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Daily Times Editorials – 15th March 2016

Ankara bombing

For the second time in two months, Turkey’s capital city Ankara is reeling from a mass casualty blast. At least 37 people were killed and more than a 100 were hospitalised with wounds after a car bomb ripped through a busy square in central Ankara. Around three weeks ago there was another bomb attack on a military convoy in Ankara that killed 28 people and wounded dozens more. Before that, in October of last year, the deadliest bombing in the history of Turkey took place in Ankara that targeted a peace rally, held by leftist and Kurdish activists protesting the growing hostilities between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), in which more than a 100 people were killed and up to 400 were injured. This latest attack is thus the third such terrorist attack to shock Turkey’s capital in a period of six months, and highlights the increasing crisis and chaos gripping a country that was for a long period characterised by western sources as the “stable corner” of the volatile Middle Eastern region. After this latest attack, the head of Turkey’s embattled state, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “These attacks, which threaten our country’s integrity and our nation’s unity and solidarity, do not weaken our resolve in fighting terrorism but bolster our determination.” Soon after, Turkey’s government rapidly classified the attack as the act of the PKK even though no group has accepted or claimed responsibility. Consequently, Turkey has begun large scale security and military operations against Kurdish rebels in the country and in Iraq. The response has consisted of aerial attacks on PKK sites, curfews in Kurdish towns and villages and raids and arrests taking place in Kurdish areas.

The rapidity with which blame was casted on the PKK and acted upon is consistent with the paranoia and hypernationalist orientation of the Erdogan government vis-a-vis the beleaguered Kurdish population. The claimed investigation, given its speed, certainly feels suspect and undercooked. It is worth noting that last month’s attack was claimed by the militant Kurdistan Freedom Hawks (TAK), which no longer has ties to the PKK, but the Turkish government was adamant it was carried out by a Syrian Kurd who belonged to the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is a key anti-Islamic State (IS) force fighting in war torn Syria. The YPG, given its Kurdish makeup, however is vilified by Turkey who wants to see it treated like the IS or al-Nusra, something that neither the US nor Russia are willing to accept. Going further back, the October attack that targeted a pro-Kurdish rally was also initially pinned on the PKK by Turkish officials until the IS outright claimed it. This attack is therefore much more likely to have been carried out by the TAK or the IS. Blaming the PKK, the more mainstream representative of the Kurdish minority, simply suits Erdogan’s political ends and makes it easier for his government to whip up a fearful frenzy that translates into votes and delegitimizes opponents. It is important to remember the immediate context of this renewed conflict in Turkey. Until July of last year, the PKK and the government were engaged in a political process of negotiations that was accompanied by a ceasefire lasting two years. This had raised optimism for a peaceful and political resolution to a longstanding, destructive internal conflict. But the government abruptly threw cold water on the process after the summer elections in Turkey in which the leftists and the Kurdish parties had gained an unprecedented number of votes and necessitated a re-election. Thus Erdogan re-launched a military campaign against the Kurds and has made it impossible for a reopening of a political process. Turkey’s obsession with suppressing the Kurds has also contributed to the chaos in Syria as it has turned a blind eye to the activities of the IS as long as the latter continues to target Kurdish militias. Now it seems that even internal Turkish security will be compromised in the quest to demonise and target the Kurds.

Combating sexual violence

At least 197 rape cases were registered in January, 2016, across Punjab, according to the recent statistics published by the provincial police department. 21 of these reports were registered as cases of gang-rape; with an estimated six rape episodes happening every day. These figures represent a radical increase of 20 percent in the registered rape cases, when compared to the reported incidents in January 2015. Furthermore, the statistics also cited 14 of the aforementioned 197 cases as already cancelled, and 92 still being investigated. A majority of these incidents have been reported in the districts of Rahim Yar Khan, Faisalabad, Bahawalnagar, Sheikhupura, Muzaffargarh, Kasur, Khanewal, Chiniot, Layyah and Mandi Bahauddin.

