.
If Pakistan is keen to fight the menace of extremism, the existing laws and courts are more than enough to deal with it. After Peshawar, Pakistanis as a nation seem to have had enough of terror and extremism of all hues. Now it is for the political and military leadership to demonstrate that it is up to the challenge. However, Pakistan can win this war only by fighting it fair and square. You can’t fight terror with greater terror.
The writer is a Middle East based columnist.
Email: [email protected]

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