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Counterterrorism: rhetoric vs reality

Amid the controversy of Pakistan joining the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, the media focus has shifted from the implementation of theNational Action Plan (NAP), the guiding counterterrorism policy framework. After months of heralding the NAP as the panacea for all that afflicts Pakistan, there are signs that some of the policy commitments may be waning.

This is not to say that progress has not been made.  The most recent monthly report stated that between December 2014 and March 2015,32,000 ‘suspects’ were taken into custody on various charges and over 28,500 operations were conducted across the country. In Punjab, the security agencies undertook 14,791 operations. In addition, law enforcement agencies arrested thousands of individuals and killed 37 terrorists. Of those arrested, the government claims, 727 were “hardcore terrorists”. The details of who these are, and the charges made, remain unknown.

Nearly 4,000 people were also arrested for violating the rules on using loudspeakers and 887 cases were also registered for hate speech. Apparently, the Federal Investigative Agency, the FIA also registered 64 cases for illegal financial transactions and arrested 83 people. The State Bank of Pakistan froze 120 accounts containing Rs10.1 billion under the NAP drive.

These otherwise encouraging claims have been challenged. First, as of early April, only 22 of 61 convicts executed were terrorists. A report by a leading national daily revealed that among the thousands who had been detained, only 140, or less than one per cent, had links with terrorist organisations. The most important link in bringing alleged culprits to justice is prosecution; and it remains unclear how many would actually be prosecuted and tried in a court.

Another positive development has been the drive to verify mobile SIMs. Nearly 25 million (out of 103 million registered earlier) unverified SIMs have been blocked by early April. This has happened after inexcusable delay. Mobile phone is now a key instrument used by techno-jihadis globally. Similarly, the government claims that due to operations by paramilitary agencies, target killings have gone down by 57 per cent and extortion by 37 per cent in violence-ridden Karachi.

All these coercive actions constitute tinkering on the margins of the problem. The core actions under the NAP have been, not unsurprisingly, brushed under the carpet. In March, Nacta stated that the drive against proscribed militant groups, reform of madrassas and the repatriation of Afghan refugees were “no more under consideration” for these were time-consuming and needed long-range planning. Isn’t that precisely what a state under siege ought to be doing?


Pakistan’s beleaguered Hazaras

The attack on the Hazara community in Quetta last month, which left 10 dead and many injured, comes amidst the recent spate of violence against an intensely vulnerable and ghettoised community. Pakistan’s new theatre of sectarian killings, the troubled province of Balochistan, is turning into a parable of disastrous policies that are being pursued ostensibly to bolster Pakistan’s national security. Since 2009, such attacks have become the norm and the worse impunity of attackers underlines state complicity.

In early 2013, two bombings targeting Hazaras in Quetta killed over 180 people. The community sat in freezing cold for days with the dead bodies of their loved ones, waiting for effective action by the state. Nothing came out of that except assurances, token arrests and high-sounding platitudes by opportunistic political parties. The truth is that the infrastructure for sectarian hatred has grown right under the nose of security agencies. This terrorist infrastructure is inextricably linked to militant bases in Punjab, patronised by a spineless provincial government and a fast radicalising state apparatus that has accepted the power of those who preach hatred and execute their brazen agenda through target killings. No judge or prosecutor has the courage — and why should they put themselves in the line of fire — to curb and punish these networks. The political class, eager to appease rabid clerics and right wing business lobbies, continues to build metro buses or hold rallies while graveyards fill up with lesser citizens of the Shia, Ahmadi or Christian variety.


Freedom to broadcast hate

This report by the BBC is extremely insightful. How broadcast media are fanning sectarian passions across Middle East – on all sides. With dubious financiers, power interests, it becomes even more relevant for us in Pakistan.

Listen to the podcast by clicking here 

Comments and views welcome

March 27th, 2014|Middle East|0 Comments

Saudi bailout & jihad as a foreign policy tool

Pakistan’s finance minister has proudly announced that a friendly country has deposited $1.5 billion in our reserves and more is likely to follow. The impact of this cash injection has been the stabilisation of the rupee and its dramatic appreciation in the past few days. This may prove to be good for arresting inflationary trends and decreasing energy prices. However, the underpinnings of this generous assistance are lesser known. Usually, bilateral agreements operate under a legal framework and there is a semblance of transparency. However, this case remains mysterious thus far. The government needs to tell parliament and the people as towhat the deal with the friendly government entails. Recent developments on our foreign policy — hostage to worn-out doctrines — may provide some clues.

In recent weeks, there have been high-profile visits of Saudi officials and the joint statement issued on the visit of Deputy Prime Minister Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz, in February 2014, indicated a shift in Pakistan’s approach to the ongoing Syrian crisis. Discarding the earlier policy stance, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, in addition to the usual diplomatic platitudes, agreed on the “formation of transitional governing body with full executive powers enabling it to take charge of the affairs of the country”. This, essentially, means the ouster of the Assad regime. […]

March 17th, 2014|Pakistan, Published in the Express Tribune|0 Comments

Mullahs, mullahs everywhere

Raza Rumi

It is a test for the state and the political parties of Pakistan as to how they can deal with a narrative that is fast capturing political space as well as prime time on TV.