Earlier this year, Delhi, the official “rape capital” of the world, was heavily criticised by media when a 16-year old was set on fire, after being raped by her girlfriend. The city topped nationwide with 1,813 rapes reported in 2014, spiking up from the 1441 cases that were reported in 2013. Nevertheless, we are not much far behind our neighbours with regard to the horrific sexual crimes against women and minors. This very month, a primary school teacher was charged with repeatedly raping and impregnating his fourth-grade female student in Larkana. The country also hit headlines in 2015, after a child abuse scandal in Kasur brought to light more than 270 children having been raped by a paedophile ring. The resulting uproar started numerous conversations everywhere, finally breaking the taboo around the subject. The annual police report in 2014 had also verified the gruesome statistics of 167 minors being sexually abused in the province of Punjab.

Nevertheless, these reported cases form only a miniscule proportion of the actual number of episodes; raising a few important questions. The widespread outrage with which our activists react to any such episode contrasts significantly with our silence about measures that can actually prevent these crimes. This disparity can be clearly understood by looking at how our society fails to acknowledge any crimes being committed against the weak. The honour-crazed Pakistani society, which is so passive to this pervasive rape culture, generally discourages the victims from any discourse against their perpetrators. Nevertheless, even when a rape case does get registered, the dismissal tone with which it is treated is highly shameful. Furthermore, the influence of the religious factions hinders the formulation and implementation of any legislation designed to protect women. Religious authorities fail to recognise the fragile position of both women and minors in this patriarchal setup, where any man of position can easily resort to its abuse. It is not just the legal criminalisation against sexual abuse that needs to be revolutionised, but also the societal perception. The only way to ensure the eradication of this menace is to remove the rationale of honour from this conversation.

Militants in Karachi

New episodes of violence took place in Karachi when two check-posts of the Rangers came under attack by unknown miscreants. In the first attack, the armed miscreants lobbed a hand grenade at a paramilitary personnel picket near Essa Nagri, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and fled. After about 20 minutes, another hand-grenade attack on Rangers’ check-post was reported near Moti Mahal, Gulshan Chowrangi. Fortunately, no loss of life was reported in either of the incidents. So far, no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks while the Rangers have hinted at the presence of a militant group that is instigating violence in Karachi and spreading negative propaganda against the paramilitary forces. Karachi is home to a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural melting pot with an ever expanding and changing demography. Due to the poor control of the civil administration, the city has become a playing field for gangsters, militants and criminals. Despite the ongoing operation in the port city, miscreants continue to attack whenever they find an opportunity. Due to a tussle between the Rangers and the provincial government, it has become an uphill task to cleanse Karachi of all types of crimes and militant activities. A major political party has its own reservations regarding the Rangers’ operation. All these complications have led to Karachi becoming a safe haven for lawlessness, terrorism, turf wars and all sorts of crimes. Another reason for absence of peace is the compromised police system, which suffers from its usual flaws, exacerbated by political pressures. Being the main industrial and commercial hub and port, instability in Karachi impacts the overall economy. The federal government ordered a non-discriminatory operation against all miscreants in September 2014. So far, the crime rate has decreased, but a lot more needs to be done.

The militia groups of al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), other banned outfits as well as militant wings of various political parties are mainly responsible for spreading terror in Karachi. The attacks on the check-posts are tactics to intimidate the paramilitary forces. In order to counter these miscreants and their evil agenda, the Rangers have to come up with solid plans. In order to eliminate the terrorists, there is a need to launch intelligence-led operations. The challenge of militancy is big that needs coordinate efforts among all law enforcement agencies. The Rangers need to take politicians and the provincial government on board in order to deal with the threat of militancy. Karachi is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy and any disturbance in this city will ultimately affect the whole country. All political parties must cooperate with the Rangers to ensure a peaceful environment in Karachi.

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