Note: This article was written on 17th February, 2016.
In addition to a plethora of disturbing elements, terrorist attacks have become a routine affair for the global community in general, and for the Pakistani community in specific. The response to these terrorist attacks defines the national policy. In the wake of any terrorist attack across Pakistan, we mourn over the dead bodies of our people, hold vigils in the remembrance of the martyrs, vow to avenge the unprecedented deaths of our fellows, raise emotional slogans vis-à-vis the future course of action, and pledge to eradicate terrorism once and for all. The initial public fervor for action is hastily met with increased civil-military cooperation, promises from the incumbent politicians, renewed resolves from the armed forces and a large number of arrests carried out by the security departments.
For a few days it seems that we would manage to root out terrorism and history would never have to repeat itself. The events that follow bitterly expose the fallacies of our nation. The promises are never fulfilled, the resolves are never translated into actions and the arrests turn out to be mere deceptions. Fourth Schedulers and many innocuous personalities face the brunt and are placed behind bars. The security departments momentarily emphasize upon their statistical triumphs and a few months later most of the arrested ‘felons’ and ‘hardcore terrorists’ are released without legal prosecution. It seems that the authorities of our country are bent upon deluding the general masses, and unfortunately, they succeed in doing so.
Eventually, the public uproar ceases without receiving a befitting response. The public either accepts the government’s claims or, having lost all hope in the future of this country, feigns oblivion to the deteriorating situation. The media adapts to the shift in priorities and resumes coverage of dharnas, rallies and corruption scandals, civil-military ties begin to strain, politicians blame each other, and political parties that had united in the wake of terrorism start moving towards opposite poles of the political arena. Life resumes its normal course… until… another calamity strikes.
The immediate and firm response to the brutal attack on the Army Public School, Peshawar conforms to the above pattern, yet it has been the most important defining factor in the country’s formulation of national policy for the last 2 years.
Moments after the attack, the nation entered a phase of shock; paralyzed with fear, trepidation and a sense of insecurity. What differs APS from the rest is the magnitude of the force with which the nation retaliated. Unlike other ‘routine’ incidences, this response was not limited to a couple of months, rather it has dominated all other affairs of the country (except, perhaps, the Panamagate). Seminars and vigils in remembrance of the martyred souls are frequently arranged and some people have also called for a national holiday on the 16th of December. However, it is most unfortunate that these events have ultimately reduced APS to a ceremonial activity. The nation has learned to ignore the pain and has developed resistance against the agony that this terrible carnage inflicted upon us.
The military authorities immediately retaliated and launched the Operation Zarb-e-Azb without consulting the political government, thereby giving rise to the theory that APS was a false flag operation executed to pave the path for the much awaited military operation in North Waziristan (The civil government has always been hesitant in allowing military operations). Another set of well supported arguments claims that major terrorist leaders were allowed to evacuate the area before the armed forces marched in and demolished entire cities. Combined with the fact that the Army is still reluctant to take action against the Haqqani Network, little credibility may be attributed to this operation.
In addition, the military through its public relations office, released songs and skits depicting the theme of APS. One of the songs “Humein Dushman Ke Bachon Ko Parhana Hai” (We need to educate the children of our enemies) was appreciated at the elite level of social hierarchy, but was met with scorn by the majority population. In a community where our own children, deprived of basic education, labour at brick kilns, workshops and hotels, this song seems most inappropriate. These songs have become a permanent part of vigils and seminars, further reducing these events to mere ceremonial activities.
The renewed civil-military cooperation resulted in the formulation of the National Action Plan (NAP). This comprehensive strategy was designed to eliminate hardcore terrorists. Accordingly, death sentences were issued, military courts were set up (for a period of two years), the Anti-Terrorism institution was to be strengthened, financing of terrorist groups was to be checked, a counter-terrorism force was to be deployed, hate literature was to be checked, social media was to be reined in, and the current criminal judicial system was to be revamped and reformed. The parliament also proceeded with a new legislation, the Protection of Pakistan Bill, 2014 whereby law enforcement agencies were given additional powers and Special Courts were set up, making it easier to trial terrorists.
POPA was enacted in July 2014 for a period of two years to combat ‘waging of war or insurrection against Pakistan’ and to provide ‘speedy trial’ for offences ‘threatening the security of Pakistan’. “In these two years, not one suspect has been convicted under POPA, so we can conclude that the law doesn’t really protect people in Pakistan from terrorism and other violent acts, but instead it undermines their basic human rights protections,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia director. “The Government’s plan to renew this hastily drafted law is a classic case of supposedly ‘temporary’ departures from normal legal processes and human rights protections on the basis of ‘exceptional circumstances’ becoming a permanent part of the legal system.”
The Military Courts took up a fairly large number of cases and proceeded with death sentences in most of the cases. These decisions were challenged in the Supreme Court where the lack of procedure and misconduct in military courts was exposed. Despite the endeavours of Human Rights Activists, the Army maintains its faith in the integrity and necessity of these courts. Fresh government attempts to extend the tenure of these courts have been met with firm resistance on behalf of the Opposition.
It is not a surprise that these impractical and draconian amendments and legislations failed to serve their purpose. The need is to reform and revamp the current system to deal with any threats to the national security. Empowering the security agencies is not a solution to the threats faced by the country.
The politicians have resorted to the usual blame shifting policies. Each political party blames the other for creating hurdles in the implementation of the National Action Plan. For the last two years, every terrorist attack has been blamed on the inefficient implementation of the National Action Plan. Two years have passed since the formulation of this strategy, yet it has not been implemented! Which is defective: the Plan, or the executioners?
The military has also adopted this unfortunate habit of blaming others. It openly condemns and decries the hindrance created by the civil government in the path of national security, but it fails to alleviate the frequent concerns being raised regarding the Army’s role and decisions in various sectors. The recent surge in enforced disappearances of the religious and liberal groups has managed to shut the voice of a few, however, general awareness is bound to increase in the absence of clear explanations. In the coming days the nation might prove more resilient to deception and fear: the two most common techniques used to pacify the public.
Although the country has yet to formulate a practical and comprehensive strategy to deal with terrorism, APS has undoubtedly marked the start of a new era. An era characterized by illegal detentions, enforced disappearances and political victimization. Apparently the State has vowed to take its revenge. The question arises: against whom? Meanwhile terrorist attacks continue to rock the country… APS, Bacha Khan University, Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, Quetta lawyers, Charing Cross, Lal Shehbaz Qalandar…
Written by: Suleiman Malik