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Trial and terror

Trial and terror
The gruesome killing of 132 school children and nine teachers at the Army School in Peshawar by terrorists from the Tehreek-e-Taliban left an incurable scar on Pakistan’s psyche. One key account of the incident does shed light on the degree of barbarity that was involved. Shahrukh Khan, a 16-year-old, told the press that men who had come kill him and his classmates looked under school benches to make sure that no one was left alive in the ensuing massacre. The boy was shot in both legs. In an attempt to avoid detection, the boy stuffed his tie into his mouth to stop himself from screaming, as the terrorists went out to massacre the rest. There are no words to describe the horror this boy had undergone.

Of course, none of these attacks happen in a state of vacuum. The brutal massacre was in response to the Pakistan army’s six-month old offensive against the Taliban in the North West Frontier Province region of Waziristan, where they are still strong. The attack in Peshawar was an attempt at terrorising the Pakistani government and army into calling off these operations. The brutal and cold-blooded nature of this attack and the nation-wide revulsion that stemmed from it, however, could possibly prove to be the turning point in Pakistan’s struggle against religious extremism and terrorism.

A brief draft of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz)-led government’s counter-terrorism policy last year, according to leading Pakistani daily Dawn, includes, five elements, namely, “dismantle, contain, prevent, educate and reintegrate”. One of the bolder policy measures listed in the document points towards establishing “dialogue with jihadi organisations that are ready to renounce violence. For this purpose, the government is advised to engage former militants and terrorists lodged in jails. This makes the fifth element of the strategy, which has been named reintegration.” Critics, however, have stated that the dialogue process will not hold much hope considering that the Taliban wants to overthrow the secular state and install an Islamic state based on sharia law.

Of their own making?
 It is imperative to note that the armed forces and successive governments, in collusion with the Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI), have tolerated these extreme elements in the past and used them to pursue strategic aims in Jammu and Kashmir, Afghanistan and parts of Central Asia. Although it receives military aid worth $2 billion from the United States to fight such terrorists, most geo-strategic experts are rather unanimous in their belief that Pakistan has constantly indulged in these double games to pursue their foreign objectives.

Unfortunately, and predictably, such troubled elements came back home and caused what is arguably the worst terrorist backlash in the entire region. However, after a sneak peek into Pakistan’s counter-terror policy initiative last year, what caught the eye was the causes, the establishment believes, sparked the growth of terrorism and extremism. “Though many of the causes are well known, it is unusual for them to be officially accepted. The factors mentioned under the label of environmental causes include acceptance of violence in the society; indifference of political parties to the problem; existence of terrorist sanctuaries in the country; inappropriate role of religious forces (Ulema) and international linkages,” said the Dawn report. 

Disconcertingly, however, moments after the attack in Peshawar, Hafiz Saeed, one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, blamed India for the massacre and vowed to take revenge. In an attempt to turn the discourse against the horrors perpetrated by extreme elements in Pakistan, such elements
have yet again brought up the oft used ‘India bogey’.

Managing and using these terror groups, according to the needs of the moment, has been a habit practiced by the Pakistani security establishment. There is some positive news surrounding the closer collusion between the new Afghan government, Pakistan and the United States in dealing with these terror elements, with extremists unable to take refuge in one country or the other.  Pessimists, or realists, however, believe that such habits die hard. However, Islamabad must see that the cost of such a policy is too large to bear on a nation’s conscience. Though the Pakistan state was founded on the basis of a secular ideology, the last president to uphold it was General Yahya Khan, back in 1971.

Since then, subsequent leaders have contributed to the rabid Islamization that we are witnessing now. Zia ul Haq, who took over Pakistan in 1977, has to his credit the ‘Islamisation’ of the society and its foreign policy. His famous quote of “bleeding India by 1000 cuts” referring to the proxy war, has often been quoted by the proponents of the use of extremists against India. Disconcerting ambivalence has always characterised the Pakistani state.

Hope slips away
 Only a day after the gruesome attack on an army school in Peshawar, however, 26/11 accused Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi was given bail by an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, citing a lack of prosecutable evidence. The court order led New Delhi to react strongly against the bail. Ujjwal Nikam, the special public prosecutor in Mumbai terror attacks case, had said that India had presented evidence implicating Lakhvi to the Pakistan government and was assured by  Islamabad that they will act upon it.

The reaction in the Pakistani media was one of horror, following the decision to grant Lakhvi bail. An editorial in the News International daily said that the decision “only shows how difficult it will be to tackle the militant menace when our institutional processes are so flawed.” Following international pressure, however, the Pakistan government has taken him into custody. Islamabad has a long way to go before Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif delivers on the promises he made, while announcing his government’s national action plan to tackle terrorism and religious extremism. In a step towards the right direction, however, the Pakistan government established three special courts in accordance with the Protection of Pakistan Bill to preside over cases relating to terrorism. Five special courts are to be formed in total. These three courts have come up in Peshawar, Lahore and Quetta.

 Despite reports that the Pakistan army will continue its operations in the North West Frontier Province against the Taliban, many are still unsure whether such a tactic will work in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Balochistan provinces. Since its origin the Pakistani state has laid a greater emphasis on national cohesion, crowding out religious, regional and linguistic minorities from the public sphere. Military operations cannot provide a long term solution to the alienation that ethnic communities in these regions face due to the imposition of an Urdu-speaking culture by the Punjabi community, which dominates all spheres of life. Sadly, coming back to its eastern border, yet again, according to India’s Border Security Force chief, Pakistan violated the ceasefire and about 50-60 terrorists are waiting to sneak into the Indian side in Jammu and Kashmir from Pakistan.

(Key inputs from The Hindu, Dawn, The Guardian and New York Times)
M Post Bureau

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