Mullahs, mullahs everywhere

Last week on a television show I had a chance to interact with Maulana Sami ul Haq while he was in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This was the day when the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had announced a month-long ceasefire (March 1). Maulana was ecstatic about the news and offered a bagful of platitudes on how important was the so-called ‘peace process’ and negotiating with the terrorists. When I asked him that despite the peace talks, outfits close to TTP had carried out dozens of attacks killing soldiers and civilians the Maulana’s mood changed. In a fit of anger he accused me of ‘sabotaging’ the process and before he could take the argument forward by calling me an agent of Hanood-Yahood, my guest – another Maulana – Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi intervened and rescued me from a live declaration of being an enemy of the peace.

The false and utterly bizarre packaging of accepting terrorists within our fold as ‘peace-agents’ has assumed a life of its own. Appeasement or terrorist outfits is turning into a mainstream political ideology. The right wing parties – bearded and non-bearded – are busy selling the merchandise that Pakistani state had earlier branded as means to bolster ‘national security’. Militant groups aiming to liberate Kashmir are legitimate, those planning to fight the imperial US and NATO are ‘good’ and the foreigners operating from Pakistani soil are ‘guests’ of proud Pakhtuns, we are told. Any divergence from these labels is akin to being unpatriotic, parroting the United States and feeding on dollars as the charismatic Imran Khan has said time and again. […]

March 14th, 2014|Pakistan, Published in The Friday Times, terrorism|2 Comments

The closed minds that deny a civilisation’s glories – where I was quoted

I was most pleased to read this piece by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown entitled The closed minds that deny a civilisation’s glories. I would like to thank Yasmin Alibhai, whom I have always respected for her integrity and courage, to have quoted a few hurried lines posted by me in response to tge butchery perpeterated by the extremists in Pakistan and elsewhere:

Muslims are seeing Koranic injunctions where none exist
Confused Dad Mohamed from somewhere in the US sends his dilemma to an Islamic guidance website through whom Allah apparently communicates his orders – on how we dress, what we do minute by minute, unholy TV programmes, wicked vitamins and even wickeder relations between males and females.
I paraphrase Mohamed’s frantic appeal for clarity. His children watch cartoons, and have stuffed toys, quilts and pillow cases with Mickey Mouse on them. Is all that halal? Now many of us detest the addictive and manipulative Disney brand which targets young children. But this fully grown, procreative adult cannot trust his own mind and seeks instructions from unverified voices of authority. How abject is that?
These global sites control people, push through Maoist “cleansing”. Miserable mullahs are closing down the Muslim mind and heart the world over. Meanwhile “true believers” desperately seek enslavement and thank their enslavers. The questions posed are startling in their naiveté. May we sing? Is it OK for a man to listen to a woman singer? Do I watch a female newsreader? Yes, says a wise one – as long as she is properly covered up and not wearing perfume. Don’t laugh. It is tragic, not funny.
Somehow in the last decade or so, millions of believers have been persuaded that they are repositories of sin because they watch films, love music and paintings, read books, experience temporal pleasures and ecstasies. Remember the ferocity with which the Taliban destroyed all pre-Islamic treasures? Saudi Arabia is guilty of similar vandalism. Thus they seek to recreate the piety of triumphant Islam. Well they didn’t have cameras, mobile phones, cars and computers then. Should these be banned too?
Muslim children are now programmed to obey – robbed of imagination, independent thought and refinement. UK Muslim parents are increasingly coming out against school visits, music and drama, novels, exercise, scientific facts. Teachers know these parental demands leave Muslim children under-educated and emotionally numbed, rendered unresponsive to artistic words, sights and sounds.
This is a travesty of our history, our love of truth and beauty, the intellectual energy that throughout history uplifted Muslim civilisations. The current Science Museum exhibition of Muslim inventions that shaped the modern world proves we were never the barbarians promoted in Western demonology. Some of the earliest manuals on surgery and optics, astronomy and flying machines came out of Muslim regions. And those same places were creative hubs producing great works of art, incredible buildings and intricate crafts.
There is no Koranic injunction against the depiction of the human form, yet pictures from previous ages would today not be painted – a kneeling, sensual angel by an Ottoman artist in the mid-16th century, a man filling his cup of wine. Passion plays were performed through the centuries in all main Arabian conurbations. Poetry was written and recited by both men and women. Music, devotional and romantic, was in every household. All that is under threat today.
The Pakistani blogger Raza Rumi writes: “Who are these butchers of culture? What religion do they follow? They have no religion except barbarism.” Exactly. British Muslims for Secular Democracy (of which I am chair), supported by the British Council, is tomorrow organising a conference on artistic and cultural freedom at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. Speakers include Miss Pakistan (who is also a professor), fashion designers, the entrepreneur Saira Khan, painters, stand-up comics, musicians, writers, others who are concerned. The event is open to all. Check the BMSD site. We will be launching an advisory guide for teachers on protecting the interests of the Muslim child. […]

February 15th, 2010|Guest Writer, Islam, Islamophobia, media, Middle East, Religion|5 Comments