On Friday the Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, along with State Minister for Interior, Balighur Rehman presented to the Senate the Interior Ministry’s report, most significantly mentioning that while 61 organisations had been banned for being involved in terrorist activities, Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) remained under observation since December 2005. Chaudhry Nisar also very firmly asserted that while he was responsible for the implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP), the performance of the interior ministry has no relation with the progress of NAP, implying that its is not the interior minister running the show. Through this confounding contradictory statement the minister perhaps revealed more than he intended, as it leads to the question of who in fact is calling the shots in this matter. Moreover, he proceeded to blame past military and political rulers, citing several instances of maladministration and misuse of government institutions for self-interest. Perhaps what he failed to realize is that since he and his party have been part of the ‘past governments’ he refers to, hiding behind others’ mistakes will prove a futile effort to absolve himself from blame.
The most glaring fault of the ministry lies in its decision to not ban JuD. Rehman states that when an organisation is found to be involved in terrorist activity it will not be allowed to continue. Firstly the ministry should not be waiting for an incident to spur it into action, and secondly the repeated links of JuD to the Mumbai attacks are not ignorable. The statement that the organisation is under observation in fact serves to imply a tacit support, which is even more damaging considering the hindrance it will inevitably create in efforts for reconciliation with India, which has often demanded that action be taken against JuD. An enduring issue is the re-establishment of banned organisations under new names, allowing them to continue their operations. In response to this Rehman claimed that under NAP, banned organisations were being monitored to keep them from resurfacing, all the while ignoring evidence showing JuD as a resurrection of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Previously Chaudhry Nisar had pointed out that not all madrasas are breeding grounds for terrorists. However, there are currently 300 of them reported to be suspicious, and no action has been taken against them. A US lawmaker has demanded that 600 madrassas must be urgently closed, and all others registered. He said that any Pakistan-US partnership is meaningless without Pakistan’s efforts and called for discontinuing the $ two billion aid if inaction persists. Despite his principal responsibility to take NAP forward, Chaudhry Nisar’s statements rather than reflect a sagacious grasp of the upcoming challenges only show attempts to spare himself any blame. If this continues and organisations like JuD are not thwarted by implementing the right policies, not only is failure to counter internal terrorism a real possibility but we may also fall short in keeping such organisations from spreading their networks elsewhere.
The educated terrorist
The Safoora Goth massacre was a dark incident in our already tainted history of sectarian violence. On May 13, 2015, a bus carrying a majority of Ismaili Shias was ambushed and left some 46 Shias dead. Militant group Jundullah claimed responsibility for the atrocity and Saad Aziz, a graduate of Karachi’s prestigious IBA university, was arrested for being the mastermind. The arrest came as a surprise because Saad Aziz did not fit the profile of an illiterate brute, the kind of people usually associated with the likes of the Taliban. However, his arrest did open our minds to the fact that a lot of terror operations are led and crafted by educated professionals who seem to have everything going for them but choose to follow the path of radicalisation. One need not recall the tragic murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl whose beheading was ordered by Sheikh Omer, a British citizen of Pakistani origin, a graduate of the London School of Economics (LSE). Now, the alleged financier of the Safoora Goth massacre has been apprehended; he is the vice chancellor of a private university in Karachi. Yet another man who seems to be an upstanding, educated member of society but now, it seems, he has a very dark side.
The educated terrorist is no longer an enigma in today’s world. Radicalisation has become an ideology, a specific worldview that gives those who practice it a reason to rebel against a world they believe is unequal and unjust. However, the rebellions of today are not like the revolutions of yesteryear when people fought for justice and social equity; they are dangerous rebellions fuelled by extremism and Islamic political jihad. This is a sign of the times we live in. People who are aware, who see what is happening in the world around them have taken up arms — in many instances in the most savage way possible — to oppose a world order bent on warfare and forced invasions. The absence of revolution has created a vacuum that has been filled with a hateful ideology that murders and mains according to warped religious views. This fanatical worldview has traversed the plains of the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, always with Palestine in the background. It is the educated who see the bigger picture and they are rebelling in the worst of ways.
