The terror connection

December 25, 2016

The Quetta Inquiry Commission Report exposes a common thread running through violent incidents in Quetta

The terror connection

On October 6, 2016, the Supreme Court of Pakistan constituted an inquiry commission on the Aug 8, 2016 incidents that killed Advocate Bilal Kasi and at least 70 people at the Sandeman Civil Hospital, Quetta. The single member commission, led by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, was designed to "look into from all the relevant aspects of this multi-dimensional tragedy." The inquiry commission worked from October 17 to December 14, 2016, and produced a comprehensive inquiry report.

Since Balochistan does not have any forensic agency, the commission utilised the services of Punjab Forensic Science Agency (PFSA) to carry out the investigation. The forensic examination of the crime scenes of the murder of Advocate Bilal Kasi and Barrister Amanullah Achakzai established the linkages of these scenes with other crime scenes. The cartridges from the two crime scenes were matched with the murder of a police sub-inspector, two Hazara ladies and two Frontier Corps constables killed on July 4, October 4 and October 14, 2016 respectively. This established the involvement of the same militant group in all these terrorist incidents.

One can discern a common thread running through all these incidents: the policeman and FC personnel were killed because they were the ‘lackeys’ of the ‘un-Islamic state’; Hazara ladies were killed because they were Shia; lawyers, from Barrister Amanullah Achakzai to Advocate Bilal Kasi to dozens more were mowed down because they implemented angrezon ka qanoon (English law).

When one examines the CNIC’s pictures of the terrorists, as provided by the commission report, the get-up of 23-year-old Habibullah was typical of a madrassa student. The 24-year-old Jahangir Badini, identified as the local ring leader, possessed an engineering degree from Khuzdar Engineering University. In the cases of 29-year-old suicide bomber, Ahmed Ali, and his accomplices, 21-year-old Ali Hassan to 33-year-old Syed Noorullah, all were seemingly influenced by the Islamist ideology informed by a Manichean worldview of ‘we’, the real Muslims, versus ‘they’, the unreal Muslims who deserved to be killed. Is it the Islamist ideology that is responsible for inculcating violence?

The report rightly emphasises the need for a counterterrorism and extremism narrative. Nevertheless, the precondition for any counterterrorism narrative should be a complete ban on hate speech and derogatory publications deemed offensive by any sect within Islam and other religions.

As a matter of fact, ideology does not work in vacuum to produce terrorists. It interacts with other more important factors to engender terrorism and violence. In our case, we are not only suffering from the fallouts of Iranian revolution, Afghan jihad, Zia’s Islamisation programme, regional states proxy war and the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, but also from the continuity of some of those legacies. What every single terror incident perpetrated by religious militants establishes is this: there is simply no distinction between good and bad Taliban; all are bad.

The message of Quetta Inquiry Commission Report’s finding "the investigators think that there is some connection between the attackers and their handler in Afghanistan" is that those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones at others.

The report is a searing critique on the governance of Balochistan’s coalition government. It is no less critical of the federal government. The moribund NACTA, gaps in the implementation of NAP and the free movement of the leaders of outlawed outfits are all big question marks on the government’s seriousness in tackling terror threat.

On the other hand, "nepotism" in appointments, provincial government’s dismal performance in health sector -- "lack of stretchers" and "fire-fighting equipment," "absenteeism", "complete lack of cleanliness" and "no designated visiting hours" -- defy the lofty slogans of improvement in health sector by the nationalist-dominated-provincial government. This was the situation of a prime government hospital in the heart of Quetta city visited by the inquiry commission. The situation is worse in other hospitals and BHUs that dot the province.

The report rightly emphasises the need for a counterterrorism and extremism narrative. Nevertheless, the precondition for any counterterrorism narrative should be a complete ban on hate speech and derogatory publications deemed offensive by any sect within Islam and other religions. What has attracted scant attention is the role of religious and sectarian literature in radicalising youth.

Various sectarian outfits disseminate literature that is extremely inflammatory and deemed blasphemous by the opposite sects. Transmitted in Urdu through speeches and publications, the sectarian literature, rarely factual and devoid of any proper research work, is meant for a wider Urdu literate audience. It does not only demonise people from opposite sects by declaring them ‘apostates’, ‘hypocrites’ ‘enemies of Islam’ but also espouses their killing. The ever-increasing use of the internet has just eased access to the divisive literature.

The commission’s recommendation of formulating a counter narrative anchored in religion itself should be just one plank of any such strategy. In the report, the author, Justice Qazi Faez Isa, has quoted several verses from the Holy Quran that forbid the killing of other fellow human beings and urge unity within the ranks of Muslims. Similarly, the government should help initiate dialogue among the religious scholars of various sects with an aim to bridge differences.

The second part of the government strategy in dealing with terror equation should be to distance itself from the public use of religion. The state involvement in religious sphere has only increased sectarian consciousness to result in stubborn identities and sectarian strife. As a remedy, even the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997, especially its section 11W, may be a relevant law to criminalise spewing hatred and punish offenders.

No less important is the activation of the moribund NACTA "to coordinate and prepare comprehensive national counter terrorism and counter extremism strategies," as one of its functions.

What can be deduced from the report is that the state lacks in forensic investigation though it is not completely without it either. The role of PFSA in extending help to the commission in piecing together the jigsaw of how terrorists executed their plans of killing innocent people is worth appreciation. What it needs is a strong dedication on the part of investigators to submit a well-researched report in just 45 days, as in the case of Quetta Inquiry Commission.

Although there is a long way to go, to an extent, the Quetta Commission Report has helped people of Balochistan repose little hope in the state. Well done Supreme Court and Justice Qazi Faez Isa!

The terror connection