The Pakistani authorities are going after the higher educational institutions to fight the threat on campus and that is necessary, but they must not lose sight of the fact that the madrassas (seminaries) are the original militant factories and must be plowed through first. By Chaudhry Nisar’s own estimation, there are at least 300 identified madrassas with links to terror outfits. They must be dealt with. There is a real danger that the authorities could go overboard with their combing of higher education institutions and bring to book many people who are not part of terror plots but are swept away in an overzealous current of arrests. A few such incidents have already occurred. The seminaries need that kind of focus first.
The controversy over the Rangers’ powers in the Karachi operation continues, with various stakeholders delivering their views, which may lead to even more controversy. For example, Corps Commander Karachi Lt-General Naveed Mukhtar during a visit to the Rangers’ headquarters, praised the paramilitary force as the ‘backbone’ of the anti-terrorist operation and ascribed the relative peace in Karachi to the special powers previously assigned to the Rangers. Those powers have recently been curtailed by the Sindh government through a resolution passed by the Sindh Assembly amidst protests from the opposition. The resolution has substituted “sectarian killings” for “terrorism”, restricted the Rangers’ power to put terrorism suspects in preventive detention without the prior approval of the chief minister, prevented any raid on the Sindh government’s offices without prior written approval of the chief secretary, and confined the Rangers to assisting the Sindh police to the exclusion of any federal institution (the context being the FIA and NAB). While the Sindh government’s thrust is to reassert its control of the operation that falls within the purview of the province and resist what it views as encroachment on its turf by federal institutions such as the Rangers, FIA and NAB that have overstepped their remit (in the case of the Rangers mandated by the Sindh government under Article 147 of the Constitution), the message by the Karachi Corps Commander seems to be that the Rangers will continue the operation (as before?). This conflict between the Centre and Sindh found an echo in unnecessarily provocative remarks against the Sindh government by Senator Mushahidullah Khan of the PML-N, for which he had later to apologise and were expunged after a vociferous protest and walkout by the opposition. The worthy senator lost his ministry for indiscreet remarks and Friday’s performance in the upper house indicates that he has yet to overcome the affliction of foot-in-mouth disease from which he and others of his party’s leadership suffer.
Despite the criticism by some quarters that the PPP Sindh government is only trying to protect its incarcerated leader Dr Asim Hussain and others against corruption allegations, this cannot become a justification for riding roughshod over provincial autonomy, which has been achieved after prolonged struggle, culminating in the 18th Amendment. Corruption can and should be tackled by the institutions charged with this responsibility. It should not become the basis for an expanding sphere of operations by the Rangers. In fact it could be argued that the ham-handed manner in which the Rangers have handled such matters has led to the conflict between the Centre and Sindh and culminated in restricting the powers of the paramilitary force to what the Sindh government mandates. There are many in the country who a priori have no patience with such arguments, focused as they are almost obsessively on the PPP’s alleged corrupt culture. For example, long time critic of both the major political parties, the PPP and PML-N, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s Imran Khan, has once again contributed to the controversy by warning that withdrawal of the Rangers from Karachi will inevitably result in a resumption of the killings that have characterised Karachi for years. To prove his point, he refers to the post-1992 operation situation that led to the sustained killing of policemen who had conducted that operation. In the latest version of the pot calling the kettle black, former Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza has leaned on the Centre, army and Rangers to score points against his erstwhile party of which he was not only a longtime member, but widely considered close to former president and PPP co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari. For all the high faluting ‘principles’ being cited in the critique of the Rangers’ powers being restricted, perhaps the most important trend of increasing establishment crowding into civilian space and the Centre into provincial purview is being ignored. Irrespective, wisdom demands that the powers that be revisit their approach and sit down with the Sindh government to sort out the parameters of the Karachi operation lest it fall victim to these turf wars.